Saturday, 7 March 2015

The Ledge of Reason

I have Window Ledge Envy. Self diagnosed, I admit – I’m not even sure if the condition I’ve identified has a name, or even whether it might be recognised by the medical profession, but I appear to have been suffering from a chronic form of it for some time. I find myself in the houses of friends, gazing over their shoulders as they offer me a cup of tea, a veritable green-eyed monster in the face of the wealth of anterior casement shelvage that they appear to take for granted; that any normal person living in a house would take for granted; that anyone but the perverse creatures who built our house should expect to find on the roomward side of a window. It’s not that the builders of our modest Edwardian semi didn’t believe in window sills – every box sash has a reasonably generous one; on the outside. Which is great for window boxes, but hopeless for houseplants, overwintering tender things or seeds we want to get going in February and March, but fear to abandon to the capricious atmosphere of the unheated greenhouse.

Internal window sills are utterly wasted on the person who has yet to discover the joys of gardening. What do they use them for? Chintzy ornaments, doylies, a portable radio, cups of tea? The absolute travesty would be a window sill kept clear of anything at all – sacrilege! Think of all the planty splendidness that would make a home of such a spot, warmed by the sun, baked by the central heating, laughing through the glass at the worst of the winter weather. Admitedly care must be taken of more delicate specimens in what can become quite arid conditions, although certain plants might take to such an environment as a home from home – a hardy succulent, perhaps? Even I have trouble killing Crassula ovata, for example, and I’m a notorious houseplant assassin.

While I’m no student of architecture, it does seem to me that at some point in the early twentieth century, some influential builder must have said something along the lines of, “Hang on a minute lads, I think we’ve been fitting these windows back-to-front all these years”. As supporting evidence for this thesis, I cite the fact that on the average house built after the late 1920s, the windows start to become flush with the outer wall of the house, leaving a handy sill, of a depth equal to at least two courses of bricks, on the inside. Perfect for houseplants, overwintering tender things or seeds you might want to get going in early spring. Admittedly, less good for window boxes, but I can conceive of several solutions to that problem, all of them more elegant than anything I’ve been able to come up with to overcome my lack of a ledge on the inside of the window.

Regular readers of this blog may by now have formed the accurate impression that we enjoy in winter a winning combination of cold greenhouse and freezing home – rather limiting when it comes to germinating seeds at this end of the year. My hankering to provide a bit of bottom heat recently got the better of me, and I rashly ordered a very simple heated propagator for the one window in our house which has anything approaching a ledge on the inside. This happens to be in the kitchen where, for some reason, the original windows have been removed and replaced with a long, metal-framed Crittall unit, flush with the outer wall. It’s still a narrow ledge – several centimetres short of the depth of the propagator, which was the narrowest I could find – but, sod it, I thought. I’ll construct some Heath Robinson contraption to prevent the base from toppling off onto the work surface below. And so, having arrived in a box large enough to have contained a coffin, you can imagine my joy when the thing turned out to fit the shelf almost perfectly, mercifully requiring no elaborate (and probably ultimately doomed) cantilevered constructions to support the leading edge.

Plugged in, and off we go – not the most sophisticated of devices (there’s no thermostat, for example, only the vents in the covers for the individual trays to regulate the humidity within), but germination seems to be pretty speedy, which is no small thing in this draughty old place. I still have nowhere for houseplants and overwintering tender things, so for now, I’ll just have to go on killing those.