And so it bee-gins...
I was extremely fortunate to get the shared ownership flat I am in. Due to a last minute planning change and removal of a communal roof garden, my teeny-tiny one-bedroomed top-floor flat, ended up with a decent sized balcony. As a country girl at heart, this swung it for me and I had to have it.
My industrial, dull, east-London balcony. A lot has changed.
I would be misleading you if I said that it immediately became an oasis for wildlife. I think one of the first things I bought for the space was a bar. There was a party, the toilet seat was broken, there were many sore heads. But both I and the balcony have moved on since then. The bar is now rotting behind a screen, and it houses lots of plant pots and garden faff, as well as a few lovely bugs. I'd only ever contemplate having low-key grown-up nibbles and drinks out there these days. And I can't see the O2 arena any more, as housing blocks have sprung up around me.
I liked the next pre-bee iteration of my balcony. Aesthetically. It was clean, simple and modern, with splashes of green. I even began to grow something up the exterior wall (spoiler - it had to come down due to keeping the cladding clear.) It was very open, with lots of space to entertain. However, I don't really know anyone in London and don't really have many friends; the idea of it being an entertaining space was wishful thinking. And much of the 'greenery' was plastic. Whilst it was an improvement on my concrete 'wasteland' look, I was highly unlikely to stumble upon Sir David Attenborough rummaging around in my undergrowth.
One of my little indulgences has been my hammock; you'll see it is an ongoing theme. The idea was to create a lovely relaxing space, surrounded by nature, in which I could pretend I wasn't in London. I mentioned earlier that high-rises were encroaching upon me, so I decided to put up fencing to try to retain some level of privacy.
It is worth noting that the nature of my space constrains what I can do. For example, nothing on my balcony is permanently attached - I use industrial Velcro and cable ties to fix things into place. And as much as 'hot tub' crossed my mind when I first moved in, which then became 'water butt' when I got into gardening, I cannot have either due to the weight restrictions. I'd also love nothing more than to have a pond, and be visited by frogs, hedgehogs and foxes, but unless they undergo rigorous special forces training, it just isn't going to happen. I have to accept my limitations. I do have a small solar powered water feature, which provides a lovely trickling sound; a pleasant compromise.
I proudly posted pics in the Bumblebee Facebook group I'm in, and was told 'It's nice but surely you can do more?' I love the group and appreciate their honesty, and actually yes, what I'd come up with was 'nice' but there was still so much more I could do with the space if I wanted to support our pollinators. It was then that I crossed the point of no return, and invested in planters, pots and plants galore over the following months. It was (and still is) a bit of an addiction. I'd also got a bee in my bonnet about growing my own vegetables. Which sounds fine enough, but I don't actually eat that many vegetables. I am ashamed to say that more produce has rotted away than I've been able to eat (despite me giving it away to neighbours whenever my social anxiety would allow). However, most of my veggies have been bumblebee-friendly, so that's something.
I ended up with a very higgledy-piggledy looking space, more shabby-shabby than shabby-chic, with some pots being black, some green, and some in various shades of blue and teal. The teal was my primary colour choice, as it reflected the glass panels separating my balcony from next door, but when you don't have a huge budget to play with sometimes you have to make choices. I ended up putting together rough groupings of colour, so the black pots and planters would be together, and the baby-sick-green pots were in a cluster.
My 'technique' much resembled the one used by teenage-Tree to tidy her room, with a mantra of 'it has to get worse before it gets better', when I used to throw all of my clothes etc in a pile in the middle of my room and then rely on a later version of myself to fix the mess. As you can see above, one chilly February morning, I pulled all of my pots (well the ones I could move) together and had a cup of tea. I then started moving bits around until I was happy I'd made a few sections; one for veggies (far left corner, mainly in the black planters), a woodland wildflower area (the far right dark green planters which don't really get direct sun) and then general bee planting. I'd learnt that the exterior wall was a terrible place to put anything living, as there's a small overhang, which means plants there don't get watered naturally so I decided to move my outdoor furniture set there instead; even I'd struggle to accidentally kill a table and chairs.
As I've said before, I don't have a show-garden, and I'd fall off my chair if any of my pictures appeared on Pinterest; it is hardly aspirational. As much as I'd like to have a wow-factor balcony that people will remember, the main thing for me is that I attract and support pollinators. I'm not sure I'll ever stop tweaking it. Here I've written in general about the metamorphosis of my space from barren industrial blot on the landscape, to something a country girl and her bees can feel a little more at home in, but I'll be sharing my planting experiences separately. It is important for us to accept that our gardens won't look 'pretty' all year round, and there's no shame in that. Plants die, the seasons take their toll, things don't work out, and we learn from our endeavours. The shame would be in not even trying to make the world a greener, more flowery, buzzy place.