Plants in the City: Get Ready for a New Planting Year

Plants in the City is back! This year, Jackie is pushing herself outside of her comfort zone with an exciting new project involving bales of straw. In the Cosmopolita Scotland Eco-Balcony, we are getting started with some new chili varieties, and a DIY heated propagator. 

Spring is knocking on our doors. Things are starting to get exciting as I begin to organise and prepare for the busy growing season ahead.


I see February as a launchpad period in the gardening calendar. Now it’s March, my mind is in a whirl with all the seeds I would like to grow and the projects I will use the plants for. Every year, I like to grow something I have never grown previously. This year it’s Typha, also known as Reed Mace.

Reed Mace is a pond plant which has always been a favourite of mine. It is great for flower arranging and has a handsome look. It is very architectural and feels lovely to the touch when the heads form. At the moment, I have seedlings growing in a propagator and I’m hoping for some great results. Apparently they are easy to grow. These are an iconic plant in British ponds but as a child I searched for them in ponds in Scotland and never found them. I intend to make them a feature in our local ponds around the Pentland Hills.

Personally, I think that a pond is not a pond unless it has some Bulrushes (reeds) growing in it.


Time for Planting

Late February to early March is the time to start planting seeds such as tomatoes, peppers, and chillies. These all have a long growing season. They can be planted in heated propagators, which gets them off to the start that is needed for success.

Although propagators are generally expensive, there are ways of getting around this expense. A windowsill propagator can give great results on a bright, sunny and warm windowsill inside. Just put a plastic cover over a seed tray or pots to hold in warmth and moisture. Cling film works well.

Half hardy annuals can also be brought on this way, starting as early as the first week in March.

Editor Alex has built his own heated propagator out of some electronics to get his chillis off to a good start.

At Tiphereth today, we planted calendula, poppies, more sweet peas, linaria, and honeywort. These are all in the polytunnel and — as the weather is quite chilly — I have covered the trays with fleece to stop the frost. If they were on an indoor window ledge, they would be fine without.

The Last Straw: Getting Out of My Comfort Zone

Sweet Peas!

I am very keen on my new project for this year. It will be an unchartered experiment for me which is completely out of my comfort zone but I am very excited to give it a go.

My plan is to grow crops in bales of straw.

I think this will be a great way for people with small spaces to really go to town and place their gardens wherever they would like them to be. It will give total containment, and hopefully great results.

Straw is a totally neat host for all sorts of veg, herbs and flowers. As straw bales heat up well and hold moisture, I think that courgette, pumpkin and squash will be delighted guests.

I will be watering and feeding with organic food and conditioning using methods that I have found on various websites and in books. Apparently if you make a well with a small trowel and fill with compost, you can plant seeds straight into it. The main thing is to add plant food regularly while watering.

I am going to grow all around the sides and top of the bales, and fill up the whole area with scent and colour. I am hoping they are going to be full of the scent of roman chamomile.

At the end of the season, the bales will naturally decompose and will eventually be great to add to compost heaps. They are so cheap that you can start all over again in the next season. I found straw bales on Gumtree for 2.50 each from a farmer in Tranent.

It will be interesting to see how this project pans out. Hopefully, I will have lots of photos to keep you updated with how it’s all going.


Photos by Jackie Bruce and InspiredImages. Cover artwork adapted from photo by Oliver Wendel.

Autor: Jackie Bruce

Jackie Bruce is a horticulturist who works at the Tiphereth Camphill community. She writes the Plants in the City column for Cosmopolita Scotland, which gives a fun guide to growing plants in small spaces.

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