Each year we hear of communities who want chemical free landscaping. Therefore instead of treating their plot of land around their house to look like a golf green, being a slave to weakly mowing and, heaven’s forbid, watering the grass with our precious water resources, some families landscape with a sensory garden. These plants bring joy to all the senses to young and old alike.
When we were travelling in Europe, the fact that every square foot of land was put to practical uses impressed me. Our friend in a German town, had her house surrounded with fragrant flowers, edible berries growing on attractive bushes, patches of vegetables among her flowers, fruit trees providing shade for sitting and shade loving plants, bird feeders and bird baths inviting feathered friends to entertain and… not a blade of grass.
Right at her doorsteps she had plants requiring care which she lovingly bestowed and which gave her ample exercise each day. Her grandchildren gave her a helping hand and all benefited from the wonderful experience of planting, caring, exploring and eating from a sensory garden.
In a previous post, Sensory Gardens For Kids, I listed the senses and gave suggestions on which plants or accessories you could include in your garden to provide your child with a wonderful sensory experience. This post will deal with making the most of a small, urban balcony or deck and the care of plants, especially tomatoes.
So, you only have a balcony or a small patio. When our daughter was living in a Montreal apartment, she still managed to use wisely the space on their small balcony for plants.
Many planters, in various lengths, come with hooks that attach on the balcony railing. On the side of the house a few planter bags can be hung with flowers or even strawberries. Window boxes with growing herbs can be reached from inside the house to add flavor to your meals. Then along the sides on the floor, line up larger pots containing more soil for tomatoes, cucumbers, peas and beans that will climb upwards on a support which is pushed in the soil, surrounds the plant and allows it to attach itself to the support as it grows.
Fill the planters and pots with a soil mixture and compost that contains organic fertilizers available at many garden centers or you may make your own compost by composting all winter in a container that you use for plants in the summer.
Sometimes a stake will have to be used as well to support the plants. Drive the stakes deep into the pots a week or so after planting so you do not damage the roots later on. To tie the plants to the stake, use strips of old cloth because a piece of string can cut into the stems.
The secret of successful balcony/deck/patio planting is choosing plants that grow upwards to economize your space. Do not let the plants spread on the balcony/deck floor which can become much too hot in the summer sun. You must water daily and following the replenishing schedule of the organic fertilizer.
The tomato plants will have to be pruned. As a tomato grows, side shoots, or suckers, form in the crotches between the leaves and the main stem. If left alone, these suckers will grow just like the main stem, producing flowers and fruit but you will end up with an unruly maze of side stems and a weaker main stem. To encourage the growth of a strong main stem because it feeds the entire plant, prune all the suckers and do not tie the plants before the first flowers appear.
From then on, remove all suckers below the first cluster of flowers, leave some higher up to form a few other side stems but remember fewer the stems, fewer tomatoes but larger tomatoes.
The simplest and best time to prune the suckers is when it is still small. You do this by pinching the tender suckers off with finger and thumb. The sucker should snap off and its wound will heal quickly. If you missed a side shoot and it has grown large and tough, you must use a sharp, clean blade. This simple pruning continues all through the season.
One last pruning is necessary 30 days before the first frost. The tomato plant must be topped. To allow the last tomatoes to mature well, remove all the growing tips. Last year, just before the first frost, I picked a flat cardboard box filled with still green cherry tomatoes. We also had a basket filled with them. We left box and basket in our garage attached to the house so it does not get too cold. We would eat them as they ripened and we enjoyed the last ones for our Christmas meal!
So do not let the fact that you live in a city rob you of the joy and benefits of a sensory garden, small but powerful, right their on your balcony.
Have you had success with urban gardens?