I read recently on a forum that it was quite impossible to have a garden on a narrow boat and it was a stupid idea. Well, I couldn’t disagree more with that statement, so I decided to write this article proving that you can successfully have your own garden even without any land! I see no reason whatsoever why you can’t have a garden on your narrow boat. You can easily use the roof area, the bow or stern, it just takes a little planning to get it right.
And as you can see in the images below narrowboat 'Harmony' has a beautiful roof garden.
Firstly you need to choose containers to hold your plants. I have seen people just using grow bags, but for me that doesn’t look very attractive. I prefer the idea of using trough style tubs.
These I think these are a great solution as they can be laid together on the roof creating rows, or used around the edge of the stern or bow.
These styles of boxes are available in a variety of materials; wood, steel or plastic. Choose a colour that will compliment your boat.
If you fancy a DIY style container, I have heard people making boxes and troughs out of old pallets. So if you fancy a bit a DIY and recycling then you can try and make the containers yourself.
By mixing the long troughs with some square containers you will add variety and depth to your growing garden. If you intend to use the taller containers on your roof then take into consideration going through a tunnel, if you are going to be cruising you don’t want to have to remove these containers every time you approach a tunnel.
Once you have chosen your containers you will need gravel for drainage and the soil for growing. Now if you are moored down the towpath or in the centre of a marina, a wheelbarrow will be very useful at this stage to transfer these rather heavy items. Time for a bit of a work out!
I would recommend using feet under the troughs and containers so that air can circulate under the pots. This will help prevent the paint on the roof from blistering.
If using the pots on the roof remember safety must come first, keep the display away from the centre rope.
What to grow?
So there are going to be some plants that will do better than others, some will be impractical i.e. a 30 year old oak tree isn’t going to do well in a container and its height is also going to be a major problem. But there are plenty of other plants that will do really well in a container.
The edible garden
Herbs and Salads grow really well in containers and having your own little allotment makes for some great salads and tasty meals.
Salad leaves such as rocket, and lambs lettuce are great as you can pick a few at a time whilst leaving the plant in place to produce more and still look lovely.
Very difficult to grow are any of the Brassica family ie broccoli, cabbage etc they need to grow in 'hard soil, ie. Heeled in, so pot growing will not be suitable for these plants.
However all these plants will do very well;
- dwarf varieties of veg runner and French beans
- tumbler tomatoes
- English and alpine strawberries
As for flowers, almost anything in the 'bedding plant' group will be fine. Nasturtiums look stunning if you want a splash of colour.
When I plant my own tubs with summer bedding plants I like to chose a colour theme to work with, throwing random plants of all colours together may work well for some, but I prefer a little more organisation. Try a mixture of whites and pastels for a subtle and calming display or if you prefer mix red, yellows and oranges together for a warm and vibrant collection.
Whatever ideas you come up with it will be fabulous - enjoy your garden and don't let anyone tell you you can't!
Remember to water well and feed.
Bonus of owning a narrow boat garden- no slugs or snails!!