You may recall that the upshot of last year’s apartment flood was my moving into a new apartment with a balcony, which I promptly filled with an array of potted plants. Having thus broken my many-year hiatus from gardening, I intended to expand my gardens this year in some ambitious ways; namely, I wanted more color, flowering vines, and . . . drum roll . . . a water feature.
I started planting last fall with some shrubs and perennials that I knew would survive the cold. I used the winter months to track down half a whiskey barrel and read six books on water gardening. And once the nurseries started getting plants in early April, I started planting in earnest. It’s still early in the season, but the plants are established enough to be photo-worthy. I’m pleased with the results, and I hope you’ll enjoy the photos. I may post more later in the season as more plants come into bloom.
The water garden is my pride and joy this year, and it’s been many months in the making. Thanks to a tip from Ammon, I was able to get the barrel in Watertown, NY, the day after Christmas. It was covered in mud and ice and was far from water-tight, but it was well priced and fit in the back of my car, so I brought it home and started cleaning it up. Every week through the winter I poured a bucket of water into the barrel to saturate the slats. As they soaked up the water, they expanded to seal the gaps. By mid-March, it was water-tight to just below the rim.
As I read about water gardens, I realized I’d set myself a challenging goal. There’s no outlet on the balcony, so there would be no electricity for a filter or aeration system. That meant I needed to create a self-sustaining ecosystem of fish, submerged oxygenating plants, floating plants, bog plants and bacteria to keep the water clean. I also discovered that nearly all water plants need enormous amounts of sun to thrive, and yet my balcony receives at most four hours of sun per day. Finally, given the range of temperatures it would experience–from the high heat of the summer to the cold of winter, without the insulating benefit of a deep, in-ground pond–I needed to get the hardiest type of goldfish.
I ended up traveling to three different water garden nurseries, and had to adjust some of my original aspirations (no lotus or papyrus!). But in the end I got a very close what I’d originally envisioned.
|Clockwise from top left: Pickerel rush, calla lilly,
water hyacinth, Texas Dawn hardy water lilly,
The pond is stocked with three Comet goldfish. They’re supposed to be the hardiest goldfish, and they have the added benefit of being pretty, with bright red and white bodies and long graceful tails. They can grow very large, but supposedly they’ll stop growing when they reach the optimum size for the pond. They don’t hold still for photos, so here’s a video:
The left-hand side of the balcony is the shadiest, so the challenge is to build interest and color without relying on sun-loving annuals or defaulting to impatiens. I’ll warn you now that I take a liberal approach to what constitutes a “shade” plant — some of these are supposed to be planted in full sun, but I just plant them in a way that anticipates that they won’t grow as much as they otherwise might.
|From left: Kong Rose coleus, Kong Red coleus,
Margarita sweet potato vine
|Escargot de jardin (a gift from Ashley) and
Kimberly Queen fern
|Rose Splash hypoestes (“polka dot plant”) with
|Clockwise from top: coral bells, spike,
heartleaf bergenia,variegated sedge
Bottom righthand corner: wintergreen
This is where the sun hits most, so I feel like I’ve got some latitude to be more adventurous (despite the looks of horror from the ladies in the nursery when I tell them what I plan to do — apparently clematis should NOT be grown in such conditions! tsk, tsk).
|Clockwise from top left: Will Goodwin clematis,
Queen Victoria lobelia, asparagus fern,
Allan P. McConnell hosta,
Super Eflin impatiens (in pink and white),
black sweet potato vine, and astilbe
|The flower appears more violet in real life|
|Clockwise from left: Celebrate New Guinea impatiens,
Super Elfin impatiens, Purple Queen setcreasea,
more impatiens, Pony Tails stipa tenuissima
At bottom: Yang Rose wax begonias
|On the far right: Albert spruce with ivy and variegated sedge, and a leafy
plant from last year that came back (and should have blue flowers)
Lower lefthand corner: Jasmine
With these plantings and the gorgeous spring weather that we get here in the DC area, I spend as much time as possible on the balcony. I eat breakfast out here in the mornings, and at night I unwind after work by feeding the fish, watering the plants, pruning, and noticing how they’ve grown during the day. When I have to work late, I try to come home and do it out here. After a long bike ride on the weekends, I like to just relax in the comfy chair with a magazine or book.
I love (LOVE) the smell of eucalyptus. It’s a scent that I’ve associated since childhood with Granny’s house and Lady — to me, it’s the smell of home. I don’t love the “country cottage” look it has, but I still keep bunches of it stashed around the apartment for aromatic purposes. The most effective spot is out here on the balcony in these tall ceramic canisters. As the heat and humidity climb, the eucalyptus sweats, filling the air with its rich, clean smell. It really enhances the ambiance of the space.