Small but mighty: How to grow your own if all you have is a windowsill and a front step
By Ella Walker . Published 2020-06-11
With a little bit of thought and some clever ideas, everyone can grow their own
You might be renting a garden-free house or live in a tiny 15th floor flat with plenty of views but no actual earth to plant stuff in – however, that doesn’t mean you can’t grow your own.
Sure, rhubarb is probably not an option (the leaves are elephant-ear huge), asparagus would be tricky (a long trench of sandy soil is required), and globe artichokes likely a problem (guys, they grow to human height).
And there’s no point nurturing blackberries, when you can forage for them in many parks, country lanes and sometimes even supermarket car parks.
Yet, however compact your home, there’s always a nook or cranny somewhere that a seedling will thrive in. It’s amazing the produce you can coax into life with just a couple of windowsills and a front step.
Transform your plot – however small – into an urban allotment with these green-fingered, space-maximising tricks…
Kit you need and kit you can live without
If you’re short on outdoor space, the likelihood is, you’ll be short on indoor space too. Hands up if you definitely don’t have a shed or greenhouse for storing your gardening gear in.
For those just starting out though, you really don’t need a load of bulky spades, pots and hi-tech hydroponics to grow your own in a small space. In fact, you can go ultra low-key and use up stuff you probably already have lying around.
From your recycling bin, dig out cardboard egg boxes, which make ideal pods for chitting potatoes; washed out yoghurt pots and jam jars work well as starter plant pots (although drainage will be a problem longer term), and you can plant seedlings in used toilet roll tubes.
Old crockery and plates from charity shops are a good substitute too if you haven’t got the surface area for terracotta plant trays indoors.
There are certain items that are worth investing in though. One or two plastic seedling trays the size of an A4 sheet of paper (although coir – coconut husks – makes for a more eco-friendly option), a trowel (although hands work fine), gardening gloves (if you want to look the part) and compost – which will be essential. Secateurs are optional – after all, there’s not much a pair of kitchen scissors can’t do.
Utilise your kitchen windowsill
With kitchen gardening, the first step is to accept that some things will take up too much space, need too much light, and won’t yield all that much when home-grown.
So, when it comes to dill, coriander and tarragon, for instance, you’re generally better off buying bunches (preferably plastic-free) from the grocery store instead.
Your everyday staples though, like basil, parsley, rosemary and sage, all deserve a spot on the sill (cleaned tomato cans will do for pots) and won’t dominate your kitchen.
Growing your own also offers a chance to eat things you can’t usually get in the supermarket – chervil, lovage and sorrel are all easy to grow from seed and are hard to find for sale full-grown.
Among your herbs, clear a gap for a tray in which you can sow ‘cut and come again’ crops of lettuce leaves, spinach and rocket.
Put veg on the step
When it comes to your front step, realistically you’re likely to have three patches of space: One on either side of the door and potentially space for a hanging plant above.
Most people fill these gaps with topiary and pots of lavender, but if you want veg instead, here’s what you could replace them with:
A heavy duty grow bag (the size of a bucket) full of potato plants. All the better if it’s got handles so you can easily move its position if need be.
A courgette plant in a pot (one well pollinated plant can provide you with courgettes all summer), it’ll hang prettily over the sides – and double whammy, you can eat the flowers as well as the fruits.
A bay tree in a pot (add the leaves to stews and béchamel sauce – plus, it provides structure to your step).
Fill a hanging tub or basket with a tumbling variety of tomatoes.
Courgettes, tomatoes and bay not your thing? Strawberries love life in a pot, as do leeks, cabbages and onions – in fact, practically any veg will survive in a container with the proper amount of light, drainage and watering.
Chillies love a bedroom windowsill
You don’t want home-grown cherry tomatoes rolling around your bedroom floor, so save this space for edible flowers and chilli plants. We’re talking one pot for a plant that produces small hot red chillies, and one jalapeño pepper – placed either end of the windowsill.
Then fill the gap in the middle with a mixed tray of violets, marigolds and nasturtiums, the latter of which you can eat the velvety orange flowers, as well as the seed pods, which taste really peppery.