Flowers: Outside the Window
‘… There is not excuse for a window in a city apartment that has no, no life outside. The only explanation is moral poverty …’ These words were written in the thirties by the great Czech author and lover of flowers, Karel Capek, and though it was almost fifty years ago none could be more valid.
If there are no flowers or plants on balconies and window-sills then a city has a cold, lifeless look. Even the best architecture will not change this fact. On the other hand, towns noted for their flower-bedecked windows and balconies, for example in Spain, southern France, and Mexico’s Cordoba, strike even those merely passing through as bright and cheerful.
A window-box is not a natural place for plants and conditions there are far from ideal. Thedries out readily, roots in a box on a sunny window-sill easily become overheated, and there are sharp fluctuations in temperature. The problem of moisture has been solved to a certain degree by the use of plastic containers in which the soil dries out much more slowly. Such containers have the added advantage of being light and easy to clean. In the case of slanting window-sills, wedges should be put under the containers so the soil surface is level and the containers should be secured in position to prevent their being dislodged by strong winds.
What soil mixture should be used for window-boxes? Annuals are usually grown there and if they are to be fully grown within the shortest possible time the soil must be sufficiently nourishing. It must not compact and cake, neither should it be too light, for then it would dry out too quickly. An ideal growing medium, which is readily available at garden centres or nurseries, is the John Innes potting compost No. 2. However, before this is put in the box, the bottom should be covered by a 2.5 cm (l-in) layer ofmaterial consisting of fine gravel. If there are large drainage holes in the window-box, these should be covered over with pieces of broken clay flower pot (crock) or stones to facilitate drainage and prevent the compost from being washed away.
The plants to be used for the window-box display may be raised from seed in the home in early spring, or purchased as young seedlings with a root ball from the nurseryman. Seed can also be sown directly into the container, in which case the seedlings must be thinned in time so that each plant has room to grow. The plants should be thoroughly watered as soon as they have been put out and then lightly sprayed over during the next few days. Feed should not start being applied until a month later; liquid fertilizer is the most suitable, and the soil surface should be loosened before each feed. Plants are generally watered and fed in the late afternoon, never at midday in the full heat of the sun. Foliage should be syringed after every feed to wash off any remnants of fertilizer.
Whereas the selection of plants for growing indoors provides the grower with scope for experiment, the choice for the window-box is generally restricted to the tried and tested plants that grow well and flower reliably. In the case of a balcony, plants can also be put out in large earthenware urns and wooden tubs. Suitable plants for such containers are rock plants, bulbs, small trees and shrubs, and even a bonsai. Small conifers are particularly attractive in such arrangements, and can be kept within bounds by wise; of the prostrate forms cotoneaster and are recommended. Also attractive are dwarf willows such as the twisted, stunted Salix matsudana ‘Tortuosa’ together with ornamental grasses. All depends on the imagination and instinct of the grower. The window, vibrant with life and colour both inside and outside will be his creation.