Gardening in Shanghai

So my friend James took up gardening, starting with seeds and building up. I decided to join since it’s low budget hobby; 2rmb/20p/30cents for a packet of seeds, the same for a pot and the same again for a whole bag of soil (or 50rmb/5 pounds/ 8 dollars for a huge 26 litre bag).

James immediately has an advantage over me, however. He lives on the ground floor with plenty of space outside and sunshine. I, on the other hand, live on the second floor. I still get the sunshine, as far as I can tell – my window is south facing and the buildings are not particularly tall. But my windowsill is limited in size, fitting only the smallest size pots, so I have to expand onto the ‘balcony’.

By balcony, I mean the roof of a shop below which I can access by climbing out of my window and hopping over an inconveniently placed clothesline to the roof below. The return journey is even harder.


To counter this, I’ve found some wood that has been put together in the form of a three-step ladder which I’ve leaned against the wall which very subtly eases my efforts in and out.


To minimise the amount of times I have to clamber back and forth, I have devised a handheld extended watering tube with which I can reach over a great distance. The only reason to go out now is to move things around and check on development.


An unknown mix of factors including season, weather, soil, and others make my garden more like a few pots with a few stalks in them. The majority haven’t even considered germination.


My three sunflowers have burst into action, my beans have sprouted and my radishes are well on their way. But they are growing at a slower rate than James’s equivalent plants and so I’m unsure if they’ll ever bloom.


Regardless, this is a great hobby. It practices patience, it teaches, and it fills up the day with creative ideas of improvement.

Not long ago I was teaching things in biology that I’m only just discovering first hand now. Things I never learnt in school myself (Not saying they never taught it, but I certainly never listened or remembered if they did).

Who knew that the cotyledon was vital for the survival of the initial seedling?
Who knew that many plants cannot be put together due to allelopathic behaviour?
Who knew the specific varying locations of the sunrise and sunset across the calendar (NOT east and west)?

The best thing about it all is that I now have a little following of bugs and, as a result, birds. I’ve put a little bird bath on the windowsill in the hope one might have a look and say hi. Maybe I can start naming them like my Granddad used to.

Another fascinating feature of this hobby is the surprises you get. The sheer speed of some plants compared to the sluggish pace of others is astounding. I fell asleep last night before this paragraph, and this morning, 8 hours and a lot of rain later, a bean plant that wasn’t even there has sprouted, and another whose top was barely visible out of the soil is a full 3 inches tall now, leaves unfolding. It’s surprising how exciting something so slow you can’t even watch it can be.

I would like to end with a little tribute and congratulations to my first sunflower and first plant, who suffered shell shock and essentially died, shriveled up and turned brown, before somehow miraculously bursting another stem out of its initial stage and continued to grow once more, growing new leaves. It still has the dead stem surrounding the base of the old one, which gives it a rather disabled curved stem, and the leaves, although healthy and green, are long, thin and droopy compared to the other, stronger sunflowers. However, it is still growing, surviving and hopefully I can get to see a flower before October comes.

Shanghai is Sub-tropical so we get to have a longer season for harvesting but I’m still leaving it to the last minute really. Best of luck to the life on my makeshift balcony.


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