Before and After – Making a garden at our Shanghai apartment

by Lala

We’re now starting to harvest the literal fruits of our labour, which began in Autumn of 2019 when we moved into our current home in Shanghai. These labours of love continued in early Spring of 2020 with the first serious plantings, inspired by homesickness for my South African garden and watching many gardening shows during lockdown. Little did we know when we moved in during October 2019, how much we’d come to appreciate the garden in the months to come.

I was always appreciative of being able to choose a garden apartment in a huge metropolis like Shanghai, especially in the particular area of the city where we live. When the COVID19 pandemic hit and we were to remain indoors for several months, starting in late January 2020, it was such a relief to have this space, even on very cold days.

Most of that is behind us and we can enjoy the rest of the city. I still spend much of my free time gardening. Spring was the best time to be in the garden. Summer in Shanghai is so hot and too humid. But it is perfect for growing so many of the fruit, vegetables and herbs that we enjoy. My garden in South Africa is around 2000 square metres and this one in Shanghai is maybe the size of a 4 car garage. Quite an adjustment but I enjoy working on it, and I have experience with growing all sorts of edible and ornamental plants in containers.

The garden looked like this when we moved in last year:

Pretty much a blank slate of two levels of Astro Turf (fake grass) with a dining table set. There are a couple of steps on the left, leading to the lower level.

I got the mini greenhouse online and my husband set it up for me. I always wanted one of these.
The mini-greenhouse just after it was set up, with the plants I brought over from my previous apartment.

Our ground floor apartment is in a good location with sunshine and something of a microclimate, due to being surrounded by shrubs. Unfortunately there is no city- or river-view like at the previous apartment. Here, I had to choose between a balcony with views or a garden. The choice was easy.

This is what we have currently. Below is a typical weekend scene, with my pink watering can, seed packets and whichever plants I am tending to at the time.

I have used lots of pots, window boxes, a plant shelf from my previous apartment and we got a trampoline for our son to fill up the space. There’s also the mini-greenhouse.

What’s growing in the Shanghai garden?

I love this spot. This is where I usually enjoy my morning coffee, while listening to the birds and watching a drone or two buzz by. The shelf on the right used to be on the balcony of my old place, more than 20 floors high. I hardly saw any insects or pollinators up there. Here there are many butterflies, bees, spiders (!), hoverflies and more.

The Amaryllis bulbs are from my previous apartment. One of them finally bloomed here.
Mini-greenhouse in Spring with kale, hot peppers and various herbs.
Lots of leafy greens in the mini greenhouse.

The cover has been off for some time because of the heat. The greens started to decline in the very hot weather. I will replant them in late Summer or early Autumn.

The caterpillars eat my leafy greens and citrus leaves, but these are the joys of organic gardening. One shares the space with nature.

These are a few of the things I’m growing in this small space.

Lots of tomatoes. These are from a supermarket tomato I used in my cooking.
This is a black tomato. I got the seedlings online on Taobao. It is quite slow growing.
Cherry tomatoes and Bok Choy

I have the tomatoes in pots and window boxes, supported by stakes. I used tomato cages for the tomatoes in pots and I had to take apart some of the cages to get individual stakes for the tomatoes in rows in the window boxes.

I found it quite easy to buy just about every type of plant seed, seedlings, soil and gardening supply imaginable on Taobao, the major Chinese online shopping app. Translation and image search were very useful.

Mesclun salad mix.
My son has his “strawberry farm” in several pots and window boxes.
The variety is called “Raspberry Milk”, according to the translation app.
Aubergine and kale in a companion pot

The aubergines or brinjal as we call them in South Africa, are doing well. I prefer the round ones but the seedlings weren’t available when I started planting. It doesn’t feel right to call these long ones “Egg plants” hahaha

I’m also growing courgettes in pots. I will not grow them again. These are enormous but are not producing well. I like how they look though. I grew a smaller variety in the ground in South Africa. The plants were smaller but made lots of fruit.

The courgette fruit and some flowers.

Other plants I have growing are different types of hot and sweet peppers. I will make a follow up post about them as well as the herbs and perhaps a different post about the succulents and flowers. It is quite amazing how much one can grow in a small space.

That’s it for today. Happy gardening everyone.

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