Gardening: Windowsill gardens

Living in a city like Mumbai, one feels blessed to have a tiny, yet airy balcony. The same goes for other cities in the country where living spaces are shrinking like never before. Buildings are growing higher, balconies are getting converted to rooms and rooms are being divided into more rooms. But should all this stop us from wishing for a little greenery at home? What if there is no balcony, looks like a windowsill is all you need.
Yes, space should not be a deterrant to set up a home garden. And, windowsills are the hot favourite among urban gardeners. From vegetables like tomatoes and chillies and herbs like mint and thyme to flowering plants like geranium and verbena, you can grow almost anything on a windowsill. So Smart Life helps you set up your own little windowsill garden.

Planning it right
Before you take the plunge into getting your hands dirty, here are a list of things you should watch out for.

Space: It is best to have a realistic check of how much space is at offer for the garden. This is the first step in your gardening process. “Accesing the amount of space you have will decide how many pots can be accomodated, how deep they can be and how tall your plants can grow into,” says Reena Chengappa of Bangalore-based MySunnyBalcony, who creates customised gardens in urban spaces. “Also check the strength of your window grill,” says Anusha Babbar of Under The Tree, that conducts urban gardening workshops in Mumbai. “Some co-operative societies in the cities have a problem with water dripping from pots kept on windowsills. So, it is best to get all required permissions beforehand.”

Time: This is one factor that Chengappa stresses on. “Every plant looks beautiful in the nursery,” she says. “This does not mean that they will look the same once brought home.” A lot of her clients get excited and go overboard by buying a whole lot of plants only to lose interest in them after a week or two. “The first thing you should think of is the amount of time that is available for gardening,” says Chengappa. “it makes sense then to plant those plants that will use up only the amount of time at your disposal.”
Sunlight: This is another important factor in choosing what to plant. “If there is full sunlight, say four to five hours of direct sunlight, you can opt for flowering plants,” says Shradha Bhagwat of Mumbai-based Ankur Nursery. For newbie gardeners, Chengappa recommends plants like geranium, verbena and portulaca. If there is only morning sunlight or there is not much sunlight, you can go for foliage or ornamental plants that are shade loving, suggests Bhagwat. Windowsills are also great for herbs like corainder, mint, thyme, rosemary and lemongrass, says Chengappa. It works wonders if the room is white or light-coloured, as this helps reflect more light. Dark colours absorb light and deprive plants of it.

Pots and medium: Once you have chosen what plants to grow, the next thing is to choose pots and a medium to plant them in. “It is best to stick to plastic and other lightweight materials as earthen and ceramic pots tend to be too heavy for the windowsill,” says Babbar. Potting medium also plays a role in the weight of the pot. You could go for a mix of soil and other light potting media like cocopeat (dessicated coconut fibre), perculite or vermiculite. “One things to remember is that cocopeat does not contain any nutrients in itself. It helps in adding some qualitites like ventilation and water retention to soil,” says Chengappa. According to her, the best potting medium is a mix of red soil, cocopeat and compost.

Fertilisers: It is best to find out about the kind and amounts of fertiisers to be used for each plant. “For intance, flowering plants need frequent use of fertilisers, while foliage plants require them only once in 15 days,” says Bhagwat. Organic is the buzz word among most gardeners when it comes to fertiisers. “Organic fertilisers are the best because insecticides and pesticides harm not just the plant and the environment, but also the people who live around it,” says Chengappa. She advises the use of neem oil and panchgavya. “Panchgavya is a mix of the five elements you get from a cow namely dung, urine, milk, curd and ghee,” she says. “This is a must for every gardener and if you are armed with panchgavya, your fertising is pretty much taken care of.”

Planting: While planting it is important to have a clear idea of how tall the plant can grow up to, says Bhagwat. Also, sow seeds in the same seasons that the plant grows outdoors. It is important to identify the depth of your pots while planting each plant. “Any creeper like morning glory, passion fruit or even bougeanvillea can easily be grown in a 10-inch deep pot,” says Chengappa. “For vegetables like tomatoes, chillies and brinjal, pots with a depth ranging anywhere from five to eight inches are sufficient.” Beans and bitter gourds, too, are fast-growing plants that can be grown in a windowsill. “Do not crowd your pots with too many saplings,” warns Babbar. “Even if you plant more than one plant in a container, leave enough space between the two so that they don’t compete for light, water, and nutrients–resulting in weak plants all around.”

Add some colour
It is great fun to adopt a theme for your garden. You could choose colour themes and synchronise pots and other decor according to a single shade. With tiny pieces of garden art on offer, spruce up your space with some tiny showpieces, windmills, shells, pebbles or make some suncatchers or wind chimes and hang it on the window. Browse for garden art on online garden stores like pepperfry.com, mysunnybalcony.com, zansaar.com and sunshinegardens.com

Pots no more
Add a vintage feel to your windowsill garden by using tins instead of pots to plant your crops in. It not only saves a lot of money, doesn’t it make you feel better that you are recycling those containers? Even used glass bottles can make for great pots. Just pick up those glitter pens and decorate them. Be creative. Even glass jar lids can be used as pots. Save some space and hang some pots on the grill.

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