Alice shares her adventures in urban gardening through Noughticulture, her newsletter and Instagram account, alongside writing a column for the Telegraph and recently publishing Rootbound, a gardening memoir. We asked Alice a few questions about gardening in small spaces and what you should be planting now.
How can you make the most out of a small outdoor space?
With height! If you’ve got a small plot, especially if you’re growing on a balcony or in a back yard, there’s a good chance you’ll have as much square footage up the boundaries of your space as on the ground. Maximise this by attaching planters to walls and growing up – don’t be afraid of tall, imposing plants; often these can make your space appear lusher than lots of smaller, fussier pots. Once you’ve got your structural plants in place, arrange others underneath and around. Pot stands can add elevation, as well as upturned sturdy plant pots.
What are your favourite flowers to grow at this time of year?
If I had all the sun and space in the world I’d be maxing out on sweet peas, delphiniums and meadowy beauties – things like ammi majus and phlox. However, my balcony is a shade garden, so I compensate with foxgloves, aquilegia, lamium and tumbling nasturtiums.
What should you be planting now for summer blooms?
Dahlias! We’re just on the cusp of getting them in the ground but you should be able to find them on their way to blooming in the garden centre. Cosmos can be planted now, hardy geraniums will be coming into their own, sedum will be starting and will keep going into autumn, and plenty more summer flowers will be showing off. If you’re buying them as established plants, make sure they’ve got lots of buds on the way and aren’t fully in bloom yet.
If someone doesn’t have any outdoor space at all, what is your top advice for bringing the outdoors in?
Houseplants are the obvious answer, but I’d particularly recommend scented pelargoniums if you’ve got a bit of a sunny window – they smell divine and have really beautiful, delicate flowers.
What, if any, changes are you planning on making to your balcony garden?
The containers I’ve got here are the biggest I could fit and over the years they’ve become properly seasonal ecosystems, with something to offer in every month. I’m not one for chucking in annuals much, as I find perennials so much more rewarding. Having said that, I recently brought a reclaimed ladder onto the balcony which has revolutionised how many flowering seedlings I can have as it elevates them into the sunniest corner. Mostly I’m plotting ahead for autumn, having made a wish-list of dreamy bulbs to get planting in October for display next spring.
What are your favourite gardens in London?
The Beech Garden at the Barbican is always stunning; Nigel Dunnett’s understated planting is somehow always slightly ethereal, especially against the towering concrete of the estate. Chelsea Physic Garden is one of the city’s best-kept secrets – its beautiful, tiny glasshouses are among the oldest in the country. Ruskin Park, in South London, is really only known to its neighbours but has a beautiful Victorian arbour which is laden with wisteria, and looks stunning in late summer due to the perennials growing there, and I can always find myself getting lost in the little, but transportive, gardens of St Dunstan’s in the East, where tropical palms grow against the ruins of a Christopher Wren church.
If you had a huge garden, what would be at the top of your list?
I’d love one of those wholly indulgent, largely impractical glasshouses, mostly to fill with scented pelargoniums, aged terracotta pots and a massive table for dinner parties under the stars.
What is your all-time favourite plant?
Sweet peas. They smell divine, they’re beautifully understated and they remind me of my mum.
Could you share your three top tips for starting your own garden, no matter how small your outdoor space?
- Work out where your light comes from, and how much you get from it. How much sunshine you get dictates what you can grow and allows you to skip over a lot of early mistakes.
- Whatever you’re growing in, make sure it has holes in the bottom! It’s crucial to make sure you can let water out, otherwise plants’ roots will rot.
- It’s not cheating to start growing with already established plants. There are a lot of annual bedding plants around in supermarkets at the moment (and, if you can get to a nursery, great) and these make perfect training wheels for beginner gardeners. Pick what you like the look of and have fun planting them up.
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