Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

A Balcony for All Seasons

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

A Balcony for All Seasons

Article excerpt

Byline: Pattie Barron

PENELOPE BENNETT has an allotment, which is nothing unusual, except that hers is on the second-floor balcony of her flat in Chelsea. In a space only 16ft by 8ft, just beyond her kitchen window, she cultivates a hugely varied harvest of fruit, veg and herbs, ranging from artichokes and alpine strawberries to Texsel greens and Japanese mizuna.

It is an all-year kitchen garden, so not only can she snip mangetout and salad leaves from her hanging baskets right now, she can take her pick in January from endive, spinach, garlic chives, rocket, parsley, Swiss chard and even celeriac.

In October she harvests saffron filaments from the flowers she grows from corms; in November she grows mushrooms indoors; in December she sprouts seeds.

Her orchard -- fruit trees grown on dwarfing rootstocks -- comprises a fig, comice and conference pears, two Victoria plums and a Sunburst cherry, trained and pruned to keep them within bounds on back wall and railings.

An evergreen jasmine, the stems wonderfully wiggly because its growth is restricted, competes for the finest fragrance with a pot of regale lilies, a honeysuckle and a Japanese mock orange, grown from seed brought back from a roadside in Crete. On open shelving units, cut-and-come-again salad leaves flourish in wide plastic saucers and are brought to the dinner table for guests to snip, while potatoes, as well as Jerusalem artichokes, are grown in deep plastic sacks.

The point, says Bennett, is not to be self-sufficient -- though she has had window-box gluts from tomatoes, basil and courgettes -- but to have fun.

After 30-odd years of balcony growing, she still calls herself an enthusiastic beginner, and says there are advantages to small-scale gardening: "Containers can be placed at eye level. Because such gardening is intimate, you are more a part of it and can observe more of what is going on. Although it is small, the enjoyment, interest and enrichment it produces are immense. …

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