Isabelle Palmer is all about converting apartment dwellers and small home owners into full-on gardeners. A cause we can certainly get behind! Her shop, the Balcony Gardener, provides everything needed for those who want to get their green on in the tiniest of spaces. After she turned her own small outdoor space into a green oasis, Isabelle was inspired to help others to do the same. The Balcony Gardener provides everything from seeds to soil tips and the most stylish planters, terrariums and container gardens. With the scoop on everything that those of us new to gardening need to know to get started, we asked Isabelle to answer a few of our most pressing questions for the garden-curious…
Best tips for a gardening newbie:
The most common reason people kill their plants is watering – they either water too much or too little. Check with your finger: If it’s moist up to your knuckle, then you don’t need to water for a couple of days. If it’s dry, then water slowly and moderately until moist. Water in the morning instead of the evening, so plants have sufficient water throughout the day.
Best plants for beginners:
Plant an herb garden! You get the satisfaction of growing your own produce, and they are great for adding to your cooking. Mint, chives, rosemary, parsley and a salad mix are good varieties to start with.
A plant that just won’t die, for black thumbs…
Start off with really hardy, weather-resistant plants to build your confidence – bamboos, laurel, boxus, ivy, lavender and rosemary are all good choices.
Biggest misconception about home gardening:
That gardening is difficult! Gardening is a skill that most people can acquire. You just need to understand that plants are living things – they need sunlight, food, water and tender loving care, just like we do.
Ideas for early summer plants…
Delphiniums, lupins, agapanthas, aliums and sweet peas.
Your favorite thing to grow?
Lavender, it’s evergreen, heady scented and very hardy. The best time to plant it is in early autumn or mid-spring. To help lavender lay down a good root system and develop foliage, cut off the flower stems after planting, and regularly dead-head spent flowers. My favorite flowers at the moment are pink, purple and white plants such as delphiniums, hydrangeas, sweet peas, stocks, lupins and red hot pokers.
Favorite garden-to-kitchen tip:
Homegrown herbs are brilliant; they look pretty in the garden, and they add a fresh touch in your cooking. Small tomatoes give you a fabulous crop and you can also use their flowers in cooking.
Simplest way to spruce up an office or indoor space with plants:
Terrariums (mini-gardens in a glass form) house your own tiny indoor garden whilst creating an architectural piece. Terrariums are a simple way to bring plants into your home. You can easily create one by repurposing vessels like old apothecary jars and vases.
Your favorite unconventional container for flower cuttings...
I love browsing antique markets to source vessels that can be reused for planting. A vintage wooden crate looks lovely planted with salad crops. You can also use vintage metal containers such as a bathtub, dolly tub, birdcages or olive oil drums. I also love the vintage metal boxes we sell on our site.
Any gardens you find inspirational?
The Alnwick Garden by the Duchess of Northumberland. Absolutely gorgeous.
Favorite book, poem or other reference about gardening:
I have a favorite quote by gardener Janet Kilburn Phillips: “There are no gardening mistakes, only experiments.”
Favorite way to share a garden, or its produce, with friends:
I love the city orchard projects that are spreading across London neighborhoods. More and more Londoners want to grow their own produce, and whilst they may not have the actual space, they can turn to different sustainability and growing projects across the city like The London Orchard Project set up by green experts Carina Dunkerley and Rowena Ganguli.
Best home gardening tip of all time:
I’ll give you a few! Be sure your plants have enough water, food and light. Feed your plants liquid food every week from April until September, so they stay healthy throughout their growing period. Also…
- Ensure pots have drainage.
- Ensure your compost is suited to your plants.
- Dead-head regularly to ensure your plants flower further.
- Cut back dead plants in the winter to ensure good growth for the next season.
- And as for the best garden-fresh recipe…
Fresh Herb & Salmon Parcels with Couscous
4 salmon fillets (6 oz each)
4 oz package of lemon and garlic couscous (packaged or flavor up your own from scratch)
1 cup hot organic vegetable stock
1 Tbsp olive oil
4 scallions, thinly sliced
4 sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
A handful of chopped, fresh herbs such as basil, mint, orange-scented thyme and parsley
Put the couscous in a bowl and stir in the stock and oil. Cover with plastic wrap, leave standing for 10 minutes, and then uncover and fluff up with a fork.
Reserving some herbs, add the remainder of the ingredients (apart from the salmon) to the couscous. Season to taste.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut out four large sheets of non‐stick parchment paper and divide the couscous between them. Sit each salmon fillet on the couscous, top with the remaining herbs, and season to taste. Fold the paper over and twist the edges to seal (rather like a Cornish pastie).
Place the parcels on a baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes, or until the fish feels firm. Serve in the paper with a squeeze of lemon.