Short of growing space? Try a windowsill garden

Franchi Seeds have launched Windowsill Garden kits to bring growing indoors. I’ve been finding out more and
there’s the chance to win a herb kit.

Franchi Seeds may have stocked the ingredients for their Windowsill Garden kits for decades but it was a chance remark that brought them together.

Staff at the family-run firm were eating lunch at their Harrow headquarters when someone commented that it would be even better if they had some basil in the office.

“I thought, we’ve got seeds, we’ve got jars, let’s do something,” explains Paolo Arrigo, who is the seventh generation to run the business founded in 1783.

Like many good ideas  it is simple: take a traditional Italian preserving jar, some biochar and seeds and you can have fresh herbs even if you have no space to grow outside.

“It’s exactly where we sit in the world,” says Paolo. “We are food.”

At first, the Windowsill Garden range was limited to basil, parsley and coriander but such has been its success three more kits are being added – a cherry tomato and chilli with the third as yet undecided.

windowsill garden
The original trio of windowsill kits

“It might be catnip,” says Paolo, “as we have been asked for it.”

The beauty of the kits is that they are straightforward and mess-free. With no holes in the bottom, there’s no danger of flooding desk or windowsill and the biochar soaks up moisture, making it difficult to over-water.

The seeds supplied are Franchi’s own – well known for their easy germination and robust plants; the firm raises all its own seed in Italy.

“You would be growing real Italian basil.”

The half-litre preserving jars are made by B, which has been producing them in Parma since 1825 – I’ve got my grandmother’s jars,” comments Paolo – and they can be washed and used for preserving afterwards.

“They are great for jam or passatta.”

windowsill garden
The firm are trialling nepeta or catnip

And anywhere is suitable for growing, providing it gets enough light from office desks to kitchen windowsills.

“Obviously with a cherry tomato you’re not going to get loads but you get lots of chillies from one chilli plant.”

And Paolo doesn’t doubt the benefits of fresh herbs in food: “In Italy we say you can lift peasant dishes by adding parsley into the food of kings.”

Franchi Windowsill Garden kits are available online here and are due to be stocked by the Royal Horticultural Society.

 Enter The Chatty Gardener’s prize draw and you could win the first prize of a set of three Windowsill Garden kits or be one of the runners-up and get a single kit. For details see here This contest has now closed.

Growing medicinal herbs

There must be a gardening gene, I muse as I gaze at Davina Wynne Jones’ Cotswold garden. As the daughter of Rosemary and David Verey it must have been preordained that she should make a garden. In fact, it was never her intention and she ended up creating a garden of medicinal herbs almost by accident.

medicinal herbs
Medicinal herbs fill the borders

Davina’s original plan was to have a herb nursery but she quickly decided it would not produce much of an income. However, it had sparked an interest in medicinal herbs and before long Herbs for Healing was born.

The company, run from a field behind her parents’ former home, Barnsley House, sells ointments, face creams and oils made using herbs and flowers, many of them grown by Davina.

medicinal herbs
St John’s Wort

And so the gardening gene kicked in as she found herself almost instinctively putting together a garden.

“Because they are indigenous plants, not hybrids or cultivars, they have wonderful soft colours and so the colours look good together,” she explains. “It began to get more like a garden but it was not my intention in the first place.”

On the surface, her garden is very different from the world famous and listed Barnsley House. It has a softer, less designed feel without the clipped topiary that has made features like the potager and herb garden so well known.

medicinal herbs
Toadflax

Also, because of the plants she grows, the display tends to peak at this time of year rather than being the year-round show her mother created; Davina has added some non-medicinal planting to give colour during May when she opens for the annual Barnsley Village Festival.

Scratch the surface though and the design influence of Rosemary Verey is clear. The garden has a strong axis running through, from a rustic gate past overflowing borders to an end focal point.

medicinal herbs
The main axis leads to the ‘magic circle’

Adding a vista at Barnsley from the temple to the frog fountain to run at right angles to an existing axis was one of her parents’ first projects, says Davina.

“I’ve not got a double vista yet but I’m working on it.”

medicinal herbs
Californian poppies

Indeed, having what she describes as ‘good bones’ underpins her garden: the borders are laid out to the proportions of the golden sequence, which is often found in nature; there may not be clipped topiary but there are strong verticals, including a willow tree that partial hides the garden beyond, creating a sense of discovery.

“I learned about texture from my mother and I have lot of different leaves and textures,” says Davina, adding with a laugh “Not because I ever listened to her particularly.”

It seems some things are just passed on subliminally.

medicinal herbs
Yarrow is pretty and useful

It had been a few years since I last visited and the then planned finale to the garden is now in place. This is what Davina describes as her magic circle, an area enclosed by a beautiful structure fashioned from hawthorn that was being cleared from a 6,000-year-old long barrow in the area.

“Hawthorn is traditionally protective,” explains Davina. “It has been sacred from Anglo Saxon times.”

medicinal herbs
The garden has a relaxing atmosphere

Within the circle are plants long associated with magic, fairies and folk lore, including evening primrose, mandrake, henbane and Artemesia vulagaris, or mugwort.

Paths laid out in concentric circles lead you towards a water feature made by sculptor Tom Verity, whose father, Simon, made pieces for Barnsley House. Its reflective water gives another dimension to the space.

medicinal herbs
Tom Verity’s water feature sits in the magic circle

In the borders are medicinal herbs that will aid every ailment, including St John’s Wort, used for treating wounds, aching joints and mild anxiety, Leonurus cardiaca, or motherwort, which has calming properties, Verbena officinalis (vervain) that Davina uses to help against glaucoma, and Galega officinalis (goat’s rue), which is good for balancing sugar levels. Chicory aids digestion, yarrow is an anti-inflammatory and Californian poppies have, says Davina, the same effect as opium without being addictive.

Some things, such as rose petals for making essential oils, are brought in as she cannot grow enough and others are gathered in the neighbouring countryside.

“I have a larder in my head of where things grow.”

medicinal herbs
Some of the dried herbs

Just three years after starting the garden, she was accepted into the National Gardens Scheme and has opened regularly for them ever since.

“In a way I wonder if part of it was pleasing my parents, although they had both been dead for some years,” she says. “The fact that Davina could have created an NGS garden in three years would have surprised them.”

Herbs for Healing, Barnsley, Gloucestershire, is open for the National Gardens Scheme from 10.30-4.30pm on Wednesday July 27. Admission is £3, children enter free.

For details about other opening times, products and workshops, visit Herbs for Healing

Read about my visit to Barnsley House here

• Enjoyed this? Do leave me a comment and share this post via Twitter, Facebook or email.