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.
- 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...