Over the years I’ve made an experiment of trying out new plants to overwinter on my windowsills. These experiments keep me amused over the winter months and provide the first-hand experience with specific varieties required to make solid suggestions. I generally experiment with herbs since they’re the plants we all want on hand most during the winter to take a clipping from now and again. They’re also the plants that most gardening literature tends to lump together. I mean, how many kits have you seen promoting a windowsill herb garden with herbs that have no hope in hell of surviving the best conditions and most diligent gardeners? There are times when I see someone pick up that kind of impossible gardening kit in a store and it takes all my willpower not to run over like a crazy person and stage an intervention. Those kinds of disappointments have a way of turning would-be gardeners off forever. No, it’s not you. It’s the stupid kit.
My windowsills have got to be the best examples of where not to grow going. My feeling is that if I can make a reasonable go of it with a specific plant than just about anyone can. On the one hand they are south-facing so they have light in their favor; however, it’s often either too cold and draughty or extremely dry and hot from the electric baseboard heaters that sit directly below. My poor overwintered plants are forced to contend with a constant shift in extremes. When it’s chilly the soil takes a while to dry out. When the heat is pumping they can get dry and dessicated overnight.
Naturally, only the most forgiving plants and varieties come away unscathed. Any plant that looks half-alive in time to transition outdoors for the summer is a winner.
One of my current experiments is with a thyme variety called ‘Oregano’. Confusing, I know. Is it a thyme? Yes? Is it oregano? No, but it does have a hint of oregano smell and flavor.
In general I find that thyme, oregano, and marjoram are very forgiving windowsill herbs — possibly the easiest of the popular culinary herbs. Thyme tends to do the best. Some new growth can get a little leggy if there are too many dark days in a row, but it’s as simple as snipping those bits back slightly. Thyme is a tough and hardy plant that doesn’t mind a chill now-and-again. It overwinters well in my climate (zone 5b-6b? I never know. It only gets more confusing depending on where you are in the city.) and I’ve even had success growing it in large bins left outside through months of deep freezing and fluke thaws. The low creepers tend to do better than the taller plants but I am often surprised by just how many manage to survive, period. Thyme also doesn’t mind periods of dry heat, which is why it is one of my go-to herbs on my extremely hot and sunny rooftop.
‘Oregano’ thyme is a low creeper, which is why I think it is doing exceptionally well this winter. We went away for a week recently and while some of the leaves dried out in my absence it really doesn’t look like it suffered much at all.
My French lavender topiary on the other hand… I am only just beginning to accept that the thing is dead and gone. I’m permanently stuck in the denial stage of grief. Perhaps saying it out loud is the first step.
Remember when I helped my brother make a container garden on his balcony? Behold, it LIVES!
He’s done really, really well for someone with almost no interest in gardening only a few months ago. I was concerned that I had overwhelmed him with plants through my own enthusiasm and that he wouldn’t be able to go from zero to a hundred like that overnight but he pulled it off and is obviously invested in keeping things alive. Sure, he never did get around to repotting the basil but the fact that they’re not dead yet considering those horribly undersized containers means he is caring for them. He is watering the garden every morning, the tomato is making tomatoes, the peppers are growing lots of peppers, and the herbs look really good.
He loves those herbs. I’d say they are by far his favourite part of the experience based on how much he goes on and on about all the great meals he has made from them. He even has a little stool that he brings outdoors to perch on when harvesting for a meal.
I am crazy proud! It’s almost embarrassing to admit to how much delight I am taking in this. I can’t wait to see how it all unfolds next spring.
I came upon this shopping cart planter the other day while riding my bike along College Street here in Toronto. The planter sits outside a restaurant located at the corner of College and Clinton, perched up high atop a metal outdoor patio fence.
There is a tiny anal-retentive person living inside my brain that REALLY, REALLY longs to remove that dead strawberry leaf. Fighting. Urge.
What I love about it is that it is such an affront to the typical planter box. I’m a firm believer that anything that can hold soil can function as a container. And if it can’t hold soil, with a little innovation it can most likely be made to. In this case the designer simply used the basket of the cart like a wire hanging basket, lining it with burlap to allow drainage but also keep soil in. The planter is deep enough to house some pretty deep roots so really the only challenge comes in keeping the soil consistently moist. We’ve had a very forgiving wet and cool season so far which is why those violas are holding up so well into the month of July. In addition to the violas they’ve included some other edibles including strawberries, mint, Vietnamese coriander aka ‘Rau Ram’, nasturtium, rosemary and thyme.
The planter is great, but I’m most in love with their sign… I just can’t figure out the logistics involved in urinating in a planter box that high up. Given what I have experienced with my own public garden I can believe that anything is possible and that some people will go to acrobatic feats to make the impossible possible. But still… how do they do it? And what’s more bewildering, why?
It is a good time of year. We can very nearly say with almost sort-of, closing in on possible certainty that there will be no more snow for a good 6 or 7 months, the plant sales are in full swing, the plant-specific festivals are rockin’ it HARD olde school (emphasis on olde), and people are cleaning the crap out of their sheds and basements. And that crap, dear reader, may very well end up as my crap.
Last Saturday was the annual Parkdale Horticultural Society Plant Sale or what I like to call, you better get there early and you had better lace those fightin’ shoes up extra tight and be ready to kick major butt cause those gardeners are tougher than you’d expect! And they are very serious about their sale plants. And to be honest I am very nearly choking on the word “sale” as I type this because while some plants were indeed sold at below market cost (as you shall see from my awesome scores below), I spotted a number of plants that were priced higher than plants I have seen at bourgeois garden stores. NICE TRY Parkdale Horticultural Society members. Sure the money collected from the sale goes towards altruistic endeavors, supporting local gardens and feeding starving children and saving the world or whatever but you can’t make me spend $3 a piece on your repotted strawberry offsets or your they’re-native-therefore-worthy-of-a-big-markup plants.
I’ve been attending this thing for years now and there are always one or two surreal moments in that community center gym that make me stop and ask myself, “Who are you?” My inner voice sounds exactly like Brenda Walsh when I say it. [Okay, pause for a moment. Now Davin and I are arguing about who said that. He thinks it was Kelly to Brenda and I think it was Brenda to Brandon.] Like those few seconds when I was stuck in the crowd, pushing my way in slow motion through a sea of bodies and carts towards the Shady Perennials Table feeling like an early eighties mom fighting for the last 5 Cabbage Patch Kids. And then by the time I reached the table all that was left was the not-so-cute one with a weird name like Geneva Mary Rose or Mercedes Brandi Lynn.
I came upon this colour palette yesterday and had an instantaneous response to it. The pink flowers are magnolia and the red and chartreuse bush on the right is ‘Goldflame’ spirea (Spiraea x bumalda). Of course it could just be the designer in me that is responding to the grid formation but I also think it is the black brick background serving as a contrasty backdrop… the colours just pop out against it. In conclusion: This reaffirms what I already know about chartreuse and deep red against black.
Note to self: Get more black containers.