Monday, September 3, 2012

Balcony Gardening - Trip to the Library

As part of my plans for getting a balcony garden up and running I went to the library to get some books so I could learn up on the topic.

After locating the gardening section I plonked myself down on the floor infront of the shelves and started browsing through the books. reading the titles hunting books that looked promising - ones about gardening in small spaces, growing food, books for beginners, stuff like that. The library had about three shelves full of gardening books, and after going through them all I'd pulled out a pile well over a foot high to narrow down from. I carefully picked up my pile, and garnering a few strange looks at the size of my pile of books I settled down in one of the armchairs and started looking through them more closely.

Some were completely not applicable to what I want to do, or the information was exclusively geared towards people with garden beds, so I managed to exclude a few quite quickly. Then after flicking through the rest and reading a few pages I narrowed it down to three books that I thought were worth getting out and reading through more thoroughly.

 The first book was "The Edible Balcony - Growing Fresh Produce in the Heart of the City" by Alex Mitchell.

Overall I found this book very useful and informative, the actual information in the book was nearly all relevant to what I'm hoping to do, and as well as listing general concepts it had more specific lists, ideas and examples. I particularly liked the "projects" and thinking outside the box" ideas, which really got you thinking of different ways to use all the space that you may have available.

However, I found some parts a bit wordy and irrelevant, there were whole pages where the author was waxing poetic about specific examples of balcony/roof gardens, which I found a bit excessive and too frequent - once I was halfway through the book I'd had enough and started skipping those sections. I also found that while the book was jam packed full of inspiring and attractive photos, they didn't always relate very well to the nearby text. Also, some of the projects would have benefited greatly from having a photo or diagram to explain them, as just the text instructions left me completely baffled. Some parts I had to remember to ignore as it was written by someone from the UK, so the climate concerns are somewhat different there than here in Melbourne.

Having said that, I did gather quite a lot of information from the book, including some ideas for inventive planting options, and the startings of a list of plants to try growing. There was also a fair bit of specific information about those plants that will be useful to go back to once I've chosen what I'm going to grow.

The second book I got was "Grow Your Own Vegetables in Pots: 35 Ideas for Growing Vegetables, Fruits, and Herbs in Containers" by Deborah Schneebeli-Morrell

I was very disappointed by this book. On the surface it looks like a book aimed at beginners, containing information for beginner gardeners. However, there was quite a bit of gardening specific terminology that wasn't explained. They also don't give much contact to the plants they're suggesting, or the different conditions that the plants will grow particularly well or poorly in. They just give a whole heap of specific examples of unusual containers that could be used to grow the plants, but don't give any added information that explains why it is a good container for that plant. So unless you can find the specific container they're suggesting you don't really know what to try instead, as they don't tell you the particular aspects of the suggested container (or conditions or combination of plants) that are good.

I really tried to find a good point about this book, but I really struggled. The only thing I could think of was that they were good for adding captions of all their images. I don't feel that I gained any useful information from the book, and I won't be coming back to it as reference in the future.

The last book I got was "Sugar Snaps and Strawberries: Simple Solutions for Creating Your Own Small-Space Edible Garden" by Andrea Bellamy.

This book was quite useful, it had some more specific examples like the other books, but what I found particularly useful was the different chapters it had, in particular the ones near the beginning that talked about planning and such. For example, on chapter suggests writing a list of everything you'd like to grow, ignoring whether it's practical with the space/time/climate/budget you have. I decided to do this exercise, and the act of writing out a list really helped me get going with making some decisions about what I want to grow.

It also has quite an extensive list of plants with information about them and how to best grow them at the end of the book, which was very useful as reference material for narrowing down my list and using this information in combination with that from "The edible balcony" was how I chose my inital list for what I'm going to have a go at growing.

As I've implied in the above paragraphs, I have used these books (and a little bit of the internet and advise from friends) and progressed in my balcony gardening plans, which I shall post some more about soon.


  1. That former SBS newsreader did a book about balcony gardening. Check out your library's book purchasing request system if it has one. If your request falls within their guidelines they will often purchase it for you and the library collection. Ours does.

    1. This one: ? I already requested a hold on it, as they have it but it's out.

  2. You made me laugh because you and I have the same library book hunting technique: Plonking down on the carpet in front of the relevant section then pulling out any and all relevant books before having to whittle down a HUGE pile :) I am looking forward to seeing more of your balcony garden. Men are installing my carpet today so after my sewing room is finally set up my brain will be clear to think about some gardening myself, I can't wait! :) You new blog colours/layout looks good too!

  3. Hooray for libraries! It's not specifically for containers, but I've been using Stephanie Alexander's "Kitchen Garden Compendium" and she has wonderful, clear, and organised information on vegetables and fruits including harvesting and planting times, pests and diseases, soil types, compatible plants, etc.

    Other (free!) sources I find useful are Gardening Australia's 'Veggie Guide' ( and Gardenate ( which sends you monthly reminders of what you can plant for the upcoming month.


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