A Beautiful Bargain Balcony

Learn how this British gardener makes the most of her urban balcony by utilizing hanging containers and shelving.

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Pixabay/Ron Porter

This tiny wedge-shaped balcony in north London, owned by busy TV producer Emily Dalton, is barely 1 x 3m (3 x 9ft) long, yet it is as charming as it is productive. Packed with beautiful and delicious plants, from fiery skinned trailing squashes hanging overhead and wigwams of tomatoes and nasturtiums to fruit trees, kale and salad leaves growing in containers on the ground, this balcony is full of inventiveness, using every inch of space.

Long planters of salad, strawberries and herbs hang outwards from the wooden railings, while more pots and troughs sit on the low retaining wall, filled with chillies, flowers and chard. A wooden platform above the railings is the perfect stand for a large plastic tubtrug, from which a “Red Kuri” squash erupts and trails over strings in parallel with the coloured string lights and bird feeder, all set among a Chinese New Year banner. Birds flit past a perfect-looking “Bitonto” tomato that fills a hanging basket on their way to the feeder.

The tiled floor is edged with larger pots of “Outdoor Girl” tomatoes that share their growing space with climbing nasturtiums, “Sultana” and “Blue Lake” climbing French beans, runner bean “Polestar” and a very productive dwarf half-standard cherry “Lapins” on “Gisela 5” rootstock. All of which sit on wooden wheeled stands so they can be moved around easily. The house wall above is covered in handsome, wide wooden shelves on which sit yet more pots.

Hanging baskets filled with “Cherry Falls” tomato, “Albion” and “Honeoye” strawberries, “Ruby Falls” raspberries and “Black Cascade” blackberries dangle from the shelves, their extendable cords making it easy to pull them down to harvesting level.

Every space is used. A tiny crevice between the fence and retaining wall is stuffed with a grow bag, opened at the top to make a miniature raised bed for clematis. An automatic watering system is a lifesaver and a telescopic waterer means Emily can easily reach the pots set on the shelves several metres above.

There are plenty of flowering plants, too — potentilla, coreopsis, cosmos, osteospermum — to bring in extra colour and pollinating insects, and Emily packs the space with her “number one plant,” nasturtiums, which clamber over everything, knitting the space together and providing generous splodges of orange, yellow and red from “Jewel of Africa” and orangey-pink from “Salmon Baby.”

The balcony is small enough to be manageable but full enough to keep her occupied. Emily keeps the costs down by buying most of her seeds, pots, hanging baskets, plants and trees from pound shops and low-cost supermarkets. Her husband built the shelves that dramatically increase her growing space from offcuts. She estimates that filling this lovely space has cost her no more than £18.

Also from Crops in Tight Spots:

Short of outdoor space but want to grow fruit and vegetables? Congratulations. Really, lucky you. Not for you the back-breaking trudge of tending large spaces of land, the weeding, digging and pest vigilance. Gluts? They will mean nothing to you. Instead you can look forward to small but perfectly formed bursts of flavour. Handfuls of fresh leaves, berries and tomatoes, just when you want them, and at arm”s reach. As more of us live in cities with restricted outside spaces, growing food becomes all the more important, not just for the delicious results, but as a mindful way to connect us to the seasons and to nature. Full of tried-and-tested, fool-proof crop ideas exclusively tailored for containers, raised beds and small gardens, Crops in Tight Spots guarantees vegetable growing success for even the most newbie of gardeners and limited of spaces.

Reprinted with permission from Crops in Tight Spots: Grow Amazing Fruit and Vegetables Wherever You Live by Alex Mitchell and published by Kyle Books, 2019.