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Continued: Have balcony, will garden

  • Article by: KIM PALMER , Star Tribune
  • Last update: June 25, 2014 - 1:07 PM

After a couple of growing seasons, balcony gardeners learn what works best in their conditions. “Even though the area is very small, each corner is different, with different little zones,” said Sullivan of her garden. “Some plants do better than others. Daisies don’t work on the balcony. There’s not enough sun. We have eastern exposure, so we get early-morning sun. By noon, it’s shaded.” Impatiens thrive on her balcony — as long as they’re kept back in the shadiest corner, she said.

Bair, too, has learned through trial and error. Last summer, his first in the condo, he tried growing a formal boxwood hedge in planters. “But it all died,” he said. “So sad.”

This year, he went tropical, planting banana trees, in hopes that the large, fast-growing foliage will provide some shade by mid-summer. “I’m anxious to see them at the end of August.”

For Bair, “wind is the big enemy. Look how beat up the bananas are,” he said, pointing to their battered leaves. But he consoles himself with the thought that this is how they probably look in their native habitat. “In the tropics they have storms. I kind of like it that they’re not perfect.”

The Weisers face similar growing conditions. “Plants have to be much sturdier up here,” Marge said of their garden. “Last year, we tried something different in the big planter, but the flowers blew off.”

This year, that planter is filled with sturdier palms, ferns, sweet potato vine and ornamental grass. The couple hire Tangletown Gardens to design and install their gardens. Usually Marge visits the store and chooses a color palette — “sometimes blues, sometimes yellows … a little different every year,” she said. But this year, she “left it totally in their hands — I said, ‘Surprise me,’ and it was the best.”

Growing food

Those who want to grow veggies and other edibles on a balcony also face challenges — and new options.

“We’ve been bringing in more container varieties — there’s more demand,” said Pelini of Mother Earth Gardens. One supplier, Rush Creek Growers of Spring Valley, Wis., produces smaller varieties of vegetables, designed for growing in containers.

“Peppers seem to do really well,” said Pelini. “They like it hot, and they don’t need consistent moisture,” unlike tomatoes, which must be watered daily. If you want to grow tomatoes, Pelini recommends compact varieties. “Smaller plants are less likely to get snapped and take up less space,” she said.

Hanging baskets are another option. “You’re not going to get the same production,” Pelini said. But if you’re OK with that, hanging vegetable pots can be an attractive addition. “The cucumber baskets are adorable — little pickling-size cucumbers. They’re really cute!”

Balcony gardeners who manage to reap some produce seem to get even more satisfaction than those who tend traditional plots, Pelini noted. “People feel a high sense of reward — ‘You beat the odds. You live in an apartment, surrounded by concrete, but you did it — you got some cherry tomatoes!’ ”

Whatever they grow, condo dwellers often have an intimate relationship with their gardens. “Another perk of a balcony garden is you are able to study and admire the beauty of each plant at close proximity,” said Sullivan. “Often the hummingbirds are just inches from your nose.”

And while Bair tends a lot fewer plants than when he had his big garden, each one gets more attention. “I know every leaf on every one of those plants.”

 

Kim Palmer • 612-673-4784





 

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