GETTING today’s teenagers away from devices, facebook or the latest fad is a complicated business I find. Are they love-lorn, hormone-saturated or plain not interested?
I discovered a small gardening project with my 13 year old has been a most enjoyable outward focus and simple, pleasurable pastime we can dip into now and again.
Chinese artist, Ai Weiwei struck a cord with me when he explained about the making of his zillion sunflower seeds from porcelain. It was the fact that families, grandparents or students could dip in and out of painting each seed while attending to other duties whether domestic, work or study that made the project entwine into the tapestry of their lives. Gardening is similar. A little pottering now and again brings results and this many little lots of ten minutes here or there makes it especially easy for children and teenagers.
My children are quite long suffering about my garden exploits. But my 13 year old and I decided together to colonise a small shady area with pots of wildflowers. We were given some clumps of viola, alpine strawberries (tiny delicious bursts of joy) and ox-eye daisy plants from my step-mother, scattered woodland wildflower mix and added some scavenged forget-me-not, comfrey and scabious to our potage. So a mixture of plants and seeds gave us something instant and something to come.
Last year’s long wet summer produced at few flowers and this year’s looks really promising. I see forget-me-not, calendula, poppies, vetch and verbascum slowly emerging. Many have self-seeded from last year, perfect for the lazy gardener.
What I find so appealing about wildflowers are that they are pretty robust flowering plants, needing not too much attention but a bit of jollying along and delightful when they blossom, rather like teenagers.
Back to those romantic balconies and Karen from Fulham who said to me that every year, she buys plants for her balcony and every year they die. “Wherefore art thou, oh long lasting hardy perennial?” Thinking about her sunny, south-facing balcony, her poor annuals were dying in the arid desert of her pots.
What Karen needs is the robust succulent plant, which adapts brilliantly to dry conditions and soaks up all the water when it rains. Sedum spectabile is a favourite to see and pronounce!
Sedum comes in many shapes, sizes and colours and is low maintenance. It is very attractive to wildlife and especially butterflies. Most of all, it is pretty! It dies back in the winter and beautiful rosettes emerge in spring leading to this lovely, long-flowering perennial over the summer. Some of the smaller varieties have evergreen or ever-purple foliage. They are also very easy to take cuttings from.
Sedum spectabile For the less romantic teenager, the environmental credentials of Sedum might appeal. They are used for green roofs, requiring little soil and adapt to a variety of conditions. And for all those revising for Biology GCSE, unusually with succulents, the main site of photosynthesis can be the stem as well the leaves.
A collection of succulent plants and cacti
For romantic north or east facing balconies, you might consider feathery ferns (eg Phyllitis scolopendrium) with Heuchera ‘Chocolate Truffles”, both of which come in fantastic colours. Look out for purple, marmalade or bright lime varieties of Heuchera at W6 Garden Centre near Ravenscourt Park. At Capel Manor College in Gunnersbury, where I trained, there was a fabulous combination of wood spurge (Euphorbia amygdaloides var. robbiae) with Forget-me-not (Myosotis sylvatica) which flourish at this time of year. This would work well on a smaller scale in pots on a not too sunny balcony. Look out for Capel Manor’s plant sale in May.
To refresh your containers, remove or refresh old compost. Add a layer of crocks (broken bits of terracotta pot) at the bottom to improve drainage. Check for vine weevils, which can eat roots over the winter. Buy a selection of plants to suit your aspect, water them well before planting in pots on your balcony and share the fruits of your efforts with family and friends or even Romeo or Juliet!
For advice on city gardens, vegetable gardens, community gardens and children’s garden, please contact:
Sarah Heaton at Sarah Heaton Gardens email@example.com or follow on twitter @SarahHeaton4
Hammersmith-based Sarah Heaton is a trained horticulturalist and gardener. She specialises in designing
city gardens, vegetables gardens and family and children’s gardens. She likes to bring nature to the city
and runs a gardening club at a local primary school and supports number of local community gardens and
projects. Please contact her if you need garden design advice.