Thursday, May 21, 2015

Balcony Gardening

from 2014
Since we planned to live in an apartment, I expected to have very little so-called "yard work". We are not responsible for mowing the lawn outside the building, trimming hedges or snow and ice removal. However, there is more outside work than I anticipated.

Our first spring, we bought a variety of plants for the balcony and definitely experienced sticker shock, especially for the planters. The only thing we knew we wanted for sure were two evergreen trees that we could decorate for  Christmas. Otherwise, we chose plants based on the way they looked only asking whether they were hearty enough to stay on the balcony over the winter.  At first, we evaluated planters based on their appearance, but quickly switched and chose based on price tag. For example: 600 CHF for one pot and I need how many? I don't think I'll buy the pretty ones. The plain plastic ones will be good enough. Over the next two years, I have learned that I know even less about plants than I thought I did. 

more from 2014
Luckily, we found a nursery in a neighboring town that is very helpful. We are now their faithful customers. By asking them"Why do these leaves look burned?" , we learned that hydrangea (called hortensia here) does not like full sun. Another helpful tidbit: saucers under planters are fine when they are inside, but on a balcony they are not recommended. I was actually drowning one of our plants because its roots sat in water after several consecutive days of rain. Question: "Why do you sell the saucers if they kill the plants?" Answer: "We don't." (I bought the saucers somewhere else.) We've also been able to show them pictures of our plants or bring them a leaf for them to diagnose the problem. In this way, they saved our lemon tree. We have to bring it inside over the winter and it is happily outside again. We are hoping this will be the year it actually bears fruit. At least it's healthy and looks good.

view from inside the kitchen

can you spot the nearly invisible lemon tree?

Our balcony is on all four sides of the building; therefore, there are very different amounts of sun exposure. After removing all the saucers and moving plants to a more or less sunny spot depending on their preference, things got better. Being able to move the planters to a different location is definitely an advantage - no digging necessary. 

One side of the balcony has no furniture and no plants either. It just does not make sense to decorate all that space. 

We also hung flower boxes on the balcony railing. I had a mixture of plants the first year, but the geraniums were the ones to thrive. They are not my favorite flower, but I do appreciate the bright color that we can see from inside or from the street. They are a very popular flower around Switzerland. And why not? They're red! 

street view on a gray day

Standing on the empty balcony and looking towards the European headquarters of DOW chemical, I have a good view of our geraniums.

The ongoing maintenance is of course, watering and dead-heading, but also collecting the leaves that accumulate in the corners and weeding! That was quite the surprise. Weeds sprout in the pots and also in the cracks between the balcony floor tiles. Weed killer helps, but they come again. 

By the time March rolls around, I am ready for Spring. I always get some small pansies to brighten things up until it's warm enough for the others. 


Pansies don't like the heat so they never last through the summer, but they are perennials. Somehow, they are still able to seed themselves and I have some "volunteers" (term thanks to Lynn) popping up every spring. I love it.

Little white flowers are another very welcome arrival in early spring.
white flowers gone - all leaves now

I also have a small amount of herbs. I use quite a bit of basil and had great luck with it in NJ, but for some reason I can't grow it here. I have to keep buying another pot of it when I've used it all.

I'm ready for the hydrangea to bloom

The big planter was not originally intended for flowers. I failed at making a bed of rhubarb. The planter is very big (and heavy), but it's not enough space. These are the same kinds of flowers I planted last year and they did well. I don't want only geraniums!
looking towards the farm

view from our dining table - Denali loves to "hide" among the hydrangea
Every year presents challenges, but knowing where to go for answers is a huge improvement.  Hopefully everything we planted this year will do well with little effort. Is that too much to ask?