The Balcony Project: plants for north-facing spaces

The next stage in the balcony planning is a little research on plants that will do well in north-facing areas. Given my other requirements, I’m most interested in edibles, and perennials or self-seekers (for minimal ongoing maintenance).

It’s a good idea to remember the difference between different types of shade: ‘open’, ‘medium’, and ‘deep’ shade. I have open shade (north-facing, but nothing much overshadowing it) which makes life a little easier.

In a small space it’s even more important than usual to consider height as wel as ground space, and I have a small area of wall and a railing available. Here’s a few potential plants:

Climbers and shrubs

  • Oregon Thornless blackberry: can be grown in a pot (2′ square x 2.5′ deep, ideally) and carefully trained up a trellis. It would need regular maintenance not to overrun next door’s balcony. But I do like blackberries, and in a pot it would be less of a menace than they are in the ground. It flowers on one-year-old wood.
  • Kiwi vines: will fruit in the shade, and could grow along the railing. I’d need a male and female plant, so one at each end. However, they would block the view through the railings onto the river, which is really valuable to me.
  • Honeyberry: prefers partial shade, so in that sense ideal. However, you need two plants (male and female), and they grow to 5′ so need a half barrel sized pot per plant. I think it’s either this or the blackberry.

Flowers

  • Plumbago: perennial, butterflies love it, but not edible.
  • Violet: edible, perennial, one of my favourites anyway.

Herbs, greens, etc

  • Mint: that old favourite for shady areas. I don’t actually use it much in cooking, but mint tea is nice, and mint, apple juice, vodka and ice is a lovely summer cocktail. Smells great on the balcony, too. I have a plant in the garden so would be easy to propagate.
  • New Zealand spinach: a new one on me. Perennial, best started from transplant, and needs blanching before cooking so realistically probably wouldn’t get used.
  • Chard, beets, other leafy greens: if they’re on the balcony, they won’t be readily harvestable for the kitchen, so we’re unlikely to use them.
  • Peas: in theory the above would also apply, except that raw peas fresh from the pod taste fantastic, so could be eaten on the spot.
  • Salad greens: could be eaten on the spot, so might be worth it, especially as the baby gets bigger and might be in and out of there more. Planting in partial north-facing shade might give some resistance to bolting and mean we get a midsummer crop, which is not possible in the south-facing and very warm back garden. I have plenty of salad green seeds so may try this out.
  • Alpine strawberries: very very tasty. Definitely try these next year.
  • Rhubarb: shade-tolerant, can be grown in a pot, but we already have it in the garden and it is quite large.

I did also find a list of some other shade-tolerant edibles, but they all seem a bit big for my purposes.

Now I have the list, the next step is to construct a plan. Watch this space…

Tip o’ the hat to: the Savvy Gardener on gardening in the shade, and Life on the Balcony on shade-tolerant fruit.

Garden update

Despite the erratic weather, things in the garden are moving on happily. A quick list (no photos this time, may try to add some tomorrow):

  • Apples on the apple tree! Research suggests that as this is a 3-yr-old tree, I should thin the apples a little but don’t need to remove them all. So am hoping for at least one apple from the tree this year.
  • Tomatoes now planted out. Two in a polystyrene tub, two in the back of one of the raised beds, three in self-watering containers, and I will see which do best. My bet is on the SWCs. They’re all up against a west-facing fence so should get plenty of sun.
  • The broad beans have all come out now. A middling harvest; the ones in the raised beds did fine (although hard to get at the ones at the back for harvesting), but the ones in the polystyrene tubs did quite badly. I think they really need more space for their roots.
  • Peas are growing away merrily and have just started to flower.
  • Turnips also doing very well; thinned out last week and nibbled on a few of the thinnings raw.
  • Rocket heading rapidly to seed, so very very peppery.
  • Lettuces doing great and I really must eat more of them for my lunches!
  • Nearly none of the beets or chard have come up. I am wondering if the seeds were past it? Will get new seeds to plant for chard to overwinter, anyway.
  • Courgettes flowering but not yet any female flowers, only male ones. That quite often happens initially, so I’m happy to contain myself in patience.

I have a spare half-bed that I’m not sure what to do with; and a squash in a small pot that badly needs to go down to the allotment as there’s no room for it to do well in the garden.

The Balcony Project: sector & zone analysis

I’m planning planting for our balcony, and in my last post on this wrote up the surveying. The next step is to do the analysis: some possible approaches are to consider zones, sectors, and input/output.

For this project zones aren’t particularly useful. In theory it’s all zone 1 (close by house, for high-maintenance plants), but in fact due to the low foot traffic (see below) I may treat it as edging towards zone 2 (lower maintenance perennials).

Sectors:
– Sun: direct sunlight only during summer evenings, otherwise shady but bright. Need shade-tolerant plants.
– Wind: comes off the river. Some protection, but plants need to be quite robust.
– People: space not very well-used. Focus planting on area visible from indoors, being careful not to block view of river through door! Minimal maintenance as not heavily used.
– Water: edges get some rain, but assume water needs to be carried up. Plants should be drought-tolerant if possible but not drought-requiring.

Input/output: required inputs are soil/compost, containers, water, fertiliser, plants or seeds. Outputs are vegetable matter for compost, perhaps some food, beauty (!), perhaps seeds or potential cuttings. The compost heap in the back garden can help link some outputs to some inputs, and I can also use seeds and cuttings from there and from my parents’ garden. It may be worth considering a water butt.

Anything else I’m missing?

Next post in this series: plants, locations, and solutions that might work.