Friday, July 28, 2006

Problems, problems ...

Gardening without a garden is not easy ....

Firstly, lack of space. Where do you put your seeds and your cuttings? If you want to grow bulbs, biennuals and perennials where do you put the plants which aren't in flower to make space for those which are? And when you've finally got every inch crammed with plants, how do you get a chair in so you can sit and enjoy them?

Secondly, the position of the sun. I have an east facing balcony and a west facing balcony, so the plants on each only ever receive light from one direction and inevitably all end up craning desperately away from the house. Containers can be turned around of course, but this can be difficult if you have trailing plants which are just too big to have on the inside of an average sized balcony - mine is only about a metre across.

The amount of sun is also a problem. My balconies are each out of direct sunlight for twenty two hours out of every twenty four, as there are other tall buildings on both sides. But when the sun does hit, the balconies are a sun trap. We're in Italy and in the afternoon on the west facing balcony, the temperature can soar for a short period to over 55°C. The balcony sides are opaque glass, and plants can easily scorch.

Then, there's the lack of rain. This not only means that everything has to be watered by hand, with tap water that has an extremely high calcium content, but also that leaves don't get washed naturally. They get dusty and grimy (Milan is not renowned for its clean air) and need cleaning so they can breathe. And pests which love dry conditions, such as red spider mite, have a field day. (If you stick with me, you'll hear a lot more about red spider mite).

If you're a balcony gardener, you'll probably be able to add to the list. Gardening books don't seem to help much - they seem to ignore the specific problems and presume you're content to buy pre-grown plants from the garden centre at the beginning of the season and throw them away at the end. Or more likely in the middle when they're attacked by insects, or mould or whatever. Pretty maybe, but it destroys most of the fun.

So, here's the alternative guide to balcony gardening - problems, solutions, successes and failures. Usually mostly failures, to be honest. But probably some other quirky stuff in between. And photos - if I can ever find out how to put them on ....

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