What are the perfect plants for a window kitchen garden?

Mint, chives and parsley - the perfect herbs for a shady kitchen window sill.

Window sills and ledges often make good places to grow in containers. You can use them to create a small but rewarding kitchen garden. To get the most out of a window sill garden, choosing the right herbs, leaves and fruit to grow is key. I hope this post will help guide you.

How to chose?

Almost any edible can be grown in containers on a window sill…. But for your perfect window kitchen garden, you probably want plants that aren’t too huge (walnut trees are obviously less suitable!), that taste delicious, look beautiful, give you lots to eat, or are hard to buy. And ideally you want each plant to deliver on several of these.

Your choice will also be determined by how much sun you window sill gets. Many urban window sills are overshadowed. Luckily, even if yours just gets a few hours sun, there are still lots of options. You’ll just need to choose carefully.

Top crops for shady windowsills

If your window only gets three to four hours sun (less than half a day),  it will not be easy to grow sun loving plants like aubergines and chillies. However, most leafy crops and woodland fruit will do great. Here are some top choices.

Herbs

  • Parsley, mint, and chives are low maintenance. They can be picked regularly for most of the year, taste delicious, are versatile in the kitchen and expensive in the shops. They are brilliant choices!
  • Sorrel, chervil, lemon grass, savory or Vietnamese coriander will give you delicious leaves that are hard to buy. Lemon grass and chervil look pretty, too.
  • Mediterranean herbs like sage, thyme, and rosemary are often thought of as ‘sun loving’ crops. But they will usually grow fine in three to five hours. As well as being invaluable for so many dishes, they produce pretty edible flowers that bees love.
Mint, chives and parsley - the perfect herbs for a shady kitchen window sill.
Mint, chives and parsley – the perfect herbs for a shady kitchen window sill.

Salads

  • Microgreens like peashoots, fava shoots, sunflower shoots will give you LOTS to eat from a few trays. They’re also hard to buy, taste delicious and are highly nutritious. Microgreens are more work than herbs (you need to sow them every two or three weeks) but an excellent choice if you want maximum harvests for the space.
  • Rocket, mustards, landcress and almost all other salad leaves grow well in less sun. Harvest them by picking the outer leaves and one crop can be picked over several weeks.
  • Edible flowers like nasturtiums and violas.  Grow nasturtiums in summer for their pretty edible leaves and their bright orange, edible flowers. Grow violas in autumn and winter – it can feel like a miracle to pick and add edible flowers to your salad in winter!

Greens

  • Bright lights chard, Red Russian kale or Cavelo Nero kale will give you larger leaves for cooking. They are slower to grow but can be picked over several months if you harvest the outer leaves. They will survive and give you a few leaves all through the winter, too. These varieties taste great and look pretty, too.

Fruit

  • Alpine strawberries will not give you huge harvests – but they do produce small, delicious fruits over several months. Perfect for grazing from on a hot summers day!
  • Blueberries. If you can find space for a twenty litre (5 gallon) pot on your ledge, blueberries will give you pretty blossom in spring, berries in summer and red foliage in autumn.
My son foraging alpine strawberries from our bedroom window sill in London.
My son foraging alpine strawberries from our bedroom window sill in our old flat in London.

If your window sill has less than three hours sun, it’s more tricky but usually possible to grow something. Microgreens and herbs like mint and parsley are good  ones to try.

Sunny window sills

If your windowsill gets six hours or more sun, you can grow all the crops above.  Some of the leafy crops like salad will be harder if it is very hot and sunny – but the Mediterranean herbs will love it. You’ll also be able to chose from the following.

  • Chillies. They look great and one plant can produce a hundred chillies or more. The flavour can be far superior and more interesting than generic red and green chillies from the shops. Any surplus can be dried or frozen. Choice of variety is important – I’d recommend Apache F1, Hungarian Hot Wax, Jalepeno, Purple Princess (for beauty), Ring of Fire, or aji Limon (for heat and full flavour). If you like them and have a sunny windowsill, chillies are a magnificent choice.
  • Tomatoes need largish containers (ideally 20 litres / 4 gallons). They will fruit from late July to October and taste fantastic! Again the variety you chose is important.  You can grow “vine” tomatoes that are tall and need support or “bush” tomatoes that are low and bushy.  Good cherry vine tomatoes include Sungold F1 and Gardeners delight. Good bush tomatoes for containers include Red Alert and Tumbler.
  • Tromba squash.  You’ll need a large pot (20 litres / 4 gallons) and a string for them to climb up. Great fun and eyecatching to grow.
  • Fat baby achocha. This  unusual plant produces lots of small spiky, alien looking fruit. They taste like cucumbers crossed with peppers with an added squeeze of lemon. A five to ten litre pot is fine. Easy and fun to grow in a sunny space.
My window sill kitchen garden when I lived in London. This was south facing so I could grow tomatoes (top windowsills) and tromba squash (on my downstairs neighbours window sills!).
My window sill kitchen garden when I lived in London. This was south facing so I could grow tomatoes (top windowsills) and tromba squash (on my downstairs neighbours window sills!).

