Indoor hanging gardens and wall baskets

These look very pretty indoors if you can find a suitable spot to hang them. Light-loving plants will do well in a basket or bowl hung at a window from a curtain track if that is no longer used, provided the window does not get too much sun for their taste. In winter, it may be necessary to move it from such an exposed position. It all depends on what you are going to plant in it.

Baskets or other containers can be hung from the ceiling (if you can locate a joist into which to screw a hook), from wall brackets, or under an arch or in an alcove. In any position that is away from daylight, install a fluorescent tube at least 2 feet above, or choose shade-loving plants. The same applies to wall pots.

The most usual hanging container is a wire basket (which may have to be lined with plastic or foil for indoor use, to prevent drips), or a plastic one with drip-tray incorporated. Other possible containers are lined wicker baskets, gilded bird cages, or polythene bowls in which you can pierce holes for the hanging cords. Polythene is not a very attractive material but if the bowl is filled with hanging plants, it will soon be hidden. In a china bowl or ordinary flower pot an electric drill will make the holes needed for taking the cord or nylon thread by which to hang the ‘garden’ when it is ready.

For some situations, a long narrow container might be more effective, run-ning right across a window, to screen an ugly view, for example. This will be heavy, so suspend it by chains from two brackets, one at each side of the window. Soilless compost is relatively lightweight but needs frequent watering unless planted with cacti or succulents that do not need much moisture. If you line a wire basket with plastic or with foil folded double, choose trailing plants to conceal the lining and also puncture a few holes in it through which to push the roots of some small plants. Any container without a drainage hole must have a layer of charcoal chips at the bottom to absorb excess water. Then fill up with John Innes Compost No. 2.

After planting the basket and watering it, leave it in a cool place for a few days before hanging it up. Once a week it is likely to need water, with an addition of liquid fertilizer. Use very little water if there is no drainage hole. Judge how much to give as accurately as you can: hanging baskets are apt to lose a lot of moisture through evaporation. On the other hand, if there is no drainage hole, there is a greater risk of the compost getting soggy.

What plants to choose? Since you will be seeing the basket from below, trailing ones are an obvious choice; plus some to climb up the chains. Very small flowers will scarcely show. Here are some suggested combinations: For a vivid and conspicuous display, a group of Fuchsias (including trailing varieties) on their own or with Asparagus Fern; or Pelagorniums, both upright and trailing; an Impatiens (Busy Lizzie); or, in softer tones of pink and green, a Beloperone guttata (Shrimp Plant).

For a cool white and green scheme, Campanula isophylla alba showering down, a Philodendron twining up the chains, and a Chlorophytum comosum (Spider Plant). This will do well even where light is limited. A Zygocactus (Christmas Cactus) looks good in a smaller container, by itself as it needs much less water than most plants except in winter. A permanent foliage group for a shady spot could be created with Mother-ofthousands, Wandering Jew and Ivy (all these trail down but are of contrasting shapes, colours and textures) perhaps with a Pepper Elder, Asparagus Fern or Aluminium Plant in the middle. (In a group like this you could leave a permanent space for a small vase of flowers to give a point of colour, changed every week.) A smaller, low-hanging container, perhaps in front of a blocked-in fireplace, could be filled with Saintpaulias (African violets); or (for the early part of the year only) indoor Primulas – they could be replaced with Begonia semperflorens in summer.

A group of Cacti or other succulents, needing little watering, could also be used.

In a big basket it is best to leave the plants in their pots, surrounding these with peat or moss. This makes it easy to rearrange them occasionally. In addition, some attractive plants which will trail either stems and leaves or offsets over the edge of the basket or container include: Bryophyllum crenata (yellow) and B. uniflorum (pinkish).

Crassula nealeana (yellow), C. corallina (yellow), C. nemorosa (pink) and C. spatulata (pink).

