Alexis Rowell’s balcony garden
Seeing Alexis Rowell’s lush and burgeoning growing area, it’s hard to believe that five years ago he never imagined he’d get into gardening. From small beginnings, he now cultivates all three balconies on his first floor flat, the communal entrance steps, and part of the neighbour’s front garden. Containers, filled with seedlings, young plants, mature herbs, and the occasional flower, are crammed into every nook and cranny. Even the living room table has become a seedling nursery, covered in egg cartons and containers.
Chatting to Alexis, I was most struck by the joy that he draws from his growing. “I find it relaxing, creative and fulfilling”, he explains. He underlines this by saying that if he had the choice between a weekend on his balcony or a weekend in Prague, he’d now chose his balcony.
Alexis has been surprised by just how much it is possible to grow in a small space. Nearly every meal throughout the year has something from the garden, he says. Salad leaves are the most productive, particularly from February to June until the other crops like peas start to bear fruit. One of his favourite crops is sage – both for its beneficial properties and versatility. He uses it in everything from sage tea to a delicious pasta sauce.
Experimenting and learning is ongoing, say Alexis. He’s found that rocket grows poorly in shallow containers in the sun and much better in deeper containers on the shadier balconies. Fertility is maintained by the worm juice and vermicompost from the worm bins, and fresh compost is mixed into the containers on a regular basis. After starting out with a couple of poorly designed worm bins, he’s found the Can O Worms excellent – although he’d choose a square design in the future to make better use of space.
Basil, tomatoes, chillies, and a vigorous sage plant grow on the south facing balcony. Of the two north facing balconies, one is packed high with rocket, peas, and lettuces. The other, adjoining the kitchen, is lined with herbs and doubles up as a kitchen garden and an al fresco eating space. More pots of herbs, pansies, flowering radishes and nasturtiums line the communal stairs. The front garden, on loan from the neighbours on condition their children can get involved in the growing (and the eating!) has become a miniature forest garden. Blackcurrant, blueberry and raspberry bushes are under-planted with carrots, mammoth spring onions, fennel, broccoli, strawberries, and broad beans. The small yellow broccoli flowers have become a favourite snack with the neighbour’s children.