Best Garden Picks for Condo Dwellers
May 25, 2011
By: Adrienne Brown
No land? No problem!
Living in a condo doesn’t mean you can’t get your hands a little dirty in a garden. You just need to adapt your techniques to your available space.
Sarah Battersby, one of the two sister masterminds behind the Toronto Gardens blog, says condo gardening isn’t as challenging as you may think. “It just requires more vigilance in the watering department,” she says.
Be picky with your plants
If you’re lucky enough to have a south- or west-facing window or balcony and get at least six hours of sun, you can grow almost anything you would normally grow in the ground.
Cherry tomatoes, basil and a pot of chives are a great starting point. They’re versatile foods and easy to grow.
If you’re not quite so lucky and don’t face the sun, or if you have a large overhang blocking the light from your space, tomatoes won’t be an option for you, but you can still grow yummy edibles in your condo.
Chives, which “survive anything,” says Battersby, are a great option, along with lettuce, Swiss chard and other leafy greens. Lettuce doesn’t need a deep pot, it just needs to keep hydrated — so even if all you have is a shallow window box, you can still grow your salad fixings at home.
If you want a garden that looks and tastes great, opt for plants like bright red chard or eggplants. They’re both pretty and functional.
Herbs are also ideal for container and balcony gardeners. Besides basil, Battersby suggests parsley, rosemary (if you have sun), sage, thyme and lavender.
You can also grow radishes in containers and, depending on your space, you can start potatoes on a balcony just as easily as you could anywhere else. This requires room for a container about the size of a garbage can, though.
If your space is absolutely minimal and you can’t grow things outwards, do the opposite: grow upwards! “Scarlett runner beans are ornamental and edible,” says Battersby. Growing them on a trellis may work better in your space than big, round pots.
If you’re trying to find a balance between beauty and food, you may want to consider some edible flowers. They’ll look great on your windowsill or in a planter, but you can eat them, too!
Battersby suggests violas and pansies for early spring, and nasturtiums and geraniums (make sure you are growing an edible variety) for the rest of the season.
You can mix these in with all kinds of other plants, such as ivy, for a pretty mixed planter. “For ornamentals (or even a mix of edibles and ornamentals), have something tall, even twigs like dogwood, something medium sized and something to cascade over the edges,” says Battersby.
Pots, soil and mulch
Besides planting your garden according to the sun, one of the most important things you can do to set your garden up for success is to use the biggest pots you can find.
“You’re not going to be out there every two hours watering,” says Battersby, so choose big, plastic containers that can hold lots of moisture. Plastic is much lighter than terra cotta and is less likely to break.
Self-watering planters are an excellent option, too. They have a separate compartment in the bottom, which holds a reserve of water.
In a small space, you can keep your garden looking tidy by using uniformly coloured containers. “Buy in bulk if you see ones you like,” says Battersby.
Once you’ve picked your pots, choose a light soil to fill them. There are potting mixes designed to be used in planters on decks, but check the ingredients to be sure they don’t include polymers, which are chemicals you’ll want to keep away from edibles.
Finally, pick up some mulch to top off your containers. This will help keep the soil moist.
Challenges and bonuses for condo gardeners
Your balcony may be exposed to more wind than an average backyard garden, which will dry out your soil quickly. Be diligent with your water or use self-watering containers to curb the harsh effects of wind, but also be sure all your plants and pots will stay securely on your balcony. Nobody down below needs to find out what you’re growing the hard way!
But being high up can be a bonus, too. You’re far less likely to attract the same insects and pests when you’re way up in the air.
If you have extra space, Battersby suggests adding a small fountain or other water feature to your little oasis. “It kind of takes the city noise away and it’s very soothing,” she says. Add a couple of chairs and voila! You’d never know you were 10 floors up, sitting amid your garden.
After all, “a plant doesn’t know it’s growing in a pot,” says Battersby, “so if you have the sun, soil and the water, you can be successful,” even if you don’t have a backyard.