Up on the 18th floor, there can be a 4-degree difference in temperature. It was shortly after lunch and the sun was illuminating the balcony.
We stood looking out towards Salford, and as well as the direct sun, the glass from the surrounding buildings was reflecting back any heat trying to escape, so it was hot. 30+degrees hot, and for two northern pale-skinned guys that is hot! Darting back inside for shade Jason smiled and said, “If you’re hot, imagine how hot the plants are feeling.”
Stood inside looking out of the floor-to-ceiling windows, dappled light danced its way into the apartment through the balcony garden foliage. Jason has been creating the space since lockdown. Before the pandemic, he worked in hospitality and hadn’t looked after any more than a few house plants. But as the world switched off and closed its doors, Jason’s journey into horticulture switched on.
As we headed back out onto the balcony Jason took us to a plant that looked dead, he took our gaze to the tiniest new shoots emerging from what looked like something that could be thrown to the compost. As he started to prune the plant he said, “I am really conscious on my social media platforms that I don’t show perfection, my garden is not picture perfect. When you start out, not everything is going to look great, things will die, or won’t grow how you expected, but it doesn’t mean you’ve failed, it just means you’ve had another lesson from nature on how to grow in your space.”
We talked about lock-down and about the pressures it caused, especially those in city apartments without green space. Jason recalled getting out of the flat after the first lockdown, “Luckily I was able to get hold of some plants to bring a bit of much-needed green into the apartment. I picked up a couple of plants, the first being a marigold. And from that first purchase, the garden slowly started to appear.”
“It’s so easy to cast yourself aside, when actually, just like the plants, you need to put in a little bit of work to flourish and to feel good. But also understand that even when you feel rubbish, you can bounce back, just like the plant we saw earlier.”
He talked openly about how nurturing and caring for the plants also forced him to think about his own well-being. “It’s so easy to cast yourself aside, when actually, just like the plants, you need to put in a little bit of work to flourish and to feel good. But also understand that even when you feel rubbish, you can bounce back, just like the plant we saw earlier.”
Jason decided to share his journey into balcony gardening through social media, “When I uploaded my very first video, I didn’t think that six months later I’d be receiving messages from around the world about how I’d encouraged people to start their own balcony garden. It’s these little things that made me realise the work I’m doing is helping people not just in Manchester but worldwide.”
This nudge of acknowledgement gave Jason the focus and belief that what he was doing was worth it. He quickly amassed a strong social following and within a short amount of time he was designing gardens at the RHS Tatton and Chelsea Flower Shows, designing balcony gardens, keynote speaking and there is even talk of TV and a book on the horizon. He laughed as he recalled, “Last year I went to the Chelsea flower show, I went specifically to see a new category, which was balcony gardens and containers. And I did a YouTube video questioning some of the balcony gardens that I saw. They were absolutely amazing designs, but they didn’t feel realistic to what I or the people who follow me on social media could do. So at the end of that video, I half-joked that that next year I’d do a show garden at Chelsea. Then a year later, that was the case.”
Growing on the 18th floor with a glass-fronted balcony is so specific in the gardening world, that Jason struggled to find any relevant gardening information. The types of plants that work well on ground level, don’t necessarily do well at that height with the sun and wind exposure that the 18th floor bring. He said, “Sunflowers are actually one of my favourite plants, but they just don’t do well in my space because it’s so windy up here.” Every garden is unique and has different growing characteristics and this is a point Jason is keen to make. “My garden has its own unique microenvironment and climate, the glass can act as a cold frame, so I can extend my seasons. In fact, last year I was able to harvest my tomatoes on Christmas Day.”
The view is vast and only broken by a handful of buildings where the sun hides behind at various times of the day, the foliage climbs the walls and is delicately held over your head with a series of arches. Fish quietly dart around a number of ponds and the leaves flutter in the gentle breeze. The noise of the city doesn’t seem to matter here, it fades into the background while this small piece of nature and the green views on the horizon seem to connect you closer to nature than you would think. It’s a unique space and one that is easy to see why Jason has taken a U-turn on his career to follow what feels right to him. He nods and says, “Ultimately I want to help people which encourages me to continue doing what I’m doing, so by helping people I’m helping myself at the same time.“
Creativity flourishes with constraint, and in Jason’s case, his 30x4ft balcony has become his creative space to experiment, connect and grow on so many levels. His engaging, honest approach to gardening has opened the door to a global conversation about creativity, mental health and the ability of nature to flourish in even the smallest urban spaces.