Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Begonias on a 19th floor west facing balcony? Yes!

Finding a nice shady spot, Tiffie enjoys our hottest day yet, on the balcony

I am not usually a big fan of begonias BUT I found these (on the far left and right of the photo) about 3 weeks ago and they just looked so beautiful I nabbed them. I did wonder though, how they were going to handle both the heat (when it came) and the wind (sure to come).

Well, I am happy to report that they are really doing quite well! I need to make sure to remember to feed them on schedule (and yes, I will be using the Better World plant food and not cheaping out and using the petroleum based fertilizer). 

So, I would say, if you find a healthy beautiful begonia and want to bring it home to your balcony why not? As long as you do have some shade for them and here on my balcony, the wall is opaque and that does limit their sun time. Even though that dark blue wall is uuuuugly, it does allow for begonias at least. I have an idea on how to hide that wall but that will take some work (if you are curious about that just check back in a few weeks and I hope to have the solution for you to see!). If you have a glass wall, and you face south, east or west, they make get a little scorched. North facing balconies should be fine though. Enjoy your balcony!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Enjoying the Fruits of My Labor

Who? Me? 
The cat does, that is. Sharing a space with our Balcony Buddha, she has found a lovely spot to admire all that grows around her. This is one of the sweet benefits of all the effort put in to make the balcony safe for her and using planters, plants, objects to add interest to an otherwise completely sterile and rather boring and depressing space.

Tiffie ponders the wide open skies as swallows dart by
Even if you can only afford a container or two, start there and it will make a world of difference if you are nature inclined. It did and does for me.

Friday, May 27, 2011

For the Love of Lilacs

This is the Syringa Tinkerbelle lilac bush that blooms mid spring and can grow up to 5 feet high and 4 feet wide

My lilacs are just starting to open now. They smell incredible! Nothing makes me feel more like being alive then the heavenly scent of lilacs (okay, maybe peonies but lilacs are neck and neck with them). 

I purchased two little lilac trees in their temporary containers two years ago and they are still going strong today. They managed to survive two winters up here, on the 19th floor, and were kept tucked away in the northern corner, against the apartment wall with no cover. I am amazed they are doing so well. This fall I intend to transplant them into larger containers and give them a little more tlc.

Even the cat can't help but be drawn by the heavenly scent of lilacs! The one on the far left is the Tinkerbell variety and
the one my cat is indulging in is Sugar Plum. The Sugar Plum is the more fragrant and smaller of the two.

So, after two years, I can say that these two different lilac trees are a keeper for balconies for if they can do so well 19 floors up when the cold winter winds blow, then that is proof enough to me. I check them daily when spring is here and don't let them ever get too dry. I will be repotting them in the fall as it is too late to do so now. 

I don't think you can go wrong with lilacs for your balcony, if you are so inclined. Just make sure you get a variety that is on the small side or of the dwarf variety. I had Sugar Plum in my back yard back in my house-owning days and it only grew to about 4 feet.

So enjoy your lilacs apartment and condo balconeers!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Better Plant Food for a Better World

So I've been looking for a better plant food, one that is not made of petroleum and other nasty chemicals and feeds the soil so the plant gets fed properly and this is what I found. It's called "Better World Plant Food" and it's home office is here in Toronto. Carla, one of the owners at Davenport Garden Centre also in Toronto suggested it as it's the first time she has carried it and wants to know how I do with it. At $19.99 for 500 ml it's a little pricey BUT if it works, it's well worth it.

What is it made of you ask? Answer - bug excrement. Yep, that's right. I had the good fortune of catching one of the owners, Nick Chilikoff, at his home office and he explained, in detail, what it was, how it was produced (more or less as he could not tell me exactly understandably in order to protect their their trade secrets) and how it works. I include information direct from the pamphlet to pass on some of that info. Here it is below.

the front of the brochure
lovely illustration and design by the way

top of the back of the brochure

bottom of the back of the brochure

The reason I called the company is I didn't know if it was safe to just pour the tea I had made from the dry solution right onto the soil of the plant or if I had to wet it first, like you normally have to do with the regular chemical fertilizers or you run the risk of burning the plant. He told me that I could pour it directly onto the dry soil. I loved hearing that. It seems that with this product you don't run that type of risk and if you do over feed it, it won't harm the plant. 

