We are delighted to welcome Helen Babbs as our first guest blogger! She is the author of My Garden, the City and Me. She keeps a diary about her window boxes for the Guardian and blogs at www.aerialediblegardening.co.uk
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 below 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.
The perfume box - What could be finer than flinging open your window on a warm summer’s day and letting the scent of a thousand heady petals waft through the curtains? Lavender is a great window box staple – low maintenance and drought resistant, it’s attractive and fragrant. It provides year round interest, but is especially attractive when in flower. Bees love it. The pelargonium is another window box classic – I recently sniffed one with delicious citrus leaves. It’s technically a herb and you can use the leaves to flavour cooking.
If you’d like to win a copy of Helen’s fantastic book My Garden, the City and Me, leave a comment below telling us what you are planning to plant in your window box.
Terms and conditions: Only UK residents are eligible for this giveaway. Five winners will be chosen at random from entries received by 4pm (GMT) on Thursday, April 5 2012.
Please note the competition is now closed and winners have been selected. Thank you to everyone who took part!