Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Bean-Screen: How to Naturally Block Lines of Sight on your Balcony

I may have mentioned it earlier (in fact, I did here), but I have a neighbour who, and I admit this isn't very nice of me, hollers at me from his own balcony and this royally ticks me off. It's not nice of me because I think he may have some brain damage and may simply be trying to reach out and be friendly. But it's really something that drives me beserk, because he sits and waits for me to appear in what functions as my 'backyard', and then shouts curses at me if I either pretend not to hear or politely ignore him (at least, I think it's polite of me - he seems to disagree).

When I want to have a relatively peaceful moment on my patio, I take headphones with me (usually attached to nothing) for a good visual cue that I really, truly do not want to shout back across the alley for half an hour or more. And this seems to work. But the real trouble is that I like my drapes open so I can admire my plants from inside, and this neighbour of mine just sits and stares in . . . for hours. It's quite creepy.

So I grew a screen of beans. I had looked up online to see what other people had done for privacy screens (found a great couple of articles here on "Life on the Balcony"). They had an article on a living, growing screen as well (link here), but obviously this is from a warmer climate (a gardenia would certainly not over-winter here!).

I had heard that pole beans in particular were great for small gardens since they use vertical space so efficiently. But would they grow on my hot little deck? And would I be able to keep enough soil for their roots that they'd grow high enough to screen out the annoying neighbour?

So far, so good! Here's what I started with a couple of months ago:

(transplanted out in April when it warmed up a bit)

And here's where I am today:

Already the top-most tendril had started to climb its way to the upstairs neighbour's balcony, so I had to unwind it and send it laterally across the top instead.

I'm hoping that this incredible rate of grow continues. It stalled for awhile, when temperatures were still quite cool, but as soon as the sunshine came it was just like something out of "Jack and the Beanstalk"!

There are now several secondary shoots/tendrils coming out from each plant, completely burying my poor fairytale eggplants under a solid canopy of bean leaves, and as the beans wind their way up the mesh, I'm rather confident that the leaves will fill out and create a solid wall of green. It will also, I hope, help to keep some of the sun out of our apartment (it really heats up in here on hot summer days!).

11 July UPDATE: Unbelieveable! Can't recommend these plants enough! 3 weeks later, and...

And they keep growing, and growing, and growing...!

I hope this gives you inspiration to try your own screening with pole beans. These guys are relentless, resilient and nothing short of remarkable. They're also incredibly easy to grow! Give them sun and some water and presto - an instant fence of green! Buy seeds here at, or elsewhere look for 'pole beans' (not bush beans or broad beans - very different growth habit!).

Pea flower, a flower becoming a pea pod, and pea pods. I love the curly tendrils!

And just for the purposes of showing off some of my garden goodies to date, here's some more inspiration to try your hand at backyard gardening.

An ornamental variety of sage, good for bees and pollinators

I am fast running out of real estate. Notice the tall flower stands (wedding!) boosting up a tomato plant and another planter - definitely helps achieve the 'closed in' feeling, and frees up space below!

A pepper-to-be!

Chive flowers

Cylindra beets growing out of a milk carton

Beets and Swiss Chard

The tomatoes are coming! The tomatoes are coming!

I love growing tomatoes. They thrive on sunny, south-facing balconies!

If you have NEVER managed to keep any plant at all alive, grow MINT. Peppermint, spearmint, whatever - these plants will grow like weeds (in fact, they make become weed-like and take over your yard, so unless you drink mojitos on a daily basis, consider confining them to pots on the balcony!). You can just pinch the leaves you need from them (off the top works fine!) and let 'em grow!

A mojito in the making, and a pea pod in the background
If you grow it, they will come (a mint field of dreams, ha ha). Ladybugs are wicked aphid predators!

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