I am constantly adding to my mental list of ‘jobs I could never do’. Despite the odd random addition like ‘ Donald Trump’s press secretary’ the bulk of the roles are basically anything that involves getting up early, or facing extreme cold.
The first is policed by my family who, having suffered my moods all day after an enforced early start, voted collectively to never allow my out of bed before 7am. The second is trickier. I am after all a ‘garden designer’ and gardens have an annoying habit of being a wee bit chilly at this time of year.
Of course I have tried to work around this. Firstly, let’s face it, garden designers are at the ‘precious snowflake’ end of the horticulture industry. Much of my work can be undertaken in a well-heated office, sipping tea, eating flapjacks and listening to Bat Out of Hell (Meatloaf being my go-to designing soundtrack).
Then, of course, there is plenty that can be learnt about an outside space without venturing outdoors. Views of a garden from the house are an important consideration so that has to be part of my initial site visit. And when I really can’t put off the trip outside in sub zero temperatures, there are always my trusted thermal wellies and woolly hat.
But then I remember gardening isn’t just my job – it’s my hobby. And sometimes even my route to sanity. So I also have to find a way quench my horticultural thirst when it’s a bleak February day and the garden is as appealing as wintery skinny dip.
Thankfully, I have window sills.
In fact I think February should officially become the Widow Sill Gardening Month. It really is the perfect environment to dabble with growing and sowing without ever needing to leave the warmth of the house.
Sometimes the effort is minimal. For example it’s a space to plonk my small terracotta pots planted with Iris reticulata back in autumn. As soon as they feel the heat they’re tricked into thinking it’s ‘showtime’ and flinging open their petals. Best of all I have about 20 pots to hand so I can keep swapping them over as each first batch finishes flowering.
Equally, you can lift the odd bunch of snowdrops and place them in pots to create an indoor show. Even better, if you do this from congested groups you can separate and replant the lifted bunch to new spots in the garden when they’ve gone over.
And if, like me, your greenhouse is unheated, then window sill propagation is a good way to start off tender crops that need a bit of warmth. Cucumbers, tomatoes, sweet peppers and basil all benefit from a bit of heat to kick start them into action and plug in windowsill propagators are an easy and low-cost way to do this. Okay, so they don’t look as pretty as pots of irises but hey, you can’t have it all.
The window sill is also a great place to start off crops with kids. Over the years the children and I have created miniature farms complete with lollypop stick fences and tiny rows of microleaves. These are simply vegetables and herbs which can be harvested at seedling stage. There are loads you can try from basil and broccoli, to sorrel and spinach.
Best of all these crops are the perfect ‘sampling size’ for fussy kids to cope with. Even better, you can harvest them in a couple of weeks which means, if they pass the taste test, you have time to start off the full size crops outdoors, just when the weather starts to warm up.