Window box | the wild window box
Part seven of my Guardian window box diary
I live in a bit of England that has the dubious honour of possessing the least green space in the country. Islington may be considered posh by some but actually it’s pretty deprived, not least in terms of nature. The loss of front gardens to paving slabs is a common sight around these parts. What role then does the humble Holloway window ledge have in making this monochrome, manmade landscape a little wilder?
If urban food growing is activism, then surely urban wilding is as radical. Maybe more so, as focusing on edibles has become rather de rigueur and well funded of late. Wildlife isn’t quite so fashionable. Perhaps claiming a space for nature in cities could be an excellent of way of telling the powers that be that wildlife matters.
My rented window and balcony space will never offer anything other than temporary accommodation for a few wild-ish plants, but let’s explore its potential as a makeshift, miniature nature reserve. Landscape designer Elaine Hughes, who specialises in creating wildlife friendly urban spaces, has numerous ideas for wilding my window boxes.
“The idea is to create habitat – food, shelter or nesting opportunities – so aim for a variety of nectar and green cover for wildlife to hide safely within, or eat, or both. Mix evergreen cover, like vinca or ivy, with evergreen drought resistant flowering shrubs, like lavender or hebe. Supplement this with spring daffodils and Allium Hollandicum, and colourful summer nasturtiums. Shove as much into the containers as possible – nature abhors a vacuum after all.”
Elaine also suggests experimenting with wild poppies and cornflowers, and nectar rich Verbena bonariensis and Echinacea. Compact flowering herbs like oregano and marjoram would keep both grower and insects well provided, while clematis could increase your green reach onto walls and provide shelter for birds.
In terms of wild window box management, Elaine advises I dress the soil annually with rich, peat-free mulch. And she encourages me to have ambitions beyond my own ledge. “Persuade your neighbours to help you create a window box scheme of mini nature reserves in your street.”
So why is all this important? “Increasing green cover enhances urban biodiversity. A series of wild window boxes would provide stop off points for insects in search of nectar. All green spaces can provide nesting, food or shelter, and relieve some of the pressure of habitat fragmentation in cities.”
I ask Elaine if urban wilding is more important than food growing. “There’s a lot to be said for understanding food provenance but I always go for wildlife friendly spaces over food. People often fail to realise that wildlife in cities isn’t incidental or accidental – it’s what surrounds us and defines us, and we have a duty of care towards it.”
It would be easy to dismiss London as a concrete jungle with no wildlife value whatsoever, but you’d be wrong. Two thirds of the capital is natural space (land and water), and hosts of creatures thrive here. If a wild window box gives a pollinator nectar or a bird shelter, then it has something very tangible to offer, much more than just good looks.