Cape Gazette
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Garden Journal

A windowsill garden is a pleasant winter diversion

By Paul Barbano | Dec 26, 2012
A windowsill herb garden means that the herbs are right near the cook, and you are more apt to use them.

When it is winter outside, a window lets us have summer inside.  Taken from Old Nordic, a window is literally a “wind eye” or opening to the wind.  The first windows were not on the wall, but on the roof.  What we might call a chimney hole or smoke hole was a window on the roof to let smoke escape.

Once glass became inexpensive enough, windows became the clear openings to the outside world we know of today.

Windowsill plants can not only bring some greenery and even flowers indoors, but let us garden during winter. All of this might at first appear to be just “window dressing” (first recorded in 1790; figurative sense is from 1898). However, to borrow a term from the NASA space program, your “window of opportunity (1979)” does not need to vanish with the first snows.

Try rooting cuttings of your favorite plants.  Some of the easiest to root in water are African violet, coleus and ivy. Bunches of mint, rosemary and basil from the supermarket will all easily root in water.  When you pot up rooted cuttings, keep in mind that the roots they form in water are finer and more easily broken than roots formed in soil. So for the first week after potting them up, keep the soil moist to let new, stronger roots develop.

Seeds of lettuce, Swiss chard and other leafy greens do well planted right on the soil surface.  You can mix many of these together in a single pot for a very decorative and practical indoor salad bowl.

With enough light, you can even grow plants that bloom on the windowsill.  If space is tight, try dwarf plants or keep them in bounds by pruning.

A windowsill herb garden means that the herbs are right near the cook, and you are more apt to use them.  Most herbs are fine with just five to six hours of direct sunlight daily. Water them just enough so the soil stays lightly damp, but not soggy.  Also, trim them back to a manageable size.

Every other week you can fertilize your windowsill garden with a good organic liquid fertilizer.  Bear in mind that most herbs do well in relatively poor soil, which seems to concentrate their essential oils.  Many herbs become tasteless and watery if overfertilized.

Choose the largest pots that will fit on your windowsill.  An eight-inch pot is good.  Put a layer of pebbles or broken pottery shards in the bottom of the pot for drainage and fill the pot with good potting soil.  Do not use garden soil because it will compact and often contains dormant bugs and diseases.

Because heated homes often dry out during winter, mist around windowsill plants frequently.  Dry air can lead to brown leaf tips and spider mites, especially for plants like rosemary.

Give the pots a quarter turn every week so each side gets a chance at the full sunlight. Eyes may be a window to the soul, but a window can be the soul of your garden.

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