Garden view getting you down? A winter quick fix
Stuck indoors all day with nothing but grey skies and your dishevelled garden for a view? Cheer up your lockdown vista with a window box or planter to brighten your day and mood.
Housebound, deskbound and fed up with the same view? Life for the foreseeable is these four walls – and windows. Let’s face it, looking out of rain-spattered glass onto a mossy patio or shaggy lawn is pretty dispiriting. So, we’ve asked green fingered experts from across Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire if they can help. Here are some quick fixes to brighten up your window on the world and bring a little botanical joy. We’ve found a barrow-load of gorgeous window boxes and containers and can tell you what to plant in them to get weeks of colour.
First, it’s the shopping part. A window box needs to fit on your sill, naturally, and should be around quarter of the height of the window. You should also consider the angle of your view so you and your kids can actually see the horticultural fruits of your labours from the comfort of your desk (see our office chairs and desks lowdown for some fresh furniture ideas).
Once you’ve got your dimensions, here are a couple of handsome window boxes from two local garden centres. There’s this rather clever glass reinforced fibreglass cement planter, which makes the planter durable, lightweight, but with fine detailing to create the look of real slate. And all for a very modest £8.99 from Haddenham Garden Centre. Another option is the metal planter from Winterbrook Garden Nurseries – the larger one is £26 and would tough out the harshest of winters. It can be planted up or founder Hanna Cottrell recommends standing simple vintage terracotta pots inside the trough so it’s easy to change them around… or, they get a bit, er, neglected.
If you’re looking through a French window or bifolds, onto steps or a raised patio, a larger planter will work. Or perhaps you’re lucky enough to have a She Shed that needs an accoutrement? Apart from the aesthetic of modern versus traditional, the materials have different qualities. Terracotta is heavy if it’s a windy spot, so less likely to be blown over, but absorbs water because it is porous so needs more watering. Don’t turn your nose up at plastic and composite cement – it’s less prone to frost-shattering and non-porous and can look uncannily like the metal, stone or terracotta it’s pretending to be.
This distinctive wooden planter from our very own Indie Store has a story of its own. It is hand-forged and inspired by the Champagne crates of the early 20th century.
If it’s the Mediterranean vibe you’re after – and hey, who doesn’t want a bit of that right now – these French Olive jars from Burford Garden Company are positively Provençal. They start at £375 for the smaller size up to £1,250 and come in green, yellow and blue. Alternatively, Burford’s terracotta barrel pot with a swag design is a timeless classic, made from Tuscan clay, and costs £165.
Or indeed, perhaps the dark depths of the garage will reveal something you already have. Jane Robson, Planteria Manager at Haddenham Garden Centre says any container will do – sinks, tins, wellies… anything that can be filled with compost and have a drainage hole.
Now for the gardening bit
Get container, fill with compost… well, it’s almost that easy. It’s wise to add vermiculite or potting grit to the compost, or to you and me, a handful of gravel. That keeps the compost from getting too soggy. Most of our winter plant recommendations can take a bit of shade so suit any aspect.
As well as positioning pots where you can see them, grouping different sized pots together can make a pretty focal point…taking the eye away from that neglected flowerbed. Your winter planters will also look rather natty alongside other patio accessories or statement garden furniture.
Hellebores are a favourite of the Plant Team at Burford Garden Company because of their dark green serrated foliage and rich variety of colours from subtle creams to claret-red. These are evergreen so provide glossy foliage all year round and flower from late December, surviving frost and snow, which is why they’re known as Christmas roses.
Top tip from the newly appointed Head Gardener at Trinity College, Oxford, Kate Burtonwood, is to combine hardy evergreen ferns and primroses with hellebores for a woodland feel. She packs them in tight for maximum impact.
Pansies, violas and primroses will provide colour until May, and are big sellers at Haddenham Garden Centre. These can be under-planted with bulbs such as daffodils and tulips to add extra colour and change the look through the seasons. Planting bulbs under the bedding plants is like leaving little presents for yourself, which pop up in the spring.
And the finishing touch? An ivy trail will soften the edge of the planter, or Burford’s Plant Team surround their plants with moss to cover the soil and give a natural woodland look.
Another winter classic is snowdrops, of course, and eranthus or winter aconites. These are small woodland flowers in the same acid yellow as buttercups. One plant that is very ‘now’ is the humble fleabane, which can also be underplanted with bulbs, and gives a pretty and blousy early spring display.
How to keep them alive
The key is to deadhead flowers, snipping off dead blooms, or in the case of cyclamen, pulling the spent stems out at the base. Keep the compost moist but not soggy, so if it’s wet pots should have drainage. They can be raised up on stones or on terracotta pot feet.
Hellebores will flower for years but should be planted in a shadier spot in the garden once they’ve finished flowering in the pot in the spring.
More garden inspo from the comfort of your sofa – check out our pick of the best gardening books .