Saturday, September 27, 2008

Just watch ....

Go watch this on Youtube : Planet Earth

Trust me.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

I forgot...

Browsing through some blogs yesterday, I came across some Gardeners' Bloom Day posts. Eeek ... is it the 15th already? This month I completely forgot about it for the first time ever - and I've been posting for GBD since it started. I've been late before, because of lack of time, but I've never just forgotten. Old age creeps insidiously closer...

But perhaps one of the reasons I didn't think about it is because when I asked myself what was in bloom on the balcony this month, the answer was ... nothing much. Or at least, nothing that I haven't already blogged about in the past couple of months. The four o'clocks are still going strong, as are the impatiens and periwinkles. The purple surfinia have had it and the yellow surfinia and purple sage are past their best. I'd probably have more to show if I'd had more time, but it's been a busy month, and the balcony has been a bit neglected.

But as I walked past
my local garden centre the other day, I saw these. Impatiens New Guinea, growing in a large container together with a small Maple tree. By chance I had my camera with me, and couldn't resist ...

So for this GBD I'm showing you what my balcony could be looking like at the moment if I'd taken as much care of it this summer as the people at the garden centre obviously have with these. I'm not very good with Impatiens New Guinea. They're sun lovers, but need copious amounts of water. And if they're neglected, they succumb very quickly to red spider mite. Each year I try again - I had some lovely pink ones back in the early summer - but sooner or later I lose them.

A pity, because by the time they've grown to this size, they're glorious. Ah well, perhaps next year will be different ...

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Composting on the balcony?

Can you compost on a balcony? I've always wanted to. In my garden in London there's a compost heap, and when we're there kitchen waste, as well as plant waste from the garden, is rigorously recycled. But on a balcony?

Some websites, like this one from the
City of Toronto, say yes. But I've always had my doubts. Is there enough room? Wouldn't the smell be too bad? Even if I could cope with a compost heap outside my bedroom window, I'm far too scared of the neighbours to risk it. (And if you think that's wimpy, you've never met my neighbours).

I've thought of a wormery, but they'd roast in the summer. The temperature on the balcony can go up to 50°C in full sun. So every night there's nothing to do but throw away the vegetable peelings. The hamster does her best, but how much can a three inch long creature be expected to consume?

Then the other day, when browsing Amazon's Home and Garden section, I came across this kitchen waste composter. It seemed the answer. Small - the exact size isn't stated, but it's supposed to "fit under the sink" so fine for the balcony - and promises of "no smells". It went straight to the top of my Christmas wish list.

And then the downer. This product can only be delivered within the UK. Rats.

But I decided to browse a bit further and found that it's sold by a company called
Just Green - and they deliver anywhere.

How does it work? It uses a product called bokashi, a bran based mix containing micro-organisms which break down the waste, producing both compost and liquid fertiliser. And it's only supposed to take a few weeks.

It's not cheap. Apart from the initial outlay it will mean constantly buying the bokashi to keep it working. But gradually it should start to pay for itself, as I no longer have to buy either soil for the containers or fertilisers.

But it's the ecological advantages which are most important :

  • reduced waste to be transported and disposed of - so a saving in energy

  • no more agonising over the ecological soundness of packaged soil - which has already clocked up goodness knows how many transport miles, which - here at least - inevitably contains either peat or coir, and which comes in plastic bags which then have to be thrown away.

  • no more chemical fertilisers to contaminate the soil - which even if it is originally in containers eventually gets thrown away, so that any chemical contents leach into the ground.
So it's back on my Christmas list, as are several other things from the site, and we'll see if it works as well as it promises. Watch this space for updates.

Monday, September 08, 2008

An Interview with Carol of May Dreams Gardens

Most people reading this will already know May Dreams Gardens. It's a blog which I've read regularly for a couple of years now, and though I don't have time to visit and check out Carol's posts daily, I always try and catch up at the weekend. The posts are funny, down-to-earth and always interesting. So I was thrilled when Carol agreed to do an interview for The Balcony Garden on gardening and blogging.

You live in Indiana. For those of us not in the States, can you tell us a bit about it? Is it a good area for gardening?

