June 25, 2013

Window Box Garden: Melissa Harrison

Window Box Gardens showcases other people's small gardens.  Gardeners share photographs and description of their gardens. Maybe we can hang window boxes off our window guards...! If you would like to see your garden here, please email us at info(at)localecology.org.  

Today's garden belongs to Melissa Harrison, author of the novel Clay.  We interviewed Melissa about Clay here.



It’s been a bumper year for my strawberries and I’ve no idea why. From two tiny troughs and a pot on a windowsill I’ve had bowl after bowl of perfectly ripe, sweet red fruit, and they’re showing no sign of slowing down yet. Most years we get enough to pick and eat one or two at a time as a treat, in passing; this year, suddenly, we have a glut.

I live in a ground-floor garden flat in South London. It’s an Edwardian conversion with a pretty standard 60’ lawned city plot bounded by wooden fences and edged by shrubs. But it’s north facing, which means it’s really hard to get things to grow. Shade from two large sycamores, and heavily compacted soil, makes it worse.



That’s why every year I pack our sunny porch and front windowsills with pots and windowboxes. My husband grows chillies and tomatoes, which we raise from seed in a cold frame and then plant out into growbags with cane supports. They tend to fruit in August and September; how much we get is pretty hit and miss. On a good year we have enough tomatoes to make passata to freeze and eat through the winter; some years we barely get enough for a few salads. The chillies are more reliable. We try to overwinter the plants inside but they rarely survive.

I love sweet peas and they won’t grow in my back garden, so I plant them in a pot at the front of the house with a wire wigwam to clamber up. It’s not ideal, as the stems don’t grow long enough that way for good picking, but when in bloom they do give you a waft of fragrance as you arrive home. The trick is to keep deadheading them so they don’t set seed.


In the sheltered, warm porch I also have two citruses: a lemon tree and a calamondine orange. Both were gifts, and both arrived laden with fruit; we haven’t been able to get either to produce anything since. But each year we have high hopes! They come into the hallway to overwinter each year.

I also grow bay, oregano, thyme and sage in the porch for cooking, and most years I plant basil and coriander (cilantro) seeds, but this year I haven’t got round to it yet. I must; there’s nothing like the taste of freshly picked herbs. I have a pot of garlic chives, too, which are delicious chopped finely with new potatoes. I planted a lavender hedge three years ago which loves the sunny position so much it’s gradually taking over the path. I can’t bear to cut it back, though, as the bees love it so much.

I used to grow masses of summer bedding at the front of the house: busy lizzies, petunias, lobelia, pansies, geraniums, polyanthus – ‘pub garden flowers’ as they are sometimes disparagingly known. I still keep a couple of troughs with cineraria (which I pinch out to stop them getting leggy) and a rotating cast of colourful companions. If I had more time I’d like to grow alpines in a stone windowbox: a little rocky world with tiny, perfect plants nestling in the crevices.


We also use our sunny front area to grow flowering plants from seed, which we then transplant to the back garden – where they usually die. But to be a gardener is to live in hope, despite repeated setbacks; and a bumper crop of strawberries, like this year’s, is why you keep on keeping on.

Special thanks to Mel who contributed this post while working on a deadline for her second novel.

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