For the past eleven years or so I have spent most of the time living in apartments. When I was going to school in the Bronx I lived in an apartment in midtown Manhattan that barely has enough light for houseplants. But at school I was surrounded by plants and on the weekends I would garden at my fathers house in New Jersey so I survived.
But California has been mostly apartment living and I have to say I am getting a little tired of it. My dream of course is to live out in the country on several (flat!) acres with lots of sun and room to make any type of garden my heart desires.
Until that happens I have to just make the best of it. My first experience gardening in Southern California was on my balcony in Santa Monica where I lived for two years. It was only about forty five square feet but it was a southern exposure six blocks from the ocean.
The views were great. The ocean to the west took up most of my view and was what sold me on the apartment.
My beautiful ocean view. Catalina Island was visible on clear days.
When I moved into the apartment I discovered that when you were out on the balcony you also had a view of the San Gabriel Mountains.
San Gabriel Mountains covered in snow in winter.
Now all my life my only views had been of walls and other apartment buildings so as you can imagine I was pretty excited. But I was even more excited to start a balcony garden. At this point I hadn’t been able to do any gardening for about two years I was starved for plants. Any plants. I pretty much just ran to every nearby nursery and bought every brightly colored thing I could find. In the past I had been quite the plant snob but now I didn’t care. I just grabbed everything in sight.
I just wanted color and lots of it. So I set about creating a cottage garden on the fourth floor.
I decided my garden needed a purpose so I decided to make it a hummingbird garden. I bought lots of Salvias and Pelargoniums and anything else I could think of that would attract hummingbirds.
I am happy to say it was quite successful. I had a contant buzz of hummingbirds visiting my fourth floor garden.
The view from my living room was pretty great.
I was pretty happy the first year and had some really nice specimens.
The hummingbirds loved the garden and as plants went out of bloom I would toss them to make room for new ones and I even started growing plants from seed. The balcony was always over planted and I usually didn’t have much room to walk around out there.
Cuphea viscosissima grown from seed.
I rigged up some shelves to make the most of every square foot.
Now the weather in Santa Monica this close to the ocean is mostly really cool and quite nice. winter, spring, and summer it is sunny but we often have a thick layer of fog rolling in off the ocean. It reminded me a bit of northern California weather. But the fall can be brutal. Temperatures would jump to a hundred degrees and the sun felt like it was cooking you from the inside. You feel as if one day you are in San Francisco and the next you are in Pasadena.
Salvias do OK in large pots but with that kind of weather and in that exposure I needed to water them every day. So I started phasing them out and began collecting succulents.
I started collecting succulents at the end of the first year and slowly began replacing my water thirsty plants.
Senicio rowleyanus inflorescence.
Fenestraria rhopalophylla subsp. aurantiaca
Crassula Campfire To get it this red in winter I neglected the plant all summer long leaving it in full baking sun with little water. After the fall and winter rains it starts to green up again.
After two years of living in Santa Monica I got a bit bored and decided I wanted something new. Yes I had an amazing view but my balcony was so small and the apartment itself was rather drab.
I found a place in West Hollywood with beautiful hardwood floors, stainless steel appliances, glass tiles in the bathroom, a washer and dryer INSIDE the apartment, and best of all a balcony with a southern exposure that was more than twice as big as my old one.
I was so excited about the rest of the apartment that I didn’t really examine the balcony closely enough. I moved in December and it rained for ten days straight. I remember thinking “Wow all that rain and not a drop of water on the balcony. I’m not as exposed anymore. That roof really covers the balcony well.” A short time later it occurred to me that the only reason that this balcony had any sun at all was because it was the middle of winter. Sure enough the closer we got to spring the higher the sun got in the sky. My sunlight began shrinking bit by bit and now I have a bright shade balcony with absolutely no full sun. The roof overhang protects me a bit too much.
Lots of room but not a lot of sun. All the succulents have been moved to the ledge and shelving in the brightest spot. If there is an earthquake they will go crashing to the driveway below.
So my poor succulents will have to hang in there. I’m hoping that the bright light will be enough for them to get by until I move again. The Nicotiana mutabilis that I started from seed last July is doing OK but had to be staked. I am making the best of it though. I started up some mixed containers of shade loving plants like Fuchsias, ferns, and Abutilons. I ordered a bunch of large flowered begonias which will hopefully be really happy. In the meantime I keep dreaming of that house in the country that will be mine one day.
At least the Ledebouria socialis and Haworthias should do OK.