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Window box | a few ideas & a competition

April 3, 2012

I wrote this feature especially for my publisher, Timber Press.  If you visit their blog today or tomorrow and leave a comment you could win a copy of my book, which is all about the glory of growing things in the city and urban nature. It has lots of ideas for container planting.

If you lack outside space to call your own but your fingers have a greenish hue, it’s good to know that many plants can cope with an entirely container bound life.  If you’re a serial renter of small spaces in big cities, it’s also reassuring that it’s possible to create and tend a patch that’s portable.

The box gardens I suggest are all tiny – with dimensions in centimetres not metres square – but they have much potential.  Such boxes would not only be good looking, they could also be a way of producing a small amount of fresh food and providing much needed nectar for pollinators.

The tomato salad box

This year I’m going to try a variety of tomato that’s designed especially for people who are space poor.  Called ‘hundreds and thousands’, they promise to produce a haul of cherry sized fruit from a small plant.  Tomatoes are hungry and thirsty, so one or two in a large window box is probably plenty – they could be bulked out with strong tasting salads.  A mixture of cut-and-come-again leaves like sorrel, rocket, mustards and chervil perhaps.  Basil would be perfect too. These tumbling bush tomatoes would also work well in a hanging basket.

The blooming box

Crocus, hyacinth and miniature daffodils are lovely in a window box and provide a burst of eye-aching early springtime colour.  Once they’ve died back, dig up the bulbs and store them in a cool, dark and dry place to plant again next year.  You can then sow some seeds – nasturtium and pot marigold could be combined to create a garish bright orange display of edible flowers, which bees will love. I’m trying marigolds for the first time this year, with seeds saved from a friend’s garden.  Also known as calendula, the marigold has medicinal properties as well as being pretty.  Nasturtiums are great in containers and trail about wonderfully – both the leaves and the flowers are edible.

The herbal box

Compact flowering herbs are ideal long lasting window box fodder.  Try the strong Mediterranean flavours of oregano, sage, thyme and marjoram.  Or, if your box is in a shady spot, try leafy herbs like peppermint and lemon balm – both are delicious crushed in drinks and salads, or steeped in hot water to make a stomach calming tea.  There’s also parsley, coriander, chives… the list of potential window box herbs is endless.  Plant the ones you’ll most enjoy eating.

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