We asked Emma about her gardening experience and journey, as well as what challenges she has overcome gardening in a small space. This is what Emma had to say...
Tell us a little about yourself?
· I’m Emma - I live in an East London flat with my partner (we’re newly engaged!) and do marketing for a living. When I’m not gardening, you can often find me trying out the wonderful restaurants London has to offer.
What was your introduction into gardening?
· I remember my Nan’s love of gardening growing up – she grew lots of things that smelled or tasted nice, like strawberries and mint. But it wasn’t until my mid-twenties that I properly got bitten by the gardening bug! Houseplants were a gateway for me, and once I discovered the magic of seed sowing after that I never looked back.
What do you enjoy about gardening?
· Favourite – definitely when you’ve been watching a bud for days and it finally flowers! Especially if it’s from seed. Or watching food grow is fantastic too.
· Least favourite – because I don’t have a compost bin, it’s always quite sad having to put green waste (spent annuals, pruned branches, etc) in the bin when you know it could go towards making lovely compost for next time! I’d love to have one, one day, but it’s always such a toss-up for what deserves the space.
Tell us about your gardening experiences?
· One of my biggest successes of last year was definitely the variety of food I managed to grow (albeit in small quantities). Things like dwarf green beans, beetroot, pak choi, carrots and wild strawberries all did really well and were such a treat.
· There are definitely some plants I struggle with though – for example, my three lavender plants barely flowered last year. Any expert advice would be very welcome!! Ranunculus is another flower I can never get to work. And my aubergine plant kept getting RSMs (Red Spider Mite) which was infuriating!
What challenges have you faced gardening in a small space and how did you overcome them?
· Watering is the big one. The balcony doesn’t have drainage, which means everything needs saucers and watering has to be really slow to prevent overflow onto the balcony below. I certainly won’t miss that when I finally have a garden!
· Wanting to grow just about everything but only having space for a limited number of plants is also challenging.
What is/are your top tip(s) for gardening in a small space?
· My space is 1.5m x 2.5m
· Go big! In a small space, it’s really tempting to get lots of small little pots. Not Only does this look a bit naff, it’s also really hard to keep everything watered. You’ll get way more impact having fewer but bigger pots. And you’d be surprised at how many large plants will be more than happy in a pot. Don’t feel restricted to plants that say ‘good for pots’ – experiment! The only thing I’ve tried to grow which was actually too big, was a lovely canna. It just didn’t stop growing, so there was no way to support it in a pot unfortunately.
· Invest in good seating. Although we only have a really small space, we’ve put two benches out there and it’s made the world of difference to how regularly we use (and therefore enjoy) the space.
What impact or benefits do you think gardening has had on your life?
· Like most people, my work life has changed hugely over the pandemic. For the first time I was working from home – so my plants have brought something exciting to focus on when I’m in the flat. And it generally means I spend more time using my balcony too.
How do you try to manage the impact your gardening has on the environment?
· The thing I use the most of in my small space is compost – so it’s really important to me to use peat free options. I use a combination of readymade mixes and coir blocks.
· Growing primarily from seed, bulb and bare root has hugely cut down on the amount of excess waste my gardening produces (as well as being extra satisfying!). On the occasion I do buy potted plants, I always stash the plastic pots away to use again for things like potting up dahlias. Choosing sustainable materials when buying new (like bamboo saucers) also helps.
· Providing food for pollinators is really important to me – so I always make sure to plant / keep a good selection of bee favourites on the balcony, which flower over a long period. Things like cosmos, scabious, rosemary, poppies and cornflowers. I do love some of the decorative double flowered plants too however – I’d be lying if I said otherwise. But I think it’s just about maintaining a good balance of things you love and things the bees love.
What are your future plans for your garden?
· At the moment, it’s all about spring bulbs! I went a little nuts in autumn - all in all I planted around 600 of them. Not entirely sure how I’ve fitted them in! But I can’t wait to see all the different types of narcissus, iris, tulips and more.
· Later in the summer I’ve got a few new things to try.
I’m growing sweet peas for the first time, which I started in early Feb. I’m going to try and grow them in a big tipi shape in my largest pot.
I’m going to try growing full size dahlias for the first time, after getting major flower envy last year.
I’ve got a couple of bare root perennials to try, like Moncarda. It’s also known as bee balm – which is exactly why I choose it, to encourage even more winged visitors to the balcony.
I’m also trying some new kinds of veg for the balcony – including courgettes and sweet peppers.
We want to thank Emma for such a wonderful insight into her gardening journey and for sharing with us some fantastic ideas for gardening in small spaces. To discover more of Emma's gardening journey you can follow her Instagram account @third_floor_garden