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Planning Retirement Online

Out of the box - Window veggie patches

           September 2009


This is our regular OUT OF THE BOX feature where we give suggestions on different things to try.      

If you have tried something unusual or different, tell us all about it - and send in a photograph as well if you can – so that we can share your experiences with others.



This month……

This month – In the Box – window veggie patches.

seedlingsGrowing your own vegetables is becoming a major pastime. Along with veggie patches in gardens and increasing demand for allotments, it seems even flat owners are turning their hand to growing their own – evidently there is now the equivalent of 344 football pitches of urban window sills under cultivation.

Even if you have a lovely big garden or an allotment, growing a selection of nutritious foods right outside your window is fun, looks good and is a real comment piece for friends and family. It is also an ideal start to veggie growing for those of us who have fought shy of taking a step in this direction. If you plant fragrant herbs, you can also enjoy a beautiful scent wafting into your home.

It’s amazing what can be grown in window boxes - radishes, beetroot, spinach, lettuce, potatoes, tomatoes, courgettes and herbs are all grown easily in these narrow little confined spaces.

Gizzi ErskineGizzi Erskine, chef and food writer, is supporting a campaign by the National Trust to get everyone growing at least some of their own food.
She is helping the campaign from her East London flat by undertaking an experiment to create mouth-watering recipes from ingredients grown on her window sills. She is growing radishes, beetroots, rainbow chard, spinach, various lettuces, new potatoes, tomatoes, courgettes, cabbages and a variety of herbs.

She says she wants to dispel the myth that growing vegetables and herbs are difficult and time consuming. She says cooking with fresh ingredients can make all the difference to the taste of food and you can’t get fresher than picking straight from your own windowsill.

Gizzi has put together some tips for the best window food:

  • Pick the windowsills which get the most sun during the day for your window boxes
  • Watching your vegetables grow every day is really fun, but be careful not to water them too much
  • Plant pretty rainbow chard and lovely smelly herbs for the most beautiful, fragrant windows
  • Start with the vegetables you eat the most like tomatoes (the tumbling kind for window boxes) and lettuce and you’ll notice the difference in taste straight away
  • Root vegetables like beetroot and chard are really easy to grow and don’t need much attention. Plus it’s so easy to tell when they are ready as the pink or purple bulbs pop out of the soil

Gizzi also recommends the top five vegetables to grow in window boxes:

  • Lettuce – Cut and Come Again varieties can be harvested over and over again straight from your kitchen window to your plate throughout the summer
  • Radishes - some of the easiest vegetables to look after, these take just five weeks to grow into crisp and peppery mouthfuls
  • Beetroot – hardy and reliable, deep pink beetroot not only looks pretty on a summer plate but its leaves and young shoots in salads are deliciously sweet
  • Rainbow chard – this plant is beautiful, delicious and versatile – the multicoloured stalks can be used to brighten up salads along with the young, tender leaves. Mature chard makes a tasty steamed green similar to spinach
  • Creeping rosemary – a fragrant herb that goes really well with Mediterranean flavours. It's especially pretty when the flowers are blooming and its long curling branches spill over the edges of your window box. Add a handful of sprigs to burning coal for an aromatic barbeque

To start off, obviously you need a window box with some drainage in the bottom. You simply fill the window box with some general purpose (preferably peat free) compost and off you go. Visit any garden centre or some supermarkets and other stores and you will see a large selection of young vegetable plants ready for transplantation.

If even choosing the vegetable plants makes you nervous, several companies such as and now offer complete window box growing kits, ideal for beginners and also great gift ideas.

If you think starting to grow vegetables in early autumn is a bad idea, think again! It is the perfect time for a number of great foods such as peppers, endives, mustard, spring onions and winter lettuce. are currently offering special complete window box veggie packages for autumn and winter growing.

Even Jamie Oliver is supporting the window box campaign, his website is offering window box garden gift vouchers which include a great selection of baby organic vegetable plants including dwarf French green beans.

Best of all, on those wet dark autumn evenings, you can still go and pick your fresh home grown vegetables and herbs – without taking a step outside. No wonder window box gardens are the new way to grow your own!

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