Indoor Mesembryanthemums such as M.cooperi (magenta), uncinatum (pink), tortuosum (pale yellow), laeve (yellow) and turbinatum (red). Sedums such as Ruby Glow (pink), album (white), refiexum (yellow), pul-chelum (purple), hybridum (yellow) and sieboldii (pink).

Two varieties of Sempervivum: mace-donicum (red/purple) and tectorum (various colours). Kleinia pendula (red/orange). Additional suggestions for plants for hanging gardens and baskets include: A collection of Heathers, which have leaves varying in colour from silver and gold to deep green, some with drooping stems, and which, by careful selection, can give a show of flowers at intervals throughout the year. There are many varieties to choose from, but a good mixture could include varieties of Erica carnea, darleyensis and tetralix – all giving flowers in a range of colours from white to pink to deep magenta. A compost without chalk is important for these plants, which like plenty of peat. Bulbs for winter and early spring: Crocus, Snowdrops and double Tulips (using bulb fibre).

A mixed perennial basket consisting of trailing plants such as Aubretia (many of red, blue and purple colours), Vinca minor (Periwinkle) with its small green and whitish leaves, Lysimachia nummularia (Loosestrife) (gold leaves), and Cerastium tomentosum (Snow in Summer) (grey leaves and white flowers). All should be cut back with scissors or secateurs to keep them under control and to encourage free flowering and plenty of new, colourful leaf shoots. Other plants useful for trailing or climbing include:

Ficus radicans, Ficus pumila, Chlorophytum capense, Fittonia verschaffeltii, Pellionia daveauana, Jasminum officinalis aurea variegata, Lonicera japonica varie-gata, Fuchsia procumbens (this has fascinating hiplike red fruits).

Window-boxes

Window-boxes serve two functions; the first is to decorate the outside of a house, thus giving pleasure not only to the owner but also to passers by, and the second is to add to the pleasure of those inside by giving them a tiny foreground landscape of flower and leaf through, or across, which to look at the world. The view through a window is much improved on a grey morning if it is seen past the nodding heads of Daffodils or Pot Marigolds.

How many boxes

The shape, size and number of window-boxes will, obviously, be dictated by the house itself. If you have just one window-box it should be colourful and well-tended – it must merit the attention it will undoubtedly receive. Al-ternatively, you could have a mixture of troughs, pots and window-boxes – each filled with different varieties of flower. Just think of those pavements, yards, and flights of steps in the Mediterranean countries where every kind of pot and pan, even painted petrol tins, contains a glittering cascade of bright flowers which enliven the dullest corner.

Types of window-box

Window-boxes can be found in many materials. They can either be bought ready-made or made to fit a particular window. The traditional wooden box is still a favourite and will last well provided it is painted with a preservative and one or two coats of paint. Good hard wood such as teak, elm, oak or red cedar can be treated with preservative and left to weather. The less heavy deal boxes need two or three coats of paint. White, off-white, or stone colours are usually good ones to choose. Or a dark blue, green or grey. It is probably best to avoid bright hues and to let the flowers provide all the colour.

How to make a window-box

If you want to make your own window-box choose wood 4-I inch thick. The usual length for a box is 3-4 feet, and the ideal width is 9-10 inches – certainly anything less than 7 inches is too nar-

Yoii can emphasise the angles of a roof with window-boxes, and hold pots of Geraniums lend drama to a balcony.

Row for the plants to be happy, and anything wider than 10 inches will hang dangerously far over most sills. The base of the box must have 1 -inch drainage holes in it, each about 12 inches apart.

Fixing the box

Place strips of wood under the box to lift the base off the window-sill and allow air to circulate and water to drain away. The box must be very firmly attached to both the window-sill and wall. And, if there is a gap, drive wedges of wood between the end of the box and the wall.

Soil and planting

Before the box is filled with soil each drainage hole must be covered with a brocken crock, and a 1-2 inch layer of crocks and gravel spread over the bottom of the box. With window-boxes, as with any other pot or container, it is vitally important to use a really good soil. Fill the box up to about 1 inch from the top.

