Mar 16, 2019

Beginnings of a balcony garden

Our front yard, being a little spacious, is the favorite play area of our sons' friends. I love having them over and hearing their constant teasing and mild trash talk while they are playing. I love knowing that they are building their bodies and friendships and not sitting all hunched over cellphones or tabs and obsessing about some trashy online game. It especially soothes my heart to watch them scarf down the snacks that I occasionally make with healthy appetites and evident enjoyment despite the imperfections of my culinary products.

But, well, nothing is perfect in this world, huh? The price for the above is that I cannot grow anything in our front yard. Neither can I have any hanging ornaments on my porch. I had to keep seeing beautiful clay creations, so lovingly hung up, break apart piece by piece and finally get rid of them altogether. I have one row of plants along the wall separated by a diagonal brick border. The bricks  of the border are so broken and battered, they look like old people's teeth now. The plants, being sturdy varieties like hibiscus, ixora, and mussaenda stick around despite getting battered by footballs. But they are not happy, they are not happy at all. When I go to water them, they show me their mangled and stripped limbs, seeming to wail, "Why, why???"

But the worst fate was not reserved for the ornaments or the plants on the border. For years, I optimistically bought clay pots during the rainy season and planted beautiful flowering plants in them to grace the front of our porch, only to have them broken apart in the playing season. I switched to cement pots. If the clay pots were turned to powder, the cement pots simply broke into bigger bits. At least clay gets mixed up with the soil. But I couldn't have big bits of rubble littering our yard, could I? So I gave up trying to make our front yard pretty. 

When you can't go under or around an obstacle, try climbing over it. That is how I started looking up and thinking about a balcony garden and wondering how to go about it. Of course the queen of procrastination drew out the process by planning up a number of steps and a grandiose plan. And then kept it on the shelf to ripen and mature! 😁 But this month, having some time on my hands after quitting my job, I finally managed to garner the supplies and set it up!!!

My idea is to start a quartet of climbing plants first. For the frames, I bought 6-foot lengths and 2.5-foot lengths of PVC pipe and fixed them up as frames with PVC elbows. Then I tied them to the railing with rope. I fixed wire netting to the frames with cable ties. To prevent being overwhelmed, I did one frame a day till I had all of them up. Then I had my kids help me with acquiring some dried cow manure, some soil and brought up a block of cocopeat.

Mixed them all up on a crumbly old plastic mat right there on the balcony and filled the pots. Here are my plants.

Please don't expect me to know the names of these plants... I went to the nursery and asked for climbers with pretty flowers. The one above and another one with pretty yellow flowers(shown below) are what they gave me!!! I've lined the top of the pots with coconut husks to prevent the soil from being completely dried out by direct sunlight. As part of the mulching process for the dry season, I've swept all the dried leaves around the plants and trees in my yard and weighted them down with coconut husks. These will provide protection during the dry season and will help catch the rain and rot down into the soil later.

I've also planted two pots with passion fruit vines. The common variety of passion fruit available here is lemon yellow in color and so sour that even ladles of sugar can't make its juice sweet. But I got another variety from a cousin in Kottayam. The vines bear purple fruit and the pulp is so sweet that there is no need to add sugar. Even though I was the one to first grow the seedlings and gave some away to my father and neighbors, it was my father's vine that just took over a golden shower tree and has become so prolific that my father can reach up his hand and pluck a fruit from his front yard whenever he feels like it. What happened to mine? Yeah, well, it was in a huge cement pot right next to my front porch. Shall I stop here or show you the shards? It's so depressing!!! Another one has climbed up the jackfruit tree that you see behind the frames in the photo below. I think it's still trying to find a bit of sunlight to work with.

This photo is in the interest of fighting perfectionism on the internet. Just to show that my once pristine balcony is now messy as can be! No doubt it will get messier as I add more plants.

And finally, here are the guys who did all the dirty work. Let's give them a big hand!

Oh , yeah, they've had a good soaking to remove the loose dirt and have gone to the wash. Which reminds me... I have to go and water the new plants. See y'all later!!!

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