In part 1 of this mini urban-gardening series, I described the plants that have survived a life of neglect on our Little Piece of Paris terrace and those that succumbed to frost or dehydration. Here, I give you my tips for keeping plants alive on a balcony in Paris, with minimal intervention.
- Choose the right plants
Do a bit of research and find out how often different plants need to be watered, whether they enjoy sun or shade, how they handle minus degree temperatures, if they cope well with the heat, and how they react to wind if your terrace is exposed. Then choose the ones that are best suited to the environment you have to offer.
- Expect some casualties
Maintaining your urban garden will involve trial and error. No two balconies are the same. Ours has some sun during summer and none during winter. You’ll have to try out different things to find out which plants fit in where. You’ll lose some and it’s hard. It sounds dramatic, but whenever one of my plants loses its life, I feel guilty and sad, like I should have tried harder, should have looked after it better. I hope, at least, that what I’ve learnt will give the others a better chance of a prosperous life.
- Self-watering pots are life
Unless you’re fond of cacti, you’re going to either need someone to water your plants regularly or to invest in a self-watering system. Self-watering pots are expensive but so is continuously replacing dead plants. We bit the bullet and made the investment. With a reserve of four litres of water, our plants can go a month without watering during spring, autumn and winter, and around two weeks without a top-up in summer. The hardy Oleander would probably be fine for a good two months at any time of year. The Mandevilla is less thirsty than it is vulnerable to the cold.
- Consider all seasons
Many people in Paris ‘do the terrace’ twice per year. At the beginning of spring, they meet with their plant-dealer and deck out their outdoor space for summer. Come autumn, they get rid of anything they know won’t survive the winter and replace those plants with hardier varieties. Sounds extravagant, doesn’t it? Ideally, I want my plants to live a long life and have tried to choose the ones that can go the distance.
- Get advice from someone who knows
Without the expert advice of Leon at the flower market, there would have been many more casualties. He steered us clear of the plants that we would have bought without understanding why they are not suitable. The beautiful Bouganvillea, for example, would have been a dream come true but it doesn’t like changes in temperature. It enjoys the consistent mild climate of the South of France (don’t we all?) and would not react well when the temperatures in Paris inevitably drop.
All in all, our urban garden project is going quite well. That said, I know that with a little more TLC our plants could be healthier and happier, with prettier flowers and headier scents. To help them along, I’ve decided to try the services of Lulu Dans ma Rue. A friend tipped me off after hearing about them on radio 4. We’ve tried using bnbsitter but their specialty is apartment cleaning and key exchange. Asking them to branch out into plant watering resulted in half-drowned plants and others gasping with thirst. Watch this space to hear about how we get on with Paris concierge service, Lulu Dans ma Rue.