Your turn

If you’re growing on your window sills I’d love to hear what you are growing in the comments. Any window sill growing tips to share for other readers?

 

14 thoughts on “What are the perfect plants for a window kitchen garden?”

  1. Hello Mark, I really enjoyed reading your article about plants for window kitchen garden, I found it very helpful. Thank you, Richard

  2. Hello Mark and thanks for the inspiring post – especially your glorious final picture of the sill kitchen garden. I don’t have window sills I can use (pots could too easily blow into the street) but have a small garden and an allotment. I once worked in a community garden in Lewisham where almost no one had a garden and there I got used to thinking around this – wish I had known about you then. Why shouldn’t everyone be able to grow something they can eat. Thanks again.

    1. Thank you for your kind comments, Rosanna. So many people don’t have a garden now – but as you say, it doesn’t have to mean they can’t enjoy growing something to eat. When I grew on window sills I used to hold the pots in place with a bit of garden wire, attached to two hooks, one each side of the window. It was simple but effective at stopping pots falling off. Might be worth a try if you decided you’d like a few plants at your fingertips?

      1. This was my question as well. I live in a 2nd & 3rd floor maisonette. When I tried growing on my windowsills a few years ago, some troughs and pots blew off. Same happened with some of the plants I put on top of the bay window belonging to the downstairs maisonette. (Like in the photo of your London house, where you could have leaned out of your 2nd floor window to put plants on top of the bay window.)

        How could I stop plants blowing off the bay window? I’m hopeless at DIY so won’t be able to construct a lip around the edge and of course mustn’t drill into the roof of the bay.

        Also, while I think I can see a wire holding the trough above your door, I can’t see anything holding the plants on the sill of the bay window. Did you do something there to stop the plants blowing off?

        I wondered about trying to find heavy stones and putting them inside the bottom of the pots. But don’t know if that would do enough to stop them blowing off. And would be dangerous if they hit someone on the way down. And my sills are so narrow, there wouldn’t be room in pots for many stones.

        I need solutions that would be easy to do without DIY skills or simple enough to explain to a DIY person to do. And easy for me to lift the pots and troughs out when I need to bring them inside to do big jobs such as rejuvenating the compost. Especially pots and troughs on the bay window roof as I can’t reach them that easily from the window.

        Thanks.

        1. Hi Clare, the easiest way I know is to screw two strong eyes into the wall, one on each side of the window, and about one or two inches below where the top of the container will come. You’ll need a drill and to use rawl plugs to fix the eyes really strongly. You then run a strong wire from eye to the other, to hold the container in place – once in place, check the container is firmly held. This system still lets you remove containers easily when you need to. If you get someone in to do this, it should be a relatively quick and easy job.

  3. Despite the snow laying outside, the salad greens and sprouting beans are doing well and keeping us nourished! Thank you for your updates Mark, like you we are so looking forward to the spring and have lots of plans for our small garden.

  4. Hi, I just bought a static caravan which I will let out. With just enough space for a few pots I need your advice on what edibles to plant that will last all summer please?

    1. Hi Marie, if you are letting it out, I’m guessing you want plants that do not require a lot of watering and maintenance? If so, I’d go for the Mediterranean herbs like sage, thyme, rosemary and bay. They will produce leaves all summer and usually won’t die if not watered for a few days! Using largish pots will help ensure they don’t dry out too quickly – and add a layer of bark or stones to help reduce evapouration.

      As a bonus, the sage, thyme and rosemary will produce (edible) flowers in spring that look pretty and that beas love.

  5. I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoy your articles. I live in southern Colorado in the US, so the things you grow are often different than what we have here. I had never heard of achocha or tromba squash before. I just spent some time researching them and am thinking about adding them to my garden this year! Thank you!

  6. I am growing pea shoots, broccoli micro greens and red cabbage micro greens,
    they were not doing that well till I put them onto a grow light garden, self watering affair. Just harvested what was left of the peashoots ( which should regrow ) and the red cabbage, and stored them in a stay fresh container. I need to sow more seeds. The mizuna are slow at the moment. Rather shady due to darn neighbours tall conifers.
    I am now going to buy another growlight garden, we eat these greens most days, live in the sticks so delivery is just once a week, can’t beat own produce, no matter how small

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