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Cultivating a plot in the sky; GARDEN RULES.

Byline: John Humphries

Sao Paolo in Brazil is considered the fastest growing city in the world so it is hardly surprising that with land at a premium it also has some of the finest roof and balcony gardens.

In fact, some might say Sao Paolo's only redeeming feature is that climbing plants transform monstrous apartment blocks into walls of flowering vegetation.

Apart from this the city is a ribbon of concrete stretching 100 miles, and reaching the countryside entails a nightmare journey through its other claim to fame - traffic.

When I once asked a relative to take me to the country she just showed me the flowers on her balcony!

Gardening in the sky is to be expected in countries where apartments (or flats) are more customary than individual houses. Britain is one of the few countries clinging to the idea that every house must have a garden even if it gets progressively smaller.

Growing plants on a roof-top or balcony is not quite the same as patio gardening. First of all one has to be absolutely sure the structure is strong enough to take the extra weight which can be accommodated when building a new house but in the case of existing structures might need expert advice.

Transporting containers and soil through the property can be a problem but at least it only has to be done once.

Then there's the water supply, some plants needing to be watered twice a day during warm weather.

A rain water butt can be used to collect water if there's an adjacent roof at a higher level while during dry weather smaller plants can be placed in shallow containers filled with water though take care they don't get waterlogged.

Exposure is especially important. Roofs and balconies are often exposed to strong, drying winds.

Those facing south or west become heat traps, both from the sun and dry, warm currents rising up the wall of the property.

Some form of protection may be necessary. Rather than use solid panels, erect either a strong wooden trellis or wire mesh which, when covered in climbing plants, filters the wind.

Common honeysuckle and the wall plant Chaenomeles speciosa are both deciduous and filter rather than block strong winds and do not act as a barrier creating turbulence.

For strong-growing shrubs such as camellias, rhododendrons and wisteria, containers must be substantial, large enough for root space and solid enough for anchorage. A half-barrel is ideal although the restriction of containers does check growth.

Peat-based composts may be lighter but for top-heavy plants I prefer the better support provided by loam-based mixtures.

Unless there's plenty of shelter avoid more delicate plants. Petunias can look very good in containers but are susceptible to wind damage.

What you decide to grow depends largely upon whether you want a permanent display - in which case only plant the hardiest - or are satisfied with annuals.

On a shady balcony, camellias, fatsia, certain helleborus, hostas and rhododendrons are suitable for pots and containers.

For early colour and low level planting use anemone blanda, dwarf daffodils, tulips, primulas and snowdrops. For annuals, choose a separate, sunnier spot, rather than mix with permanently planted containers.

TO DO LIST | Plant summer-flowering bulbs, but check on the packet as some may need to be started off indoors.

Protect lush new growth from slugs with slug pellets or barriers such as copper tape around containers.

Cut back stems of dogwood and willow to within 5cm of the old wood, to boost their strength for next year.

Feed shallow-rooted small or trained trees, cane or bush fruits, using a general fertiliser.

When I once asked a relative to take me to the country she just showed me the flowers on her balcony!


Roofs and balconies are often exposed to strong, drying winds
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Mar 16, 2013
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Next Article:My week; GREEN SCENE.

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