Indiana is often called “the crossroads of America” because we are located in the Midwest part of the country, and there are several major highways that go through Indiana. I wrote a post back in February about why I like gardening in Indiana.

When did you start gardening? How quickly did it become a passion?

I’m on one of those gardeners who started at a very young age and can’t remember NOT gardening. It became a passion early on and is one of reasons I decided to major in Horticulture in college.

How is your garden organised?

My vegetable garden takes up about a third of my backyard, the rest is lawn and flower beds. The front is a typical suburban front yard like many found across the United States with a combination of trees, shrubs, and flowers.

Is there anything unusual in your garden which is particularly special for you?

The most unusual plant is probably my night blooming cereus which I inherited from my dad. I’m happy whenever it blooms.

Why did you start blogging? Where did the idea come from?

I read about blogs around 2003 or so and started one in 2004 because I like to write. But I probably posted ten times in those first two years. Then in early 2006, I started posting more often, and here I am!

You post more or less every day, as well as frequently leaving comments on other people’s blogs. And have other blogs too. How much of your time does blogging take up?

I’ll admit I do fall behind on leaving comments on other people’s blogs, and probably have a dozen or so that I comment on the most. But, when it comes to the Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day posts, I try to comment on anyone’s blog who has left a comment. My other blog, which is about my Grandmother’s diaries, doesn’t take any time at all and I usually set it up about a week ahead so it ‘auto posts’ through the week. The posts on my blog can take as little as 15 minutes or as long as 1 hour to write.

The thing I like best about your blog is that it’s so easy to relate to. Nearly always I find myself thinking “I could have written that – if I’d thought of that angle”. You somehow manage to give a creative twist to the most mundane, everyday gardening topics. How do you get all your ideas?

What a nice compliment! My ideas come from being a gardener myself, I guess. The more time I spend gardening, the more ideas I get. And when an idea comes to me, I’ll try to write down a few notes about it so I don’t forget.

You’ve also started some incredibly successful memes – Gardeners’ Bloom Day for instance, which continues to grow and grow. Why do you think it’s become so popular? Will it go on for ever?

I think Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day is popular because it gives gardeners a good reason to show off their blooms and at the same time compare to what others have in bloom. I’ve learned so much about other climates that people garden in, and who has what blooming through bloom day. Every month, there are a few garden bloggers who post for the first time, and others who drop out. And many gardeners have noted that after doing it for over a year they now have a journal of sorts of their own garden and can compare this year to last year, which they couldn’t really do before. I’m going to keep doing it and I hope others continue as well.

You’ve been blogging for a relatively long time. How has your blog changed in that time? Where do you see it going in the future?

I hope my writing has improved over time! I’ve recently branched out to writing for as the Indianapolis Gardening Examiner, and have been thinking about other venues for garden writing.

Has blogging and the blogosphere changed since you started? How?

Yes, it has changed. There are more blogs, many good blogs. And many bloggers now use sites like Twitter which helps to further create an online community amongst gardeners, and provides a place to provide little updates on first blooms, vegetable harvests, what we are doing in our gardens, etc.

If like me you gardened on a balcony and had limited space, what would you grow?

I think I would grow trough type gardens with miniature plants. I have one garden space devoted to miniature plants mostly hostas and other shade loving plants. I can spend just a few minutes weeding and deadheading in it and then step back and think, “Well, that’s one flower bed done!”.

What was your most important gardening moment?

There are several. I think it is important to plant trees; they will shape the garden for decades to come and help the environment. Another important moment is committing to organic methods only.

What was your most important blogging moment?

The most important moment was probably not on my blog, but because of my blog, connecting with other gardeners and flying to Austin, Texas for what was hopefully the FIRST garden bloggers spring fling. Probably the most touching moment was when Annie in Austin wrote a song about my garden. . But every day, I’m touched by the comments other gardeners leave on my blog and the connections I make through my blog with other gardeners.

Carol, a big thank you. If you're new to garden blogging and have never come across May Dreams Gardens, check it out now. I promise you won't be disappointed!

