Building a botanical paradise on a balcony

By Jeanne Viall Time of article published Oct 10, 2014

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Cape Town - A balcony garden offers a contained space for creative planting, and Sheryl Ozinsky’s succulent garden is a pleasure to be in.

This balcony garden in Higgovale is peaceful, beautiful, and full of interesting plants, a work of art from someone who loves plants.

It’s not a small balcony, and she’s used a large part of it for the many pots that are home to a diversity of plants.

When Ozinsky moved here from Rosebank more than 10 years ago, she left behind a beloved garden.

“I had to have a garden,” she says. A few plants came with her, but everything has to be in a container, so she began collecting suitable plants. Pots are her preferred choice of container (she does have some hanging plants), and they are mostly natural clay, some painted black. A pot is part of the landscaping, and adds to the aesthetic of a small garden.

An existing tree from ground level partly shading the balcony was part of the attraction of the apartment, as she loves trees (who doesn’t?).

A large specimen of Cyphostemma juttae (also known as droog-my-keel or wild grape) is the first thing I see. It comes from the Karoo, and was sourced by a friend of hers. It’s leafless now, but about to sprout leaves. It’s bulbous and papery, and probably about 20 years old, a strange looking plant which will bear yellow flowers and red fruit.

Because gardening with succulents was a learning curve for Ozinsky, she bought a book, Succulent Flora of Southern Africa by Doreen Court, and started learning and collecting.

Succulents are interesting in their diversity, even within families. Many of her plants are crassulae, a large family of plants and many come from the Karoo.

Ozinsky has many different varieties of Euphorbia which grows well in dry areas of the country. One large one has leaves shaped like a candelabra; another has large juicy leaves with spiky edges. Some have long tubular leaves; she has a coral coloured one. An extradordinary specimen is an Euphorbia caput medusae, Medusa’s head, which has multiple stems rising from a central woody stem, which grows on Table Mountain.

At the base of a tall Euphorbia she’s planted an Echevaria with rosette-like flowers. This is also part of the Crassula family, and she has several varieties. Some are grey-leaved, some a fresh green with pink edges, some with mauve-tinged leaves, some with frilly leaves. These plants produce surprising flowers, on long stems, delicate and colourful.

In a raised section of the balcony, she has an orchid with a delicate white flower; a bird’s nest fern hanging against the wall: in the woody “nest” of the plant she places banana skins to feed the plant.

Caring for succulents is the same as for any other plants, she says. “You have to be in touch when gardening, be observant,” Watch your plants, see what they like and don’t like, move them when you see they’re not happy.

“I use ordinary potting soil, with bark chips. Good drainage is the key, and I don’t feed the plants often. Once a year I give them some organic compost, and then I feed them from nature, what’s around, like dead leaves. You may think succulents like direct sun, but some don’t. Some need more water, others less.”

The few Senecio plants she has are beautiful, the nearly pure white one catches my eye. These plants have tubular leaves, which rot easily, but she’s managed to keep them alive.

A balcony garden is no barrier to having trees, although they will be limited in size. Ozinsky has an elegant yellowwood in a large pot, which she brought from her Rosebank garden 10 years ago; an olive tree is doing well. She’s also grateful for the large tree which grows from ground level and shades her balcony. From a branch of it, hanging over a small pool, she has a soft-looking Usnea growing, also known as Old Man’s beard.

The diversity of plants here invites your gaze to move from place to place, every space filled with something interesting to see.

The artistry comes in with the placement of plants, each with its own space, each in a beautiful pot. Grey tiles, earthenware pots, wooden decking, and stone cladding offset the plants beautifully.

“When you see a beautiful pot, buy it,” says Ozinsky. “You will find something to put in it.”

Cape Argus

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