Garden on a windowsill

– Posted in: Bulbs, Garden Design

The January to March period in Britain is pretty dreary, its the dark getting you down as much as anything. Flowers growing on windowsills can make such a difference, and given my growing interest in bulbs, there is huge scope for making the most of light windowsills. We’ve got a nice long south-facing one in the kitchen which is ideal. The classic one is the hyacinth which we always get started in September to try to get them to flower for Christmas. Well, not managed that yet, but some started performing in January. The scent is fantastic and they last for weeks; and there are some good new colors too, like dark purples.

February Gold

Daffodils perform very well in pots, especially if you can keep them cool. Scented Tazetta types are the best (the above is a Cyclamineus) as they have a wonderful deep scent. Only trouble is they are taller and get taller indoors.

Falconet, a Tazetta type daffodil,



Lady Beatrix Stanley

Little reticulata type irises are wonderful but very short-lived, even in cool conditions. But they are dead cheap and one thing you can do is organise a whole succession of them, put them back in the cold when they’ve done their thing. They don’t appreciate summer rain, so need to go in some sort of frame later on.

Katherine Hodgkin

There are some well weird colors: blue verging on greys and some almost electric blues.


Here’s your typical ‘bought it at the filling station’ cyclamen. They are very long-lived plants but only greenhouse forcing will get it to look like this again.

Often they are forced too hard and collapse nastily after a few weeks, like this one. By the way the yellow blob on the right hand side is a bud from Rose ‘Graham Stuart Thomas’ before the cold snap, but it didn’t open.


I get great satisfaction from getting cyclamen to flower year after year, although they never do as spectacularly as they did in the first year, but you can have months of flower from them, and i love the scent, although it is not a strong one. There was once a Japanese hit song, called ‘A Scent of Cyclamen’. Now there’s a useless piece of information for you. Probably something to do with fleeting pleasures. This plant is ?five, ?six years old, and the corm is ?10cms across now. They are however unpredictable; I must have at least another half dozen older plants sitting in the polytunnel, deciding whether or not to flower. Quite unlike the little wild species which are very reliable, although slow to really settle down; they do their stuff very regularly, and hold their flowers up better.

And then there is Kohleria ‘Jester’, again unpredictable, flowering very late this year. I love spotty flowers and these little things can flower for months. They are sort of herbaceous and seem to need an annual drying off; they are also very prolific, and can be divided up rapidly. They are very good windowsill plants, and a damn sight easier than streptocarpus. Its a gesneriad by the way. Here’s some more stuff about them from the admirable American Gesneriad Society, although the information is given on one of those irritating websites where they put white lettering on a black background. Why do people do this? There’s also somebody who has a whole website dedicated to them, but I can’t find it right now. In Romania I believe. Which is good, clearly things are coming on there. Last time I was there we were stopped on the border by Kalashnikov waving soldiers begging cigarettes. Eastern Europe has a surprisingly good heritage of house plants – all those overheated buildings I suppose. I remember a house plant shop in Romania, nothing imported, all home-grown in second-hand pots, so different to our mass-produced Dutch greenhouse grown ones. But that was a long time ago.

Finally, ordinary pelargoniums make very good windowsill plants if light is very good, which really means conservatories or sunrooms at our latitude, and they do well even if quite cool.

a got-it-from-the-garden-centre-no-idea-of-its-name regal type pelargonium

Even more finally, I thought I’d give a lachanalia a go. One of the incredibly rich assortment of bulbs from South Africa, lachanalias have always been around as tender bulbs for very early flower, but now there are some new hybrids. Pretty, and i think as a group there are some interesting color combinations, but in our light conditions unattractively leggy. But will persevere.

Lachanalia 'Namakwa'

Check out my own blog for some news on the latest book I’m working on with Piet Oudolf and my page on Amazon for my growing list of e-books and essays.

Follow me on twitter: @noelk57

And just flagging up….. there’s going to be an exciting and fun new development in the next few months



Noel Kingsbury

Noel Kingsbury

Noel Kingsbury is a gardener and writer based in the west of England. Author of over 20 books, including four collaborations with Dutch designer Piet Oudolf, he is passionate about wild-style planting and bringing nature into the garden.

Noel Kingsbury

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8 Comments… add one

Leave a Comment

Andrea February 13, 2012, 8:49 pm

Wow that’s a lot of beauties, really cheering up the winter blues. However, i have seen only the iris, cyclamen and hyacinth in person because they don’t grow in the hot tropics.

Saxon February 14, 2012, 12:30 am

Noel – So sorry you have only indoor bulbs to write about. 🙂 Very impressed by your ability to do all this, meanwhile in California the early daffodils are done and cyclamen keep spreading in my shade garden…

Flâneur Gardener February 14, 2012, 1:30 am

I put a hyacinth in each of the five windows in our living rooms, and I have to confess the scent is just far too heavy for my liking. It felt a bit like living in a brothel until I finally decided to cut off the flowers and just let the leaves be so I can plant them out in the garden when spring comes. Maybe they will survive, and outside the scent is dispersed so I can just enjoy their colour!

ann February 14, 2012, 6:31 am

A real lovely valentine. Just wonderful that you can get all this from a wimdowsill.

Noel Kingsbury February 15, 2012, 7:21 am

Now I know what a brothel smells like, Amazing what you can learn on Gardening Gone Wild!

Noel Kingsbury February 15, 2012, 7:22 am

yeh, yeh, yeh, in California the sun shines all the time, you can grow anything you like, you can pick your own oranges all year round, the state’s budget is beautifully balanced, dream on….

Lyn February 15, 2012, 7:16 pm

Those reticulata irises are gorgeous. Unfortunately, they’re not cheap here (Australia) but I think I’ll have to try some anyway for next winter.

Sarah Wooller February 21, 2012, 3:27 am

You are really lucky to have such a treasured spot to put all your bulbs – I guess we do too but the windowsills are in high demand for seedlings right now.

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