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Form and Colour, Colour and Form

Whoops - how to lose friends and alienate people. I didn't mean to, honest, but some of you obviously thought that my last post was intended as a rant. It really wasn't and I've tried to explain why in the comments, but I'm sorry if I offended anyone. For the record, I have absolutely nothing against the people who created those balconies or against anyone who has the same attitude to balcony gardening. They're wonderful, and certainly contribute more to making the community attractive than mine does.

But as an attempt to redeem myself, I thought I'd talk about how I do try and create visual impact with containers, while at the same time growing as wide a variety of plants as possible. All my containers are different, but within each container I try and achieve an effect either by combining different colours and/or different forms.

Here's an example from a couple of years back. Very simple - marigolds and yellow surfinias -but it worked wonderfully. The stark browney-gold of the marigolds both contrasted with and complemented the lemony yellow of the surfinias, as did the different forms of both the flowers and the leaves. And they're both set off by the little white daisies peeking out from behind.

This year my most successful container had flowers of one colour only - but with completely different forms : surfinia again and sage (though I'm ashamed to say I've forgotten which one). The photo doesn't really do it justice - the purple spikes of the sage towered above the trailing surfinia, and it looked superb, both from below the balcony and from behind.

I love purple and have a lot of it on my balcony. In this photo from last year, purple and white surfinia mix with pink antirrhinums and blue plumbago (all grown from seed except the plumbago) - again creating harmony and contrast of colour and form.

Purple is one of the few colours I really like using together with pink - especially dark pink. This photo was taken early after planting - imagine them when they'd grown and filled out the spaces.

So my balcony's a hotch potch. I also admit that I usually plant thinking of the view from inside rather than below. And these photos range over three years and were, admittedly, taken when things were looking good. They hide the tatty failures. But I still think they stand up to the ones in the last post, stupendous as they were. And I promise you they're more fun to grow.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Balcony gardening ... or just exterior decorating?

What makes for a good balcony garden? Is it the variety of plants? How healthy they are? The visual impact?

Probably the answer is all of these. But it's difficult sometimes to score highly in all three categories at once. Playing safe and only choosing plants which you know will do well often means a balcony with just the old favourites - pelargoniums, surfinia and, here at least, plumbago. Creating visual impact often means restricting the plants to just one or two colours. Going for variety can mean that half your plants are experiments that don't work and end up looking tatty.

I'll cheerfully admit that my balcony definitely comes into the "variety at the expense of looking tatty" category, especially at the moment. It's the end of the season and even the plants which did well are looking as if they've had too much sun, fought off the pests for too long, and put out more blooms than they've got strength for. Those tell tale brown stems are starting to appear, and dead-heading no longer produces the same amount of flowers as it did a couple of months ago. And most of the experiments have just given up and died. Work on the balcony now consists chiefly of tidying up and pulling things out.

But while I was on holiday I came across some balconies whose owners had clearly gone for a different approach - visual impact at all costs. And some of them were stupendous, despite being incredibly simple and confining themselve to the old favourites. I loved the mass of pink ivy-leaved geraniums growing on the balcony in the top picture, and the strong colours of the ever-present surfinia too. And the salmon coloured zonal pelargoniums reminded me that my own, though they've been wonderful for several years, are now past their best. It's time to take cuttings and start again.

These begonias weren't quite so interesting, but better than the photo shows - as ever it's the problem of photographing red.

But my favourite was a balcony with no flowers at all - just leaves. A whole set of containers full of coleus, in an amazing variety shades and patterns. I've been meaning to grow some coleus for ages but not got around to it. Next year I certainly will.

For me these single-colour, single plant balconies aren't what gardening is all about. It's just exterior decorating - though I admit that the condition of the plants on these balconies showed that their owners certainly knew how to keep them healthy. But it's a get-plants-from-the-garden-centre-and-throw-them-away-at-the-end-of-the-season approach which would, as far as I'm concerned, take all the fun out of it.

So my balcony will probably never smack you in the eyes like these did. A pity, because I enjoy the visual impact of plants too. But it would mean giving up too much. I'll stick with looking tatty.

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