The annual invasion

It’s that time of year again when the impatience to get growing forces us to cram windowsills with those sissy species that insist on home comforts.

My home was clearly not designed by horticultural enthusiasts. It has a woeful lack of windowsills, so I am mostly trying to sit on my hands until we’re risk-of-frost-free and I can sow outside.

But I wouldn’t want to avoid the annual(s) invasion altogether, so IN MY NEW POTTING SHED (!!!) I sowed a tray of modules with zinnias and cosmos. All of these seeds were free; mixed zinnias and cosmos from Gardeners World magazine this year and last, and white cosmos purity collected from my garden (in 2014 – time will tell if they’ll still be viable).

I really must clean those windows…

That tray of annuals is balanced – half on the windowsill and half on ‘The Idiots Guide to the Internet’ (circa late-1990s) – in my office.

The zinnias shot up in days, and are now squishing themselves leggily against the polythene cover, waiting for the cosmos to catch up!

Next to them is a lasagne dish of plug plants, which are balanced on the Good Beer Guide 2012. It sure is a professional horticultural outfit here!

These are my money-saving windowbox solutions. With a lack of space and time for bringing on loads of annuals from seeds, I buy the early annual plugs from the garden centre (£1.49 each, and less if you multibuy) and grow them on inside and then in our unheated greenhouse.

I’ve chosen trailing fuschias once again for our tricky north-facing window boxes. I dislike the other obvious choice for shade – begonias – and fuscias did pretty well last summer.

For the sunny side of the house, I’ve gone with bright red trailing geraniums. It’s a real sun trap and I think it deserves a hot colour. Petunias have done brilliantly in the past, but the process of dead-heading them is such a horribly sticky job that I’m changing my allegiance.

Despite my dislike for begonias I’ve bought a few apricot-coloured ones to go in hanging planters at Miss MBaF’s Preschool. It’s a semi-shaded spot, and I needed something that would flower before the children break up for summer hols.

To tide us over until the begonias go in I’ve chosen some pretty nemesia. It’s too cold for them outside now, but they’re already flowering away happily on the windowsill.

Next up I’ll have to clear the kitchen windowsill and get the tomatoes started!

Noisy b—–

Mr MBaF is in the midst of a major building project on in our garden (a workshop/potting shed/bike shed) so there’re piles of displaced shed contents on the decking, and building materials in the front garden.

Why am I telling you this? Because it’s my excuse for why the window boxes have been a bit overlooked – they struggle to shine bright enough to get noticed over the general scruffiness outside.

But as if demanding my attention, this morning at 6am I was woken by a very noisy diner at the floral breakfast buffet outside our open bedroom window. A bumble bee, bumbling his way between the fuschia blooms, with his deep, loud, and persistent buzzing.

It’s not the worst way to be woken – certainly beats the alarm clock, or a crying toddler, hands-down. So I lay awhile, watching the insect methodically disappearing into and reappearing from the skirt folds of the fuschias – before moving noisily on to the next one. After a few minutes I did shut the window, as I figured the snoring Mr MBaF would rather stay asleep.

It made me reflect on how well this north-facing box is doing this year. It’s a tricky position, but these fuschias seem pretty happy. Out of the three boxes on the front of the house, this one is by far the best so far. I think I must’ve have inadvertently put the later-flowering varieties in the planter outside Miss MBaF’s bedroom, but hopefully they’ll perform for her soon too.

The largest boxes, outside the living room, look green and healthy but it remains to be seen if they flower. Unlike the upstairs boxes, these are also shaded by the sticking-out porch on their east side, so miss out on the short slice of early morning sunshine that creeps around the house.

Big frilly blooms, like many of the fuschias I chose, aren’t my usual style. But I’m prepared to compromise to get some colour on the north wall, and they are looking pretty good from inside and out. It seems that the later-flowering types are going to be a bit ‘cleaner’ in form, so I think I’ll like them even better.

The bee’s blousy breakfast buffet

The latest variety to flower, more my style, and with distracting building materials visible in the front garden below

The south-facing kitchen window box is looking OK too, but that’s for another day…

In the eye of the beeholder!

Bees have been enjoying a very shady character at our house.

I’ve struggled to find pollinator-friendly plants for my South-facing window boxes amongst the usual garden centre offerings. But, by-chance, the northerly one seems to contain a beaut for the bees.
A shade-tolerant heuchera (‘Apple Crisp’) is doing nicely in the frankly dank window box outside our living room. Since early spring – and some new compost – it’s sent up its spindly spikes of teeny tiny white/green bell-shaped flowers.

They really don’t look particularly impressive (though I take what I can get in the north-facing planters!) but buzzing things seem to enjoy them.

Heuchera ‘apple crisp’

I’m hoping for a bit of colour from trailing fuschias in these boxes this year, but I’m actually coming around to the idea of giving up the fight against the conditions and trying a foliage-based display.
Next spring I will divide some of my smaller hostas (which, are so far still snail-free!!!) to add in, and I’ve just bought a few ferns to try.


This one (common polypody) should reach 35cm if it does well, which would look fab alongside the heuchera.

Any other tips for shade-loving plants that would suit a window box or three???

(Ps The strange pink thing behind the fern is Miss MBaF’s toy saucepan on the windowsill inside!)

I only popped out for some seeds…

Breakfast at the garden centre today. Part of the promise to Miss MBaF of a fun morning out with Mummy!

We were really there for more sweet pea seeds. I get so focused on flowering plants’ colour, habit and size, that I’ve tended to neglect choosing flowers for their scent. This is definitely an area I want to improve on. Having a scent-filled garden – and the occasional fragrant treat at lotsville – would be wonderful.

At the sweet pea ‘bar’ I let Miss MBaF steer the colour choice, and I refined the decision to those that were described as having great scent. We ended up with Spanish Dancer and Painted Lady – sounds like a good night out in Soho! 





Our racy ladies in their loo rolls



 Then I got trapped by the allure of cheap baby plants…

I’ve been thinking about my window box strategy for a while. Mr MBaF made five wonderful window boxes for me when we moved here. We have two that face south (whoopee!) and three that inevitably face north (boo-hiss).

I used begonias on the shady side last year. They did ok, but frankly I hate most begonias so I need to find an alternative. Today there was a great selection of trailing fuschias, which the labels claimed do fine in cold shade! So I bought about three varieties of large flowering trailing fuschias,  all with partly white blooms that I hope will shine out of the northerly gloom.

For the sunny side, Miss MBaF picked some lovely looking pink Calibrachoa (mini petunia-like flowers) ‘hot pink star’ for a little hedgehog planter she was given. I thought I would continue the theme for the windows, adding some Calibrachoa ‘cabaret purple glow’ and some white Bacopia for a cool hue.

Because these plants are so young (and £1.49 each) I need to pamper them until it warms up a bit. So they’re squished into a couple of dishes on the inside of the window for now.



The future window box lovelies





The south-facing kitchen box today



Finally, I treated myself to a new set of bypass secateurs 🙂