Thanks for your links to your blog and Guardian column. I found some of the articles you wrote for the Guardian about the benefits of investment in residential care to be particularly thought provoking.
I'm responding re. the green question because I've got some balcony space which I've used to reasonable effect to plant a variety of fruit and veg. I got a bit carried away last year, and was given a small propagator to grow seeds, but I've not grown seeds (or anything much) this year, as it proved to be a time consuming enterprise, and I ended up with a house full of seeds for months! Here are a few tips that I've discovered re. balcony growing:
1. Don't plant purple sprouting broccoli seeds if you don't have much room. These take at least two years to grow, and I'm currently stuck with a grow bag, which is a waste of space. This year, it's sprouting 3 yellow flowers. These may or may not be weeds, but I can't kill them in case they turn out to be 3 pieces of broccoli, waiting to sprout. On the other hand, potatoes have proved very successful. I bought a 3-variety kit (which came with these useful black bag things for planting the spuds) for £5, and I'm still getting potatoes. I recommend planting one bag at a time, especially if you don't live with masses of potato-consuming people. Potatoes are very good if you forget to water them, as they seem quite hard to kill off.
2. If you decide to grow sweet peas (or any other flower), ensure that they are not the "giant" variety that grow up to six feet. I planted some sweet peas, only to have to give them away when they had nothing to grow around and started falling over! When they die, they produce these lovely peas-in-pod type things. I decided to open them and eat the peas, as they looked delicious. This turned out to be a really bad idea, and I ended up phoning the NHS help line... They are /not/ like garden peas, and are supposedly poisonous. I'm not sure this is true as nothing happened to me, but I had a nerve-racking few minutes.
3. Plant a variety of flowers/seeds because not all of them survive. Beware of cheap seeds because they don't always bear flowers.
4. Label things well. I haven't managed to do this, so now I have two weird green bush plants that I cannot identify, which both survived the winter. It must be a flower because I only planted flowers, but I have no idea what it is, and whether it will do anything except be green and bushy.
5. Curry plants are interesting, but they become very tall and spindly, and need to be leaned against a wall. If you don't like the smell of curry on your hands, try not to touch them! Actually, if you don't like curry, don't be influenced by somebody who says these are wonderful, as you will have to glare at the plant for months whilst it makes everything smell of curry.
6. Window boxes are your friends. You can buy cheap ones on the Old Kent Road
in the pound shop near to Currys, but these are not as large or as sturdy as the type you get in B&Q/Homebase. Remember to drill the holes in them /before/ adding the soil, as it's much harder once the soil has been added. If you do buy window boxes, you may also need drainage trays, which are stupidly expensive. I've hooked several window boxes and trays from balcony railings using window box hangers, and I've also put additional boxes on the floor of the balcony itself. Window boxes are a great way of using balcony space.
7. Beware of greenfly. I didn't realise that they were active over winter, and so many of my spring flowers have been eaten :( You need to get sprays to deal with the flies, unless you are an organic type of person who knows how to deal with them in a more pleasant manner. I tried being mean to my greenfly, but that didn't work so I was forced to spray them.
8. Don't bother with strawberries. I had about 12 plants, which I planted in a strawberry pot (ideal for balconies as they don't take up too much room), but the plants only produced about 4 bowls of strawberries, which weren't that sweet and took ages to grow. Buy the strawberries from a supermarket instead and use the space to grow tomatoes. If it is sunny and you don't forget to water the tomatoes, they will be plentiful. If you forget to water them, don't worry too much as they're quite difficult to kill, just water what's left. Be prepared for all of the tomatoes to appear at once, and start taking bags of tomatoes around to your friends' houses.
9. Winter flowering pansies cheer everything up in the winter (unless they get eaten by green fly), and they last ages and are quite cheap. Most other things plants don't flower in the winter. I highly recommend them.
10. Rosemary (the herb) is easy to grow, hard to kill and can be used for cooking. It can also be limited in size to a small pot. I recommend it.
11. If you're growing from seed, you'll need potting compost (different from regular compost) as well as some white flaky stuff whose name I can't remember. Also, be prepared to keep the seeds inside your flat for months. I didn't anticipate this, and had to protect my seeds from my irritated other half who didn't quite share my passion for balcony growing.
12. You can buy plants in East Street market, B&Q in Old Kent Road
, and Homebase in Battersea, but you can also attend local "seed swaps" where you can take seeds and exchange them for somebody else's seeds. Supposedly, you can get quite good deals on seeds in magazines, but I had a lot more success with alanromans.com who post them very quickly, for reasonable prices, with barely any duds.
13. Don't date anybody who likes roses or rose bushes. If they persuade you that one rose plant would be nice, don't give in. You'll end up with millions of roses, and they take up precious balcony space, and they're nasty and spiky! They do smell gorgeous when they emerge, but you'll have to put up with being spiked during the non-flowering seasons.
14. If your balcony is slatted or has holes in it, try not to water when the neighbours are underneath, having a BBQ. I am always watering my neighbour, who is fortunately quite gracious about it, because I hear him out and about and remember that the roses might die if I don't water them /now/.
15. Be quite creative. I tried to grow tomato plants in a weird upside down recycled coca cola bottle, filled with soil and gravel. This was a complete failure. The gravel fell out of the spout, the tomato plants failed to grow upwards enough. The water poured out of the spout on to the balcony below, and the tomatoes died. But I live in hope that somebody might be able to make it work. In one of the 99p shops in Elephant and Castle shopping centre, I discovered these "one pot" plant hangers, which I hang next to the boxes, which hold small plants really well. These are not so Blue-Peter style creative, but they do hold plant pots. (The 99p shop also has other cheap gardening bits and pieces, and I've had a lot of luck with 99p bulbs).
16. Utilise both sides of your balcony rail, but ensure that the plants/hangers are very secure. I've not balanced any boxes off both sides of the rail because I live in fear that they might fall off, but I have hung some plants off of both sides of the balcony rail, as these seem more secure. My neighbours managed to crash land some of their "hanging baskets", (fortunately nobody was underneath) so be careful if it's windy.
17. Don't let your enthusiasm carry you away. I planted so much last year that I had to carry 16 watering cans of water a day to the balcony to water the plants and flowers! This was quite bad, as I'm on a water metre! Eventually, I gave up and cadged a flexible hose thing. These are quite fun, especially if you wish to drench yourself, your rose-bush loving partner, the kitchen wall, the kitchen floor and the cat as the hose back fires and bounces off an urban kitchen tap, not designed for the purpose of bearing a hose attachment.
Those are my balcony gardening tips, but do let me know if you discover any more.
My blog about the SE11 are (not gardening related) can be found at: http://southeasteleven.blogspot.com