Aside from being a fun hobby, gardening offers a wealth of benefits – and even if you don’t have a backyard, that doesn’t mean a garden is an impossibility. Any space, even the size of a balcony, can be adequate for starting a garden.
According to UNSW Built Environment Associate Professor Paul Osmond, head of the sustainable built environment program, those who live in flats with balconies can still “grow a lot”, with herbs, vegetables and even small fruit trees all possible.
“The avenues for species selection are pretty broad. You really can choose anything you like. I would recommend lower maintenance plants, just on the grounds of saving water and avoiding the use of chemical fertilisers.”
Another emerging trend in balcony gardens is design integration. More recent apartment developments have started to include green walls as well as balconies.
Associate Professor Osborne said that balcony gardens can be a great place to relax and de-stress.
“There are the basic health benefits of getting fresh air, getting your hands dirty, interacting with plants and nature, which is a known way of relieving stress. It also improves physical health if you’re outside, and you’re able to be active,” he said.
And while we are spending a lot of time at home, it’s still vital to get outside in nature, as a nature deficit can be detrimental to our health and our immune system.
“In other words, we can suffer from having too little nature, too little exposure to the natural world,” he said. “The ability to have that interaction with nature, in whatever way we can, is vital.”
Having a garden can also contribute to food production as an additional supplementary source of fresh produce with some people having successfully grown balcony farms.
Balcony gardening can also contribute to developing community cohesion and interaction while we’re in social distancing, Associate Professor Osmond said.
While it is hard to measure the impact of DIY balcony gardening, similar community movements have had a groundswell of support in recent times. He says there is no reason why apartment dwellers too couldn’t easily take on a balcony garden as a form of collective social responsibility.
“If you get enough people doing it, we’re talking about at least some capture of carbon dioxide, so again there’s a benefit, if a minor one, but a benefit nonetheless, with respect to climate change,” he said.
“There’s also a potential for biodiversity if you’ve got these diverse gardens with different species, bees for example and pollination, even on a balcony scale, that is helping biodiversity and wildlife.
“It is absolutely the sort of thing a healthy society should be encouraging people to do as something which provides both private and public benefits.”