How to perk up urban balcony gardens and window boxes
With more than 2.4 million followers on TikTok, urban gardener Alessandro Vitale – known as ‘SpicyMoustache’ on social media – has become a beacon for gardening in small spaces.
The TikTok favourite, who moved to London from northern Italy seven years ago and grows in a space measuring 8m x 5m (26ft x 16ft), offers up a wealth of tips and information for people gardening on balconies, windowsills and other compact plots.
“Even if you live in a high-rise flat, it doesn’t mean you can’t grow anything meaningful,” he writes in his latest book, Rebel Gardening.
“My first garden is London was a balcony, which I had for a year and grew many different things. The whole balcony was completely saturated with plants at one point, which was why we decided to scale up and move to a bigger space.
“So, try to master the space and understand what you can grow and how many things you can fit in,” he advises. “A balcony is more than enough for anyone to start growing food.”
Vitale shares the following tips and tricks for anyone wanting to perk up their balcony or window box…
Give yourself room to move around
You’ll need space to maintain, water and harvest your crops so make sure you’ve enough space to move around, he advises.
Use vertical space
“You could have beans and peas growing in the vertical space against a wall or trellis, or you could make hanging containers re-using plastic bottles, putting strawberries, herbs or micro varieties of tomatoes.”
Create a herb garden
“Herbs are among the most expensive things to buy in the supermarket. You can grow them in a window box, or transform a windowsill indoors into a herb garden,” he says.
Herbs which will thrive in window boxes with a sunny outlook include rosemary, thyme, mint, parsley and basil. Chillies also love the heat of a sunny window box.
Make a medicinal window box
He has a window box filled with drought-loving flowers like dwarf lavender and calendula, which have medicinal flowers to make infused oil, skin salves and other fragrant concoctions.
Think about watering
“Always put trays under pots on a balcony, so you don’t have water dripping down and causing disturbance to your neighbours. Water your plants, wait for the run-off of water into the tray, then use that water on other plants,” he suggests.
Position your plants carefully
Even if your balcony is south-facing with plenty of sun, place your plants in containers, so you can move them about depending on where the sun hits, but you can also bring them inside in winter. “Place the smallest and lowest pots at the front of the taller ones, to allow maximum sunlight for all,” he advises.
Plants which could go in full sun include chillies, tomatoes and aubergines. You could use tall tomato plants as shading agents for lettuce. If you have shade, try planting lettuce, which doesn’t mind semi-shade and in the hottest part of the summer they won’t bolt, he adds.
Start small and simple
“Many people go into a garden centre and go a bit crazy, buying different plants. Then it’s difficult to take care of them. Understand how to grow a particular plant and how it reacts to temperature and other conditions before you scale up. Go for simple plants – don’t overcomplicate it – like herbs, strawberries, tomatoes and courgettes, beans and lettuce,” he suggests.
Large pots are great for growing chillies and peppers, or have a go with carrots and Swiss chard in containers.
Your neighbour may be growing their own veg – see what they’ve had success with and you may want to follow suit.
If you live on the 10th floor of a block of flats, you may have to manually pollinate your plants by using a brush to move pollen from one flower to the other, ensuring you don’t do it using different plant varieties or you may end up with cross pollination, he advises.
“Another trick is to shake the flowers with your fingers, which helps to release the pollen and potentially you’ll have a better percentage of pollination.”
Rebel Gardening by Alessandro Vitale is published by Watkins, priced £18.99. Available now.
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