Grow an Edible Garden - On Your Balcony!

, written by Benedict Vanheems gb flag

Tomatoes growing in containers in an edible balcony garden

Densely populated city centers aren’t an obvious place to seek gardening inspiration, but it’s here you’ll find the most ingenious gardeners. The coming together of big ambitions and tiny spaces makes for some very interesting results, demonstrated best in balcony gardens.

On my occasional daytrips to London by train it’s always fascinating to spot these little green oases perched way up in the sky. Their owners have created a verdant escape from the urban jungle, a place of beauty, calm, and even productivity. To sit within a well thought out balcony garden is to be in a different world – a slice of paradise right outside the door.

If you only have a balcony to grow on, don’t let it stop you from indulging your horticultural desires. Here are some tips and ideas to maximize the space you’ve got and enjoy gardening as much as anyone.

Strawberries can be grown vertically against a wall to maximise your space

Practical Considerations for Your Balcony Garden

Rules: Some landlords or housing associations have specific rules about what you can and can’t grow on your balcony, so check before you begin. There’s little point creating a beautiful garden only for it to be removed.

Weight: Clusters of containers can get heavy. Consider how much weight your balcony can support and err on the side of caution. If in doubt choose lighter plastic pots over heavier terracotta or stone alternatives. Position the heaviest pots closer to load-bearing walls or over supporting joists.

Wind: The higher up your balcony, the windier it’s likely to be. Not all plants thrive in exposed, windy conditions, so choose accordingly. Windbreaks like netting or reed screens are very effective at filtering the wind and will also create an attractive backdrop. Or you could use wind-tolerant plants like most grasses and bamboo to create a natural windbreak for sensitive plants.

Light: Like any garden it’s essential to consider how much direct sunshine your balcony gets. It is easy to overestimate this, so take the time to record exactly where sunlight falls and at what time of day. Even predominantly shady balconies have options: try salad leaves, spinach, kale, carrots and well-behaved soft fruits such as strawberries or compact varieties of raspberry.

Exposure: Cold can be an issue on exposed balconies, while on the flipside, sun-warmed walls will slowly release their heat over night to create something of a protective microclimate. However, it’s safest to work on the assumption that a balcony will be a few degrees colder than ground level. Ensure good drainage so pots don’t become waterlogged then freeze solid.

Water: Conversely, be on hand to water regularly in hot, dry weather. The combination of sun and wind can dry out pots with alarming speed. If you haven’t the time to water, install a drip irrigation system.

Ingenious use of guttering makes this balcony garden work

Edible Balcony Garden Ideas

You haven’t got a lot of it, so make the most of your space. Turn the garden on its side by planting up vertical spaces instead. This could be as simple as training climbing beans or cucumbers up trellis, or securing window boxes to railings.

Walls are a blessing. Use them to mount planters to create a wall of green, or set up any number of wall-mounted or stackable modular planters aimed at the urban gardener. You could also use shelving to create a ‘plant theater’ of herbs or strawberries. Make sure to fix the shelving securely to the wall so it can’t blow over.

Don’t forget hanging baskets and other suspended planters at head level. With plants growing up from below and trailing down from above, it’s possible to create the illusion of a lush, bountiful garden far bigger than the modest footprint of your balcony.

You will want to sit back and admire your handiwork from time to time, so don’t sacrifice somewhere to unwind at the expense of squeezing in yet more plants. A small patio table and chair set offers somewhere outside to do the crossword, enjoy breakfast or sip a sundowner.

Remember to leave space to sit down and relax!

Best Balcony Garden Plants

Hardy aromatic herbs tolerate the exposed conditions of a balcony, so incorporate the likes of rosemary, lavender and thyme. In fact, all herbs are a wise choice given their high value and their low space requirements, and they will give you something to pick almost every day of the year.

Containers supporting edibles such as salad leaves, cherry tomatoes and miniature varieties of vegetables including beets and compact summer squashes are fun to grow and deeply rewarding. Opt for quick-to-mature crops and there’s no reason you can’t get two, three or even four harvests from the same pots each year. And don't forget to include some flowers to help draw in pollinators and keep pests under control.

Above all a balcony garden should be a refuge – a bolthole to commune with passing nature and decompress after a long day. Get creative, be ingenious and you can grow your very own garden in the sky.

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Show Comments


"Thanks Benedict for another brilliant article. I garden in The Netherlands and have a 'volkstuin' or allotment of 200 square meters. Keeps me busy :) but I do neglect my little east facing balcony sometimes. Again inspiration at the right time - there is scaffolding in front of said balcony as I speak when the workmen have finished I shall start this year with a clean slate. Literally :) "
Veronica on Thursday 12 April 2018
"Groeten Veronica! I'm glad this article has been of use. Any space, no matter how unpromising, can always yield something useful, and it's great to have a little green oasis to sit out in. An east facing balcony should hopefully give you some sunny mornings to enjoy your breakfast."
Ben Vanheems on Thursday 12 April 2018
"Benedict, I live in Cambridge, Ontario. I have a shady, cool first floor balcony facing northwards. 20square feet, It is presently empty. I look to do spinach, button mushrooms, and some potatoes. Minding weight, I heard I could use a couple of container bags for the potatoes and wheeled open containers, one each for the mushrooms and one for the spinach. Too cold or cloudy I will bring it all in. My very first effort. Any suggestions? Thanks Zeke "
Zeke on Tuesday 3 May 2022
"That sounds like a good start Zeke. You could also try other shade-loving crops like any leafy greens, include chard, kale etc. Also lettuce and other salads. You can keep everything light by using a peat-free potting mix/potting soil, and, if using deeper containers, part-filling them bottom half with lighter materials. I would also see if you could try growing some climbing beans - they would give a lot of crop from a smaller space, but may struggle in the shade - but potentially worth trying as summers are still quite warm where you are."
Ben Vanheems on Thursday 5 May 2022

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