Life

Time-saving tips for the busy balcony gardener

If you’ve no time to tend your balcony plants, gardening influencer Patrick Vernuccio has some answers.

Tiny outdoor space? No problem, you can grow a range of plants, says Patrick Vernuccio
Balcony gardener Patrick Vernuccio (Sabine Gudath/PA) Tiny outdoor space? No problem, you can grow a range of plants, says Patrick Vernuccio

If you lead a busy life, have a balcony which you want to transform with veggies and fruits but don’t know where to start, Instagram and TikTok influencer Patrick Vernuccio, aka @TheFrenchieGardener, may be able to help.

Balcony gardener Patrick Vernuccio
Balcony gardener Patrick Vernuccio (Liz Eve/PA) Balcony gardener Patrick Vernuccio

Half French, half Italian and then living in Berlin, he began his gardening journey five years ago as a complete novice, with just one pot.

He bought a few packets of seeds and tried to grow vegetables on his fifth- floor balcony, sharing his results on social media, which has led to a new career inspiring urban dwellers on how to make use of their outdoor space.

“A lot of people mention to me that they would love to grow their own food and that they have a balcony full of plants but don’t have the time and that is a barrier for sure, but it is possible to select specific varieties that will require less time for planting and less maintenance,” says the engaging influencer, who left his marketing jobs at PlayStation and Netflix to become a full-time urban gardener and content creator.

Now he shares some time-saving tips for the busy balcony gardener in his new book, Tomatoes & Basil On The 5th Floor.

For balcony gardeners with limited time, he suggests:

Plan before planting


Book jacket of Tomatoes & Basil On The 5th Floor by Patrick Vernuccio (DK/PA)

This will save you an enormous amount of time, so you don’t end up putting sun lovers in the shade, or plants which like heavy soil in gravel gardens.

“Analyse your place. If you’ve just moved in, ask your neighbours to give you an idea of how much sun you’ll get in your place.”

Invest in a quality potting soil

The priority is to invest in organic potting soil mixed with compost and it will last many seasons, he says.

Focus on short-growth cycle plants


“These grow in two to three months and are easy to start from seeds or from seedlings that you can buy in garden centres, such as lettuce, radishes – which are one of the easiest to start off with and you can sow them directly into the pots or raised bed.”

Split supermarket herbs


If you don’t have time to sow, but want fresh herbs to last, you could split up your supermarket plants and repot them.

“Supermarket basil looks so fresh but after a week it’s wilted and you don’t think you have green fingers. But if you just divide the plant into five chunks of basil and repot them individually into pots you should have lots of basil. The same goes for mint, which is extremely easy to propagate in water.”

Make watering easier


Watering a pot of sorrel on a balcony (Alamy/PA) (Alamy Stock Photo)

You could invest in a little water pump, connected by drip hoses which have tiny holes that drip water into the soil to water your pots. Some pumps are fuelled by solar energy.

“I place big buckets of reused household water outside (you could also do it if you have a water butt), place the pump in them and programme when the pump will distribute water according to my plants’ watering needs.”

“Mulching will save you a lot of time on watering duties,” he adds. It will help pots retain moisture and reduce evaporation.

It’s also wise to put saucers under your pots to help retain water longer and help your plants stay hydrated in summer, he suggests.

Go for dwarf tomatoes


“If you don’t have much time, maybe I would say avoid growing tomatoes, because they are the divas of the garden. If you have one tiny thing that is not going in the right direction, the plants will suffer.

“However, if you want to grow tomatoes, grow smaller ones, dwarf tomatoes, which are easier. You won’t end up with a plant that is 2m high. It will be 40-50cm high and you don’t need a huge space for them. You can even grow them on a windowsill or trail them.” He recommends the varieties ‘Gourmandise Yellow’ and ‘Tiny Tim’.

It takes less time to tend dwarf tomatoes, he says, although you will need to feed and water them regularly. “But the growth cycle is so much shorter. You don’t need to keep the plant for four or five months, with all the staking.”

Grow perennials in pots


“Phacelia is one of my favourite plants and among the easiest to grow. Just put 20 seeds in a pot or a window planter and it grows by itself, will reseed itself in the same pot and will regrow again. It’s great for bees and biodiversity.”

You can also grow rhubarb in a pot and it will come back every year with virtually no maintenance, he suggests, as well as lemon balm, which is hugely resilient and one which Vernuccio neglects, but which still grows back.

Tomatoes & Basil on the 5th Floor by Patrick Vernuccio is published by DK, priced £14.99. Available now