Over the years, I’ve made a tradition of both putting together a new succulent window box idea every spring, and posting about it here. Since planting up this year’s box a few months ago, I’ve been taking photos as a prelude to a write-up here. But just when I begin to write, something in the box changes and I convince myself the box is even better and requires new photos. Now that I have broken my digital camera and am in gear purgatory I will just have to settle for the last batch of images and write this thing up already.
Sun-loving and exceptionally drought-tolerant succulents are just about the only plants that can survive the growing season slugging it out in a window box on my painfully hot and dry fire escape. I grow sun loving plants in larger containers on the fire escape as well but the succulents are the only plants that can withstand a day or more without attention and a long drink of water. They are hardy too, some like the ‘Goldmoss Stonecrop’ have been living in the same box for four seasons straight surviving straight through our cold, sporadic city winters. Many assume that because succulents are easy that they are also boring yet mine put on a good show, growing, draping, evolving with the seasons, changing colours, and eventually producing wacky alien-like flower forms.
From the Front (Photographed in May):
Clockwise from right front: Goldmoss Stonecrop (Sedum acre), Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’, Sedum spurium Probably ‘Red Carpet’ , Sempervivum ‘Pacific Sexy’, Sedum spathulifolium ‘Cape Blanco’, Sedum sieboldii
This is one of those ideas that is insanely simple yet effective. Grow a couple of lettuce varieties with pretty leaf shapes and bright colours. Put them together in a container that sets off their leaf colours or grow them in individual pots of a contrasting colour. In this case I have two leaf lettuce varieties with very curly leaves and contrasting colours (‘Ruby’ and ‘Henderson’s Black-Seeded Simpson’) set off by a black metal container. Hint: Chartreuse and yellowish greens always looks good when paired with deep reds or purple.
The key to keeping lettuce happy on a hot deck is to move the container to a less intense spot when the heat of summer kicks in and make sure to keep the soil moist — they’ll get bitter faster if they experience too much drought. You can cut each leaf off individually (remove from the outside if you want to keep a nice rosette) or just chop the whole thing off about an inch or so from the soil line and set the plant aside (somewhere less visible unless you’re comfortable with the stubby bits on display) until it grows back a second harvest.
By the end of the second round the leaves are usually too bitter to eat. Don’t toss it out into the composter just yet! You can still get some use out of your lettuce by setting the plant into hotter sun (don’t forget to water!) and allowing the plant to bolt. Bolting is when a plant produces flowers and then seeds prematurely in a mad rush to reproduce itself when the growing conditions become too extreme. This is usually caused by the increasing heat of summer and intense sun. The colour will often deepen in hotter sun and some lettuce varieties will grow into crazy, alien towers with pretty flowers perched on top. Don’t bother trying to eat it at this point since it will taste horrible and ooze a gluey substance when cut, but it makes a very cheap and easy bright spot when set amongst boring edibles like tomatoes and potatoes.
I found these gorgeous, decorative pots while getting my daily plant fix the other day at Fiesta Gardens here in Toronto. (200 Christie Ave just north of Bloor). The containers on the left are metal with an embossed design while the others on the right are ceramic glazed with a metal bottom edging. At approximately $9 for a small and $25 for the red and white one on the right hand side, they’re a little out of my price range, with my price range being found-on-the-side-of-the-road free to thrifted and cheap. But look at how beautiful they are! I’m thinking that the red and white pot with flutted edging [far right] would make an excellent gift for a certain someone whose birthday is only a month and a half away!
Unfortunately I have not been able to find these online so at this point you’ve got to be local to get your hands on one. If you have seen them available elsewhere please hollar back with a link.
p.s. Sorry about the poor camera phone quality.
I picked up this gorgeous and awesomely huge sage plant for a buck fifty a few days ago. Okay sure I already have more sage than I can shake a stick at but you know how it is…. It was so big and beautiful and only a buck fifty people! They charge more for candy bars these days. A comparison/justification that would have an ounce of relevancy if I actually ate candy bars. Most sale herbs look a little worse-for-wear if not completely dead because they can’t withstand the drought in the tight transplant boxes but sage is always a good choice because it just gets bigger and bigger in those little pots. I caught the sale while riding my bike past a small corner shop/plant store that was itching to get rid of their over-sized herbs. I will admit that I have been going out of my way on bike lately in an effort to keep tabs on just about every garden store I know. I bragged to a friend that I’ve got the entire west end of Toronto mapped out in my head according to who’s got what, what looks better where, cost, and if the sales are on yet.
With the heat rising to oppressive levels here in Toronto, the pressure to get things planted or sold off seems to have arrived earlier than ever this year. Yeah, I definitely don’t have enough guilt as-is. I came home with my bike basket overflowing with plants the other day — partly because I am the Angelina Jolie of the plant world (minus the lips) with my insatiable need to expand the brood and partly because I just felt so dang bad for that nasturtium (or three. Twelve if you count that they come 4 per pack).
Colette of Urban Harvest has started selling her plants at reduced prices (I could not resist more basil!) and FoodShare had their annual plant giveaway yesterday afternoon. I said I was going to support a friend and check out the action but walked away with a very hot n’ spicy mustard plant. Thankfully I did not feel bad for the flowers that were left behind. Mostly.
A dull but constant sense of panic is creeping in over the transplants that are still sitting in the holding area outside. The transplants! They are not planted! Everything else is getting huge and yet the stragglers sit out there in those smallish pots waiting to get into some soil. How can I so cruely deny them? And yet I can’t stop bringing new plants home. Because soon it will be harder to find certain plants as the season slows down and so the urge to go out and find more plants to add to a collection that can’t possibly be enough takes hold and the cycle continues.
This is what it looked like today. There was a third ripe strawberry this morning but a certain someone (hint: rhymes with Gavin) got to it before I could take some photos.
What it looked like at planting time a few weeks ago.
Turns out that plants, they grow!