So I added the recommended 4 teaspoons of dry plant food to one litre of water. I used an old 4 litre water container so I added 16 teaspoons in total. This is what it looked like about 22 hours later of steeping.

steeped Better World plant food granules in water

And this is what it looked like poured into a cup. I was to use one cup full of tea to one square foot, or litre, of soil. I had to eyeball it with my containers. It felt relieved that if I did too much that I wouldn't harm the plant. For the larger containers it was easier to judge, but the little ones, I may have over-fed just a wee bit.

one cup of plant food tea

I fed my peonies and my lilacs first as I have had them for a few years now and really, I don't think I have fed them properly since I got them. We'll see how they like it. It seems, a few hours later my peonies are standing straight up! Maybe it's just wishful thinking but I think they may just be happier. I also fed the regular peas and spinach as the rest of my containers were still wet or very damp. It hasn't been that warm here today and it's been overcast. You can use the dregs of the tea, just mix it into the soil of the plant. 

I am looking very much forward to use more of this product on the rest of my balcony garden. I will let you know how it goes!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Cats and Balconies? Yes but...

Here's my cat, stalking the first visitor to my balcony garden that was out there while she was - a fly. Notice her stealth moves. Not bad for just three legs! The cat that is, not the fly.

And being that flies have wings, it's here then gone but she enjoyed the chase and that's one of the reasons that I have decided to build this balcony garden - it gives her something to look at while she is in the house looking out the window and something to interact with when she is out on the balcony with me. I NEVER let her out on the balcony unattended. I don't want her to eat anything she shouldn't AND cats being cats, I don't want her to somehow jump up (even though she only has three pins and is missing one of her back legs, if a pigeon or something else equally tantalizing landed on the net I would not put it past her to jump on it and then down 19 floors). Oh yes, it could happen, with this cat, that's for sure. She's a real hunter, back from her alley cat days (she was a humane society kitty). 

So for her safety and to keep the pigeons out of my lettuce (last year I awoke and looked out my window to see my beautiful basket of full grown lettuce being used as a nest by a pigeon!) I threw out the basket and the lettuce and that was that - a net was implemented! I had a pigeon net professionally installed. Best money I ever spent.

So even though she cannot sit on the ledges of the balcony, she quite likes just looking through the space between the railing wall and the concrete floor where she stays cool in the humid heat of summer as she enjoys watching the doggies and people walk on by nineteen floors below.

Monday, May 23, 2011

West Side Railing Balcony Container - Dhalias, Coleus and White Bacopa

This planter overlooks due west
Here's the first container planted for the west side railing balcony container. I used Dahlias (a larger dark pink flower dahlia as the central piece, two lighter pink, smaller flower headed dahlias planted on either side of the larger one) 

close up of light and darker pink Dahlias
and white bacopa on the far left and right of the planter. Bacopa did very well last year on the railing where it gets VERY windy at times. 

looking south west from the balcony
lake Ontario is off in the distance
There are still planters to be added and filled. Note the coconut husk planters further along the railing. A trip to my local gardening center is in store and I can hardly wait! I checked out Forest Hill Loblaws again but there isn't very much left of interest. It seems this year the selection wasn't as good as last year, but I am on a mission to create a beautiful balcony garden!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Need Height? Triple Pot Your Containers

I designed this container to take up as much room in the ugly corner of my balcony as possible. Luckily I found these beautiful begonia planter at my local Forest Hill Loblaws. I usually don't go for begonias but  they were just stunning. When I got it home I sat in on the ground, in the corner of my balcony. It looked so, meh. Then I had an idea.

I had quite a few containers left over from last year's balcony florals so I grabbed on of the smaller ones and placed it in the larger one. I dug out some soil from the larger container first so I could set the smaller container in and it wouldn't move around. I had some soil in the smaller container to that I could adjust the height of how I high I wanted the potted begonia to sit at. This ended up working like a tiered wedding cake effect. 

I planted some matching pansies in the bottom front of the large container to help tie in the unit as a whole. The colors of the whole ensemble are analogous colors (burgundy, ivory whites, tints of both cool and warmer pinks but all muted, stone and terra cotta colors of the containers with the colors of the green foliage make this an a deeply satisfying yet muted, calmer arrangement). As I continue unveiling my containers you will see that the way I designed things was to give the eye some rest and calm in amongst the bright bursts of color set across the balcony. 

