By Naomi Mathews
As a youngster and teenager, I grew up on a big farm in the country where my father grew large crops of sugar beets, potatoes, corn, and alfalfa every year. In addition, he planted gardens that contained practically everything we needed to sustain life without going to the grocery store. As our garden crops ripened and were harvested, my mother was kept busy from daylight to dark preserving these delicious fruits and vegetables for our family's use through the long winters. My four sisters and I always helped our mother with the canning and preserving process every summer.
At a very young age I learned how to plant row upon row of tiny seeds in fresh tilled earth, either with the help of my mother or my older siblings. As a teenager, I planted entire gardens without supervision by following the directions on seed packets. Growing up on a farm wasn't all fun and games, believe me! I worked hard in my father's fields along with my siblings, but the work ethics I learned have served me well.
I can now look back on my teenage "farming" experiences as a great learning school, rather than the hard work it really was. I'll always be grateful I grew up so close to Nature, especially gardening. I have long since left the growing and preserving of fruits and vegetables to those more agile and energetic. Also, I now rather enjoy shopping for "store- bought" canned corn, beets, and beans and those enticing little jars of jams, jellies, and other sweet preserves.
A Tribute to My "Green Thumb" Mother
However, it is only my gardening focus that has changed over the years. As the old saying goes, "You can take the girl out of the country, but you can't take the country out of the girl!" For you see, my mother also taught me about the pleasure and satisfaction of growing beautiful flowers, both indoors and out. To this day, gardening is still one of my passions. Flower gardening, that is.
Where we lived, the snowdrifts often piled up as high as our windowsills during the bitter winter months. To bring a bit of cheer into her kitchen, my mother often created simple but enchanting windowsill gardens. Thanks to her green thumb and her love for plants and flowers, I learned that a single clay pot filled with trailing English ivy or striking variegated coleus placed on a sunny windowsill could brighten the bleakest of winter days. It was on those colorful coleus plants my mother grew that I learned how to "pinch out" tiny leaf buds to encourage profuse foliage growth. I also learned how to propagate these little plants from my mother. This was a valuable gardening lesson that I still put to use.
Some of my favorite windowsill plants include many varieties of trailing ivy, African violets, primroses, pansies and violets, geraniums, gloxinias, cyclamens, coleus, kalonchoes, peperomias, and heartleaf philodendrons. There are many others suitable for windowsills, but these will always remain my own favorites since they are reminiscent of my dear mother and her windowsill gardens. Thank you, Mother! Among many other things, you trained me well in the ways and wiles of growing beautiful flowers!
Some Worthwhile Windowsill Gardening Tips
Displaying cheerful plants and flowers planted in colorful containers on windowsills has again become a fashionable way to brighten homes. Whether you live in a small, twentieth floor apartment in a metropolitan city or in a million dollar mansion situated on a secluded country estate, growing a beautiful windowsill garden can be a snap.
Your success in growing windowsill gardens will depend upon following a few simple guidelines.
When selecting windowsill containers, choose pots to group together that are similar in style as this is more pleasing to the eye. Pots can be plain or painted terra-cotta, decorative ceramic, sturdy plastic, wood, wicker, glass, or even china. If the pots you select have proper drainage holes and come with drip trays, you're in business! Should your pots have drainage holes without drip trays, you can always set them on pretty little saucers or purchase clear plastic drip trays to fit under them. Decorative ceramic pots without drainage holes can be effectively used as cache-pots to hold already-potted plants.
Windowsill containers are usually much smaller than other indoor containers. You should make sure they will hold enough soil to properly nourish and water your plants. Choose containers that safely fit on your windowsill without tipping over or falling off. Avoid crowding your planted pots close together, as your plants need good air circulation and growing room.
For indoor plants, purchase a reliable brand of houseplant soil. There are two major kinds of houseplant mixes: peat-moss-based and loam-based. Read the labels on the different mixes available at your garden center to decide which one will be the best for the plants you select. Certain plants such as orchids and some varieties of bromeliads will do best in mediums made especially for them. Again, read the labels to help you select the proper soil.
For optimal lighting, select a windowsill with an eastern or southeastern exposure. This will provide your plants with plenty of early morning light. Windowsills facing due west are not recommended, as the hot afternoon sunshine streaming through glass windows will soon burn their delicate leaves. If you select foliage plants with variegated or lighter colored leaves, they will prefer brighter light. On the other hand, those having dark green leaves usually tolerate less light. Take some time to analyze your windowsill lighting options before you plant your indoor garden.
Many windowsill gardens are grown on kitchen windowsills located right above the sink. This is a plus since the humidity is usually high in this location. Try not to select a windowsill with a heating vent nearby. All heating vents or other heating appliances such as baseboard heaters are humidity thieves. If necessary, you can increase the humidity by setting your pots on a tray filled with small pebbles. Add water to the tray until it is just below the tops of the pebbles. The evaporating water will furnish your plants with the humidity they need for healthy growth. Add additional water to the tray as needed.
All indoor plants need regular watering and your windowsill plants are no exception. You may have a tendency to water your kitchen windowsill garden a bit too often since the tap water is so close. This is NOT a good idea, as potted plants will die from overwatering more than any other reason. If you find the leaves of your plants turning yellow, you are probably overwatering. On the other hand, don't let your plants dry out completely before watering as this will stress them too much. For best results, I suggest using room temperature water for watering your windowsill garden. Try to water your plants on a regular basis once you've established their watering needs.
Water-soluble fertilizers are a superb choice for feeding windowsill garden plants. There are many good brands available at garden centers. Always follow the label directions on fertilizer containers, whether liquid or granule. The nutritional needs of plants vary widely. However, all plants in containers need added nutrition on a regular basis since watering allows the nutrients to leach out through the drainage holes. Don't feed flowering plants too much fertilizer, as this tends to produce much lush foliage but less flowers.
7. Misting or Sponging
Your windowsill plants appreciate a gentle misting or sponging now and then to remove accumulated dust from their leaves. Use tepid water for misting plants with leaves that are furry or crinkly. For plants having smooth, shiny leaves, wet a small sponge with water, then gently wipe each leaf. Misting and sponging will keep your windowsill garden not only looking fresh and clean, but it's necessary for optimum plant health.
8. Insect Control
Should you notice any insects on your potted plants, spray them with a reliable non-toxic insecticide, following label instructions carefully. NEVER use toxic insecticides on any indoor potted plants!
Plant Selection is Your Choice!
Windowsill gardening is a great way to invite your garden indoors, even if only for a season. Every gardener has their favorites when it comes to plants and flowers -- I know I do! Whether you prefer a burst of bright, colorful blossoms to brighten up your windowsill or a stunning array of complementary foliage plants -- the choice is yours!
About the Author Naomi Mathews also writes a column on Butterfly and Hummingbird Gardens