You can put the plants straight into the soil, or, if you prefer, you can put the plants in pots, put the pots in the window-box, and pack them around with soil and peat. This second method makes it easier to remove a plant if it dies, and also means that if you have sharp winters your favourite plants can be brought inside in their pots and put into the window-box again when all danger of frost is past.

When to plant

Plant window-boxes as you would plant a garden. Put in hardy plants in fine weather during winter and spring, sow hardy annuals in early summer or buy them later as plants. Bulbs should be put in in late summer or early autumn.

Which plants to choose for window boxes

Plants in window-boxes tend to have a somewhat hard life, with periods of drought and wind, draughts and little protection. Certain hardy plants are, therefore, almost synonymous with window-box gardening. Choose Chry-santhemum Frutescens (Marguerites), Petunias double and single – flowery and floppy in glorious colours – Lobelias light and dark, Fuchsias, Verbena, Begonia Semperflorens, and, of course, the favourite flowering plants such as Geraniums and Pelargoniums. Miniature Roses, sharing with their fully grown relations a tough disposition, are also good in boxes, as are Hydrangeas. Petunias, Marigolds, Lobelia, and Verbena are happy in window-boxes which get a lot of sun. Begonias and Pansies will prefer a shadier spot. Ideal for window-boxes, and as delightfully edible as they are decorative, are miniature Tomatoes with their marble-sized fruits. Team them with Green Beans, they have beautiful scarlet flowers and you could train them up the sides and around the top of your window, framing it completely. Ipomoea (Morning Glory) can be used for the same purpose as they, too, are good climbing plants.

Flowers all the year round

With some planning and re-planting a window-box can be kept flowering throughout most of the year. You could start the box, with Bulbs and sweet-smelling Wallflowers and Forget-me-nots which will bloom when the Bulbs are over. When these are over why not put in Nicotiana (Tobacco)- white to smell and lime green for the marvellous colour – with Pansies and, later, Nasturtiums with their brilliant flames and oranges.

A window-box of herbs

Sweet-smelling Rosemary and Lavender are good window-box plants, and if you have a convenient sill and are devoted to cooking have a box for more of your favourite herbs. Many useful ones – Chives, Chervil, Parsley, Savory, Thyme and Marjoram – will thrive in a box if they are kept well-watered.

Use of flower colours

A brighter, gayer and generally more daring use of colour is possible in a window-box because the flowers are contained in a rigid framework, be it lead, stone, wood or concrete (or the magic fibre-glass which can look like any of these) which effectively cuts them off from nature. What would be unthinkable in the way of colour combinations in a flower bed on a large scale becomes quite acceptable when in a box set off against stone or brick. Shocking, iridescent pink Petunias with orange Marigolds, for example, or vermilion Geraniums with velvety pink and purple Pelargoniums. Although it is often highly successful to have a bright, multicoloured plant pattern in a box, it is also very effective to have shades of one colour, or one colour with white. Try planting yellow and orange Marigolds with silver grey foliage plants; pink and white Petunias; purple Heliotrope with mauve Petunias and blue Ageratum; or pink and white Geraniums with Fuschias.

Care of the plants

As with all flowering plants, but even more so as they are at eye level and more noticeable, take care to remove flower-heads as soon as they die, so that you get constant blooms to the end of the season. In the hottest and driest times of the year you must remember to water at least once, and probably twice a day (early in the morning and in the evening) as window-boxes tend to dry out quickly. During the summer you could add a plant food once every two weeks or so.

Window-boxes in winter

Try not to have a window box which contains only dry dusty soil and a few dead sticks. In winter either clear the box out or remove it entirely to renovate for next year. The soil in window-boxes needs to be replaced roughly once a year so this could be a good time to do it. Alternatively, you could fill the window-box with winter evergreens like small Junipers and Cypresses, and tough little Heathers and Ivies. Either move these into the garden in spring, or put your flowers among them.

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