How to ‘garden’ in a home that doesn’t have a garden, from window box tips and indoor plants to helping out the bees

Country Life's gardens editor Tiffany Daneff shares her tips for window boxes, indoor plants and hanging baskets — and shares a couple of tips on helping bees.

It’s one thing to be holed up in a house that comes with a garden or enough of a plot to be outside enjoying the sun and sowing some seeds, dreaming of a time when they will bear fruit, or indeed some punchy salad leaves (most welcome now that we’re stuck masticating on tasteless bagged lettuce). But it’s far more difficult for those bearing this lockdown with the same four walls to stare at, and only an hour of outdoor exercise allowed.

But nursing seeds to germinate and roots to shoot is good for the soul — and  you don’t need much space to grow a plant. Cast the mind back to the biology bench and those broad beans tucked between kitchen roll and jam jar. It only takes water and air and light and before you know it Jack’s your beanstalk.

An email popped into my inbox this week from Stéphane Ellien, from, of all places, the Terre Blanche Hotel Golf Spa Resort in Provence and it sparked a thought — or rather several.

Stéphane wants to encourage bees into the garden. A landscaper in Provence, his thoughts naturally turn to lavender and other Mediterranean herbs that grow in the Garrigue. They also grow in windowboxes. Which led to me thinking about all the herbs one can grow on the windowsill, indoors or out.

You could have a Mediterranean Herb Box filled with rosemary, sage and thyme; a Culinary Herb box brimming with parsley, mint and chives; pots of dill, chervil and borage for snipping off the blue flowers and floating in gin.

You can make it cheap and easy by buying a pot of herbs at the supermarket, gently teasing apart the individual plants and repotting so that they bulk up. Or get obsessed and order any manner of fancy seeds; Allium schoenoprasum ‘Cha Cha’ intrigues me, from Jekka McVicar (www.jekkas.com).

Mix things up – herbs and flowers are lovely together. There are no rules. Derry Watkins has wonderful things at www.specialplants.net although she is only offering a limited selection.

Stroking the leaves of pelargoniums takes me back to childhood. Same with petunias. That sappy smell makes one happy.

Nasturtiums are fun. Try them with tumbling tomatoes or simply pack a bucket full of strawberries. Don’t sniff at hanging baskets, unless they smell sweet. They’re ideal for hanging from a balcony and turning into miniature gardens.

Then there are ferns, so many, such wonderful patterns. Try www.fibrex.co.uk for pelargoniums, ferns, ivies and begonias but I warn you, they are selling out fast. This is the perfect time of year for such endeavours.

Even if you don’t have a windowsill there are houseplants, so fashionable at the moment that it’s easy to find interesting kinds. Succulents are perfect for dry sunny spots indoors and out. Grow them in individual terracotta pots and enjoy building a collection. Try sempervivums, cacti and echeveria. And aloes, don’t get me started…..

Oh and remember to pack a box with lavender and make Stephane and his bees happy. You could even build them a home and provide somewhere to drink:

  1. This, says Stephane Ellien, is the perfect time for making a box for solitary bees (up to 95% of bees are solitary). You can use bamboo stacked inside a box, or drill holes into a brick or piece of wood. Those holes should be different sizes from 2mm to 10mm. It needs to be well insulated, dry and set in a sunny position. (There are lots of easy tutorials online — this one from the National Trust is a good starting point.)
  2. Make a safe drinking hole. To help the thirsty bees, you can fill a shallow dish with water and add some stones in it. This way the bees can rest on the stones while they drink. A lot of the time when bees are dozy, they are just dehydrated.