Creating good-looking window boxes has been no simple feat for Rachel Household, who, after months of trial and error, can finally admit to a deep dislike of begonias
‘Mixed fortunes’ is how I’d describe our window boxes. Last winter I decided to plant some up and they went very well. Pansies and tiny little daffs. Big success… although I was stunned how frequently they needed watering. So when we moved into our new house I wanted to carry on with my gardening on a window ledge.
The front of the house is so shabby I thought I couldn’t possibly draw attention to the dustbins, chipped paintwork, the ‘sold’ board and plastic road cone. But round the back is a window that looks out from the kitchen to the garden: a perfect place for a floral display. So off I went to the local farmers’ market in May and bought a tray of busy Lizzies and a tray of begonias, without even thinking whether I liked them or not. I don't know how many you're supposed to put into a container, so I crammed all of them into two window boxes, which did seem a bit of squeeze. The busy Lizzies I’m really pleased with but they don’t complement the begonias, which are bursting out on all sides. To be honest, it looks like a pub out there. The begonias have done well – I mean, they haven’t died - but deep down I really, really don’t like them at all.
So it’s October and the window boxes are still going strong. They look a bit shabby but not bad, which is quite surprising really since I’m not a methodical waterer and they’ve been relying on the rain, which we seem to have had a lot of. Even so, I’ll be glad to get rid of the begonias with a clear conscience. I had to suppress the urge to throw them away through the summer, but it seemed mean, it wasn’t their fault I didn’t like them, and anyway, I feel guilty if I kill something.
Suddenly though, people are thrusting bulbs at me and colour supplements are flogging spring plants, and in my area window boxes have appeared with heather, ivy, and autumnal displays. I do feel sometimes that I should be more house-proud, that we lower the tone…
Anyway, I decided to consult some articles and found out what I don’t like, which is the single-colour, in-your-face plantings – like all reds. I prefer pretty flowers – basically I’m unadventurous and have no urge to do anything different. So I perused the range of bulbs on offer and settled on a selection of crocuses, snowdrops and traditional daffodils (‘King Alfred’ to be precise) and some heathers and violas. This is a slight change from last year’s marigolds but I thought the violas were delicate and pretty. I’m not wholly convinced though: part of me is still tempted by the big, bold, bright and brassy marigolds…
Planting up will mean following the instructions on the bulb packets to the letter: there will be no deviation since I am not too confident about this part of the whole business. Firstly there’ll be the ceremonial binning of the summer’s flowers, which will be tough and ridden with guilt. Then I’ll put some loose stones into the bottom of the container, whack in some compost, pop the bulbs in, have a quick panic about whether things are too close together, then whack my violas in on top. This will be marked with a glass of wine since I will also undoubtedly have to deal with cat interference of the most unpleasant kind and a disparaging husband…
See also the Helping Hands workshops on:
Planting a bulb in earth
Planting up a container
Rachel’s Shopping List:
Other spring bulbs
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