Isabelle Palmer is The Balcony Gardener. Using her green-fingers and vast imagination she helps urban dwellers turn even the smallest of spaces into a verdant oasis. Feeling a little too cooped up in our humid London office and yearning for the gardens of our youth, we asked Isabelle about transforming our windowsills into a little patch of wild.
What's the first thing people need when turning their windowsill into a miniature garden?
A window box can recreate the essence of a garden with a mixture of your favourite flowers. I tend to use non-uniform planting, using just one of each plant so it looks very natural and organic, giving that 'garden' effect. Looking out of the window you get the perception of a landscape and it really embodies my theory that no space is too small to create your own little bit of green.
The first thing to look at is the aspect; this will determine what plants you can use. This means if you have a sunny or shady area that the window box will be based in, then pick plants according to this. You can tell from the label if they like sun or shade. I would then divide this further into colours you like, creating a matching colour palette is key to making the window box come alive so stick to two or three colours to give yourself a sophisticated look.
What plants and flowers would you recommend for windows boxes?
My favourite window box plants are buxus for an evergreen base, ivy, ferns, pansies, violas, lavender, hydrangeas, dahlias, snapdragons and stock.
What are the best herbs to grow?
For containers, herbs are excellent as they are compact and also easy to grow and can be easily used in the cooking. My favourites are parsley, chives, thyme, rosemary and bay.
How often should you tend to your windowsill garden?
Window boxes in the height of the summer need daily watering, there isn't much space to hold water and it’s quickly evaporated and used by the plant when it’s hot. Constant topping up is the key to healthy plants. That’s the key reason they don’t survive.
It’s also important to give them a weekly feed. I always use half of the concentration written on the instructions as it can be a bit much for window boxes and the small space. In the autumn feed them less often and in the winter you can move to a more evergreen look. So use plants like buxus, ivy, heucheras and skimmia which pretty much look after themselves.
How can you make it look equally good from both sides of the window?
For the outward-facing view go for a more dramatic effect by trailing ivy at the front. From the inside, make sure you have a lower level of flowers. Say violas and pansies that will give low level colour.
How big would you recommend going?
I always say go for the biggest container you can, lots of small containers are a lot more maintenance and large containers give a more striking focal point, so the bigger the better! By doing this it can make a minimal space look bigger.
It's better to spend your money on a couple of larger key items than on lots of smaller ones. Too many plants or ornaments can make a small space look messy and overcrowded. Pick containers in the same material or colour tone. Don’t have lots of containers of differing patterns and colours it will make the space look overwhelmed.