Window Boxes Window Boxes

In August, the streets of Paris, New York, and other cities seem to empty out as everyone heads to the beach or the mountains. But come the first of September, all those travelers are back in town, having admired the gardens and lawns of their country cousins. This is the time when you might be feeling a need for something bright and green in your own corner of the world, but you might be despairing that you don't have the luxury of a long rolling lawn with fireflies flickering in the twilight.

September is still a good time to plant a few things, even in cooler areas. And there's an old-fashioned, charming way to get a little garden space even in the confines of the city: the window box.

For a successful window box, you could go with a couple of different looks. If you want something that looks tidy and well-planned, something that would create a good counterpoint to a cluttered building front, plant the boxes with a plethora of the same plants. Row upon row of marigolds, for example, will give a clean and considered look.

  • Tip: You don't need an elaborate set-up to paint your window box before planting it. Just lay a few sheets of newspaper on the ground, and use a can of spray paint in the color you want. You can even add a stenciled cut-out design around the edge of the box.

Choose the color of the flowers carefully, making sure the color will work well with the color of the building; those marigolds will stand out beautifully against a blue clapboard wall, but they'll be lost against yellow brick.

If you prefer a look that's more casual, that will bring a little of the wild into the city, plant several different kinds of flowers in each box. To keep things from looking too casual and unplanned, you may want to repeat your choices in each box: two geraniums per box, for example.

For this kind of look, make sure you have a variety of heights of plants gathered together. Choose some snow on the mountain, for example, to hang over the edge of the box, and then some dwarf snapdragons for the middle height, and maybe some nicotiana for the taller group in the back.

Of course, with a window box you are limited to the size of the box, and not just in terms of width and depth. You need to keep in mind that the depth of the soil will be lacking, so some plants that need a great deal of depth for their roots will probably have some trouble in a shallow window box. Generally speaking, annuals will do better than perennials in a window box, as their impermanent roots need less support.

Likewise, flowers that need to send up their stalks high into the sky, such as hollyhocks, will obviously fare better in a country garden than they will in a city window box. If there's a tall plant that you just love, you may be able to find a dwarf variety at your local nursery.

If you're in an area with a long, or year-round, growing season, you can just replenish the plants as necessary to keep up with the changing season, or with your changing mood.

If you live in an area with a limited growing season, keep in mind the possibility as well of planting evergreens in your city window box. There are some ivies, for example, that will do well year-round even in cold weather, and in this way you can prepare now for having a little greenery well into the winter months.
Reprinted with permission by the Sheffield School of Design

Got a New Project You're Proud of?

Post it on Your Projects!