The inspiration for this planter came from seeing plant holders (you know, the iron ones that you place your pot into to get if off the ground). I mean these things were over $20.00 bucks a pop and didn't look impressive at all. This, however, cost me nothing, this year anyway. Last year I had to pay for planter (set in the dirt) as it came with a plant but hey, if I didn't use it here it would just have gotten thrown out or recycled if possible (it's really a shame that so many containers aren't recyclable). The large container I bought last year to set in a hibiscus. 

Okay that's it for today and there's a lot more to come in the days ahead. I hope this blog gives you some motivation and/or ideas to enrich  your days with your love of gardening, even if you do live in a small space or place. Happy Gardening!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Sweet Forget Me Nots in a container

The first time I have ever seen sweet Forget Me Not flowers. I was so happy to see them and scooped up just one plant as they were a little expensive. I popped them into a beautiful light-hearted green container and they look happy and sweet. They are a cool-loving flower so I don't know how long they will last but today it was a gorgeous, warm, sunny day 24º C (felt like 29ºC) and they did just fine. 

The Forget Me Not is the official flower of the Alzheimer's awareness campaign. 

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Making a Trellis from Old Bamboo Stakes

My sugar snap peas were starting to wind onto each other - that told me that they needed something to latch onto, so I decided to make a trellis out of old bamboo stakes that I was just going to throw out.  I lashed all the pieces together using string then cut the string so it didn't look too un slightly. I guess you'd say I "upscaled" the bamboo. Took me about 30 minutes.

I think it looks sweet and quaint. I just hope it holds during those big winds sure to come.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Dazzling Dahlia, Constant Coleus and kind of sad Pansies on balcony wall hanging basket

This year the dahlias are gorgeous here in Toronto. Whomever the supplier is, well, they did a great job with these babies this year. I planted this dahlia in the above shown basket about a week and a half ago and she is going strong. The winds haven't been too bad though so we still need to see how she is going to weather some of the nastier stuff to come. I used some fresh soil in this box.

Last year I planted coleus in the same spot and it just THRIVED! Wind, who cared? It sure didn't. So this year I went with coleus again and as you can see it goes really beautifully backing up the pink with a yellow center dahlia. The color scheme works so nicely (light green, green, pink, yellow, light orange and the tuscan sienna of the box with the black iron ware and the gessoed white of the wall). 

The pansies, well, I planted them earlier and they are on the edges of the box. You can see, they just look, well, sad. I can see that pansies really don't like being where they are. I may replant them in a floor planter to give them a second chance. 

I went out yesterday in the rain and picked out some lovely new flowers just waiting to add to my what is becoming, beautiful balcony! I'll be posting new pics soon! I am so happy to have spring here (even if it has been really wet and cool) and summer on the way. It lifts the spirit, doesn't it?

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Balcony Container Garden Progress - May 14

So here it is, latest shots of my balcony container garden. It's been a little over a week since the last shots and almost all of the veggies are growing nicely even though we haven't had a lot of heat and sun.

This is the radish container. They say that they will be ready in 30 days. I think I planted them mid April, from seed. Considering that it had been a cold April, they are doing quite nicely. For all the containers I use organic container soil and have been watering with ordinary tap water and also left over kale and spinach steaming water. 

This is the spinach. I find the plants quite beautiful.

And here are the regular peas (background basket) and snap peas (foreground basket). The snap peas, after a slower beginning seem to be taking the lead in growth over the regular peas.

And this is what is continues to look like from my balcony, here in Toronto, facing west and overlooking, to the south, Lake Ontario. This dark blanket of rain is suppose to be here for another extended period, I think four days in a row. *sigh* Well, living here I sure miss the sun but I sure appreciate it when it comes out to play! 

That's it for today. Tomorrow I am going to post some floral shots and balcony container ideas. Wishing you all a good weekend indeed!

Friday, May 13, 2011

May 13 - Planted some green beans and more florals!

It threatened to storm today and it was a summer day today - with the humidex it was 29ºC! Not much sunlight but very warm. I decided to plant some of the new flowers I picked up at one of the many corner grocery stores that have a selection of outdoor annuals. That's one of the things that I love about Toronto. God knows it's not the humidity!

It was too late to take any good pics but hopefully it won't storm tomorrow and I will be able to give some progress shots of the growing vegies and new florals!

Note: Pansies do not, I repeat, do NOT like the wind. They are fine in the pots that are on the ground but not the balcony containers that are hoisted onto the balcony guard rails.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

May 10 - Clouded Over, Little Wind, and thinking about improving the look of the balcony

If you have a balcony like mine, you aren't probably too thrilled by the looks of it. You'll see in my earlier posts just how, well, ugly it is.  I repainted the interior of the white walls of my balcony last year. I'm an artist and have excellent quality white latex gesso which I used and they now look great but the rest of the balcony is, meh, bleck.

