The Concrete Chronicles, part IV: Canvass

An assortment of flower pots for the English garden-themed patio. Photo by Rachel Polaniec

When I first decided to undertake the little conundrum that was my drab, barren balcony, I thought it would be fairly straightforward: Figure out what I like, find plants that I like, plant the plants where I like, and boom! garden I like. While it took a considerably longer time than I initially anticipated, I finally felt it was time to select my plants and get planting.

It was then I encountered perhaps the biggest challenge so far: There are about a bazillion plants out there, and most of them will die mere moments after I put them in the ground. Disappointed, but by no means discouraged, I took a step back to assess the situation.

Since the area being dealt with is so small, every plant counts and there is little room for error. I decided to first figure out where the plants would be going; as there is no actual earth on my particular concrete slab, they would all have to make due in pots and various other containers. Fortunately, I had begun to amass various pots and planters over the previous winter, snapping up great deals on clearance items during the off-season. I highly recommend doing so to all those who like saving money, although the large garden stores and smaller nurseries are closed throughout the winter, Walmart marks all their garden items down considerably, and I've found great bargains there.

Taking inventory of my hardware and positioning them around the balcony helps with the visualization process, and also allows one to see exactly the amount of rain and light each pot will receive. It is a BIG DEAL how much light and water each and every plant will tolerate, and they are more than happy to die and teach you a lesson if you mess up in the slightest.

Plants are divided according to shade and sun, some require direct sun, some complete shade, and others are less picky but still have a preference and do better in the favored area. You can get a general idea of the sun/shade ratio in your area based on the direction your space faces (south/west = more direct sun, north/east = less), plus the presence of any large trees, buildings and the like. My balcony faces west, and there is a lot of sun starting in the afternoon and going till sunset. Shade-loving plants would dry up and bake in an instant, so sun lovers it is.

For my English garden theme I decided to prominently display three railing flower boxes: a box of lavender, a box of herbs and, of course, a box of roses. Perhaps mine won’t be entirely authentic, but I’m more interested in a variety’s hardiness than its accuracy. I’m going to attempt (that last word is key here) to coax some climbing nasturtium up the far wall by my table and chairs, and I want pansies. Lots and lots of pansies. They’re forgiving, they tolerate both extreme heat and extreme cold, and they come in a wide variety of colors. I was thinking about only planting pansies, but that seemed like cheating.

After that, who knows? We’ll see how this initial step goes, and then take it from there. There’s nothing wrong with starting out small and building on what is learned. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy what’s there, and continue planning what’s next. 

Rachel Polaniec

I live in Westlake with my husband and our two sons. I work part time at Kohl's, and full-time at home. In my free time I like to read, write, and cook. My family and I take part in War of 1812 reenactments throughout the summer. My lofty dreams are of traveling abroad, visiting the great museums, and drinking all the coffee. For now I content myself with antiquing and Keurig sampler packs.

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Volume 5, Issue 11, Posted 9:51 AM, 05.29.2013