A Manchester man who transformed his apartment balcony into a lush urban oasis during lockdown has been invited to exhibit at the Chelsea Flower Show this month. Despite living on the 18th floor of a city center tower block, Jason Williams decided to take up gardening after being furloughed from his job as bar manager in March 2020, the Manchester Evening News reported.
Returning to his flat near Deansgate from a trip to B&Q’s Cheetham Hill branch with a single marigold, he found the new hobby was good for mental health and set about making his ‘Cloud Garden’ create. Jason’s apartment now has 150 houseplants, the balcony houses 100 containers and a mini pond complete with fish!
He also grows his own fruit and vegetables and makes compost from household waste. Water from the pond, meanwhile, is used as fertilizer, which means he avoids using chemicals on the plants.
The 35-year-old recalled the origins of his green-fingered passion: “I had just moved into my apartment and realized the importance of outdoor space. I ended up going to B&Q in Cheetham Hill and got a marigold.
“The garden center was the only place that was open, so walking around made it a day trip. It’s been a nice distraction during lockdown. It started out just to pass the time and then grew into more.
“I realized how much it was helping my mental health, and I really started to support myself to try and grow food for myself.” Jason then began showcasing his gardening journey on YouTube.
Perhaps his greatest test was figuring out which plants would work best for a position so high off the ground. “The front of my garden has glass railings, so on a sunny day it can be up to 15 degrees warmer than the ground floor,” he explained.
“This affects some of my plants. Since I’m so high up, it’s extremely windy.
“Nine times out of ten my plants get wind burned and die. It’s about making the right choices and figuring out what fits my space.
“My garden isn’t perfect. Sometimes things don’t go well and it’s important to learn from your mistakes.”
Jason now offers tips to fellow gardeners on his YouTube channel, and he has left his old job to pursue a full-time gardening career. He received word that he had won a spot at the world-famous flower show in January – less than two years after buying that first marigold.
Upon receiving the invite, Jason admitted, “There were a lot of tears. It’s probably one of the most famous flower shows in the world, so for someone like me with no gardening experience, it’s a real honor to go there.
“It’s amazing that they gave me the opportunity. Everyone gives me great support.
“It was an incredible journey. One of the most important things was just having some confidence, believing that I can do things and not giving up.
“I realized I was working 60-70 hour weeks, constantly exhausted, and answering emails. The lockdown break gave me time to think. There is nothing like leaving a toxic work environment and doing something you love.”
Jason will be exhibiting in the Small Balcony and Containers Garden category, which was only introduced in 2021 following the rise of lockdown gardeners. His self-funded entry consists of plants that have thrived on his balcony and were sourced from the Chorlton Plant Nursery.
He hopes his participation will inspire other apartment dwellers to create their own balcony gardens and that the show will continue to become more “accessible” in the years to come. “When people think of a show garden, they think of extravagant flowers,” he explained.
“But I live downtown and don’t drive, so these are all plants you can get at B&Q or your local nursery. More and more people are moving into urban apartments.
“When you rent, you have to be more creative in how you use the space. There are more people doing what I do in London than in Manchester.
“The things I make are very time consuming, but it would be amazing if everyone just had a container of wildflowers. It’s a lot easier than people think.
“I think the appetite is there, but people don’t know where to start. By this time next year we might have a ton of balcony gardeners in Manchester.”
Learn more about Jason’s work here.
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