I am looking into doing something with the ugly, rusting, navy blue guard rail wall and also what to lay down on the concrete floor. I was thinking of getting some Rustclad paint and just paint the interior of the guard rail wall a stone color, but, the landlord might have a heart attack. It would only improve the balcony (as my pigeon net that I installed last year did) but I don't think I can do it. Too bad. It might be the cheapest and easiest way to improve it.

However, I have been looking at bamboo - some sort of bamboo fencing to attach to the guard rail. That will take some time though, to find and also, I can't afford anything too expensive. Also for the floor, I may just get some heavy gauge canvas and paint a floor cloth for the area where is the sitting area. That way, at least, it can be a pleasant focal point. A sun, moon and star motif might be fun : )

Okay, tomorrow if the sun shines I will take shots of the garden again. It is amazing how quickly the plants are coming up. I also bought two lovely begonia planters (and I'm not big on begonia's but I saw these at my Forest Hill Loblaw's and they were so gorgeous that I scooped them up) two for $25.00 and they take up some significant area in the north west area of the balcony, which is good. That is going to be the area for most of my flowers and the south east area the balcony garden.

Feel free to share what worked, or didn't work for you (beautifying your balcony) as I would love to know!

Monday, May 9, 2011

May 9 - the First Good Garden Growing Weather on the Balcony

Today I was out on the balcony wanting to see how the light was coming in and hitting the containers. It was the first day that the balcony warmed up enough to keep the plants warmer then they have been earlier as the wind was still being quite cold and continually blowing. Today was a first real break from that.

I have rearranged some of the containers and have realized that a 2 tier planter would be ideal to sit under the planter against the wall AND to put on the southern side of the balcony, against the southern wall. There is some good long light that isn't being used on the south side so I will look into finding something that I can use to put the planters on so they get the most sunlight possible without being too exposed to the wind.

More pics to come in the next few days as I work on tweaking the balcony garden! Being out there today just felt great!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

How Does Your Balcony Garden Grow?

Here is the southern corner of my balcony garden. To the left from top left to bottom right:
-red radish
-peas (long container)
-snap peas

You can see they are all up but the lettuce is barely visible. I would say it has been the slowest to grow and the spinach, regular peas and radish the fastest.

A close up of the radish. Last year hyancinths that I bought from Loblaws and just left outside after they were done are coming up?! I added more potting soil to the top of them. We'll see if they continue to grow. It was quite a surprise to see them bloom - I thought they were dead.

Close up of spinach.

So there they are. The clear winners so far are the spinach, red radish and regular peas. The snap peas are coming up but more slowly. The lettuce isn't too happy yet though. We'll see by next thursday how they are doing. 

What Happened to the First Wall Basket?

Well, I DID have this basket (with chives and green onions in it) up on the northern side of my balcony. Then we had a wind and rain storm.

I now have THIS basket in it's place. Let me tell you why.

Some time last week, in the evening, there was a huge wind and rain storm. Everything was water-soaked so no watering was needed that's for sure. So the next day, I was casually looking out the balcony window and a fluttering pigeon net caught my eye. It shouldn't have been fluttering. And where was the basket balcony container?! I ran out and peered over the edge of the wall. Nothing in site. That water-soaked basket was at least 25 lbs and it's a fairly large basket. I heard later that a man had died in Ontario during the wind storm. I quickly checked the story on line. No, no plant basket was involved, thank God! This has NEVER happened before. So keep in mind, that during these big wind storms that it might be best to take down the containers from the balcony walls. The winds were from 60 kms gusting to 100 kms. That basket went flying over the wall 19 floors. It will be one of life's little mysteries, where it ended up.

 Next time there is a wind warning for southern Ontario, I'll be checking to see how strong those winds are and the baskets may have to be taken down.

May 5 Temps are Up and Winds are Whipping

I am going to take some shots of the seedlings today so you can see their progress so far. Finally the temps are up, it's 16 above right now at 3:28 pm. The sun has come over and now is shining on the balcony. The winds are cold though, north at 31 km/hr and gusting at 46 km/hr. I am noting the winds this year to see just how windy it is when you are up, especially as high as I am. My balcony faces west.