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I love plants so much that I find it hard to keep to any particular theme
When thinking of what a garden looks like, for most people, what comes to mind is a large space attached to the back of a house. However, gardens are not limited to space or size, gardens are created by people in whatever way they want. For Emma – @third_floor_garden – she’s created her own unique garden on a balcony.
“Having a balcony, most of my challenges were around space. It took a while to get a feel of how big I could go with pots and plant sizes – and counterintuitively, it turns out large plants in larger pots are so much easier to take care of! I really fell into the trap of having lots of small pots when I started, which were a nightmare to keep hydrated. The balcony is south facing and has no cover, so when it’s hot we get baked (no fear of that this year though).
My first success was probably growing my mini carrots from seed. I got such a kick out of realising you can grow your own food literally anywhere, and without having access to the ground. Since then I’ve had great success with: beetroots, green beans, aubergines, herbs, pak choi, lettuce, cucumbers, and strawberries. Albeit it was a case of quality not quantity – well, in my opinion!
To summarise the difficulties of growing on a balcony, watering is the big one! Unfortunately there’s no drainage from the balcony, just wooden slats. As we have downstairs neighbours, we have to be hyper vigilant about putting saucers on all the pots and watering slowly to make sure they don’t get drenched (this was trial and error at first!). It’s probably just as well I don’t have a hose out there.
Then there’s potting up! Again, it’s a messy activity which isn’t neighbour friendly – so I’ve taken to laying down old sheets and doing it inside. It’s a complete faff, but still one of my absolute favourite jobs. I’ve just finished planting nearly 800 Spring bulbs – goodness knows where I’ve managed to fit them all…
There are some perks of being up high though – firstly, lots of light! So I always choose full sun loving plants now, as we’re not shadowed at all. And secondly, although we get a few pests (aphids and RSM), I’m incredibly glad that only a small handful of slugs find their way up here. You really do see some horror stories. It’s much nicer getting the lovely flying visitors, like all the wonderful bee varieties in London”.
As with every gardener, the growing has to start somewhere – for Emma, that was growing indoors before moving to growing outside.
“I got into gardening through houseplants, which I’ve kept since I moved to London six years ago. I bought my first packet of seeds and discovered Gardeners World just before the pandemic hit, and the rest is history”.
Now on the balcony, Emma’s garden has developed so much further, with so much more variety. We asked Emma what she grows now, and if she has any plants which she is particularly passionate about.
“A total mix. I love plants so much that I find it hard to keep to any particular theme – I want one of everything! This past summer I’ve really got into sowing my own annual flowers like cosmos, zinnias and poppies. I’ve loved trying my hand at crops too (mentioned above), and I’ve had some lovely Mediterranean herbs (rosemary, thyme, oregano) which I’ve had for years. And of course I love my pollinator friendly perennials too – like lavenders and aster. It’s really important to me to provide food for the bees, hoverflies and butterflies, and love nothing more than watching them potter around my plant buffet!”
And just like many other gardeners, Emma is making moves to become more sustainable and choosing more environmentally friendly options.
“Coir is an absolute god-send for me! As I mentioned, I have to pot inside, and obviously I don’t have a shed. So it can be a real pain to store traditional, big bags of compost. The compact nature of coir blocks are just perfect for me, as they can easily sit in a cupboard, waiting to be used. And of course, they’re peat free which is an essential in any growing medium I buy. And really cost effective for peat-free too!”
Emma shows us all that the only limits to a garden is what you imagine them to be. So even if you don’t have your own back garden, or maybe just some small space on a windowsill, you can get creative and add some nature to your home. Thank you to Emma for telling us her gardening story, you can continue to follow her journey by checking out her instagram @third_floor_garden.