Window Box | the planted picnic basket
Part four of my window box diary, which I’m currently keeping for the Guardian.
The desire to grow things coupled with a cash flow problem is likely to make you linger over rubbish. Cities are especially good for leftovers – bins often bulge with beautiful things. A recent Feed the Five Thousand event in London highlighted how much good food is thrown away (we ate like kings that lunchtime), but it’s not just eatables that are on offer.
The resourceful people of the Easton Community Allotment in Bristol are an inspiration. They have foraged free wood, bricks and netting from their local area, and are generally kept well supplied by city fly tippers. Their worm food resides in a rescued chest freezer. I too am occasionally known to rifle through waste for choice horticultural pickings. I have a few prize pieces, one of which is a handsome picnic basket. It now hangs from a hook outside my bathroom window and has been properly planted at last.
The basket is an unusual, curvaceous old thing that I found discarded on the street. It’s classic wicker with stripes of rusty orange and slate blue, and is split into two lidded compartments. There’s room inside for a motley crew of four small plants. For decoration, there’s creamy ivy that tumbles out of the basket like a spilt drink and a coronilla ‘citrina’. This was a gift, selected for me because tough coronilla is apparently hard to kill. It’s an evergreen shrub, with scented pale lemon flowers that bloom from autumn until spring. For winter flavour, the basket hosts giant red mustard and aromatic sage.
Window box and basket gardening has led to thoughts about dirt, drainage and water. Those of us who grow on urban rooftops, window ledges and balcony edges often don’t have easy access to free compost. Unfussy and slightly chaotic about many things, soil is something I try to take seriously. I don’t want pesticides or chemical fertilisers near my plants, and I definitely don’t do peat. I’ve bought my compost in and, even though I’m stony broke, it’s organic and peat free.
My cheap plastic window boxes didn’t come with all important drainage holes, so I punched some in using a metal spike, a hammer and a blue-tack cushion. They sit in sheltered, warm positions and are rarely touched by rain. So, even when it’s wet out, I’ve discovered it’s wise to check they aren’t bone dry.
The new view of foliage and flowers from the bathroom continues to be a happy one, although the salad box is looking a little peaky. It’s become a favourite of the marauding Holloway squirrels, and I regularly return home to find soil sprayed up the window and the plants at odd angles. The ornamental trough is less dishevelled. My favourite window box plants at the moment are edible land cress and ornamental hebe – one is loved for its strong peppery taste, the other for its simple evergreen good looks.