While increasing urban density is pushing more people into apartment living, the desire to stay in touch with nature has become more pressing. So, when it comes to gardening, how can we do more with less. We asked Byron Smith the director of Urban Growers.
Australian Design Review: Many Australians now live in apartments. Which plants work best for balcony planter boxes?
Byron Smith: I always start with the herbs people like to use in cooking. Then try leafy greens, as these can be used for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
ADR: Are there any other ways someone could bring edible plants into the home? For example, herbs on the kitchen counter?
BS: I think edible plants only flourish when outdoors in the sun, rain and fresh air. Small insect pests will soon find them indoors and you just don’t have the bigger beneficial insects inside to control them. An organic edible garden needs outdoor biodiversity.
ADR: What’s the best kind of soil and conditions for edible plants?
BS: The best soil is made up over time by adding compost and worm farm castings/liquid, and using organic gardening practices. Always buy premium Australian standard potting mix for all your pots. If it’s a healthy soil, it should be full of worms and other invertebrates and this soil biology will build up over time.
ADR: Is it better to go for perennials, seasonal varieties or a mix of both?
BS: Annual veg, flowers and herbs benefit from being mixed in with perennial herbs such as rosemary, thyme, oregano and even larger plants like chilli, lemongrass and citrus. Companion planting helps plants to care for each other – one example is how strongly scented plants like lavender mask the scent of other herbs from pests. Also nasturtiums are planted in gardens as sacrificial plants for hungry aphids. Not to mention they have beautiful foliage and flowers.
ADR: What’s the hardiest thing to have a go at for those who are ‘black thumbed’ or no good with plants?
BS: Just buy a good gardening book and do your research before piling up the trolley at the nursery. Know what you’re buying and why. Is it in season? Is it better planted from seed or seedling? What do I use in my cooking the most and would love to grow?
ADR: Anything else people may not realise about growing an edible garden?
BS: It’s super rewarding to have homegrown food available throughout the seasons for your cooking. Once you get the basics sorted, you’ll be able to expand your repertoire and grow, cook and share all sorts of tasty produce in any size space.
Portrait by Matt Rabbidge.