Planting Window Boxes

A window box is just about my most favorite container to plant.  They represents the best of all possible worlds.  The planting area is larger than most containers; I like having lots of space to plant.  This means lots of possibilities.  Window boxes come without any of the headache of planting large areas in ground.  My ground holds water too long.  Standing up to plant is a treat.  Having planted all manner of plants in the ground the past 30 years, I like having a big body of soil, and a raft of plants, at eye level.  The year I broke my leg, this feature was especially appreciated.

These boxes we built and mounted on the exterior wall of a sun porch.  The view from inside is swell. The Persian Queen geraniums, petunias, sweet potato vine and what all else is in these boxes can be easily appreciated at eye level.   

Many of the boxes I plant, I have constructed. My main complaint with commercially available windowboxes is that they are not correctly sized to their companion, the window.  They are often too narrow, too shallow, and too short-perfect for UPS shipping regulations, but not so great for your garden. A window box needs to be generously sized; a big soil mass will hold water long enough for you take a breather once in a while from your watering chores.  If your idea is to have a back row of plants, a middle row, and a front finishing row, the box needs to be 12 inches wide.  I like 16 inches deep-lots of soil and drainage material.   I like even better a box which is longer that the window in question.  Ths permits tall plants on the outside edges that do not obscure your view out.  My shop boxes are sized this way.  I had room this particular season for datura, cardoons, and cup and saucer vines growing on the walls.     

One year I grew white mandevillea on wires on either side of the windows.  OK, I was not much looking out of my windows at this point in the summer.  But the view is entirely in your control-maybe your boxes need to be mounted to the wall lower that you think.  Think about the mature height of the flowers-where do you want that to be? I like my boxes on the wild side-the Sonata white cosmos and lime nicotiana grow large.  My boxes are plenty large enough to handle them .  

Second story window boxes have a very European flavor.  I am sure you have seen those pictures of window boxes stuffed with trailing geraniums on homes and businesses in Switzerland, or the window boxes on the shop walls in London.  The planting of window boxes dates back to Roman times, when wall hung boxes were used to grow herbs.  The first gardens were of course devoted to growing things to eat.  Later, gardens were also devoted to ornamental plants.-I can think of nothing else that will dress a window better for summer than a box stuffed with flowers. 

The generous size of a windowbox means you can explore a planting idea in greater depth. Should you be interested in exploring color relationships, you have the opportunity to introduce various shade variations on a theme.   If your point of view tends to the contemporary, a box full of one favorite architectural might be just the thing.  Should a cottage style garden interest you, a big box will permit you to go wild to your heart’s content.

Most annual plants are happy in a big box.  The soil is good, the drainage is even better.  The plants are easy to groom and dead head.  The landscape at the shop-trees in the ground, and a decomposed granite covered ground plane.  The only flowers I have are from the 7 window boxes, and containers that I plant.  The overall impression is of a profusely flowering garden. 

The boxes put the flowers above the level of the boxwood hedge; it is easy to see them.  The 11 boxes on the roof can be seen from blocks away.  Granted that your taste in gardens may not run to this level of exuberance, but I see part of my job as encouraging people to take up gardening.  And that one’s choices of plant material and combinations are many.  

This lime, brown and lavender box had a moody feedling to it-I still like it.  I cannot remember the name of the copper flowered nicotiana, but it was beautiful.  The color of brown sweet potato vine looks great with other colors besides lime-I like it with orange, yellow, and cerise justg as well. 

The first year that Perfume Purple nicotiana came out, I was entranced with the color.  This box was composed around that one plant.  That red-purple color is very unusual-I shoopped all over for plants that might compliment that color. The red markings on the Persian Shield was much the color of the nicotiana. The lavender star verbena and petunia of unknown name did a good job of repeating that color as a pastel version.  The blue-green succulent I recently learned is a senecio, and a blue-foliaged kalanchoe (??)  seemed like a good foil.  What will I do in the boxes this year?  Don’t know yet.

Bringing the Garden Upstairs

I have a few clients that challenge me to be the best I can possibly be-this client is right at the top of that list.  Her design ability-whether it be interiors, or parties and events,  or gardening-is superb. She could have easily founded a  School of Design-had she had any inclination to do so. She and her husband live in a beautifully overscaled modern house with a beautifully high pitched roof, and overscaled high-pitched  dormers. (This is a landscape designers description of architecture; bear with me.)


To drive into the impossibly small front drivecourt, you would think the house was sited on a postage stamp of land.  But in fact, the house is sited on a steep ravine, and hangs out over a rear yard that widens, and goes on to embrace the river. It is a big property, with incredible aerial views.


She loves gardens and flowers.  Flowers and more flowers.  She is a master chef-so any plan for her has to include acres of basil, and the like.  OK-the challenge here-to plant a perennial garden stuffed with roses and other perennials, in a flood plane-courtesy of that river.  The first order of business was a lot of drainage, and rear yard grading. When her son got married, we had to install floors in the tents and stepping stones between them at the last second-which we did.   The perennial garden ramps up to a curvy modern swimming pool.  So far so good.3

I met her when I was young-so I had no problem moving every tree and every shrub within two days of my first work there.   There were trees, shrubs and perennials placed poorly, and too many boulders. But that house was a jewel-perched out over a beautiful piece of property.  The house-a beautifully designed tree house.4

A house sited in the crowns of trees-how beautiful.  But what if you love to cook, and grow flowers, and want to sit with your garden and family  around you?5

The house already had a giant deck all across the back.  Stairs to the lower level had a small landing-perfect for pots. The lower level under this deck-dark, and intimate. My only suggestion-windowboxes.  And lots of pots. 6

We built and hung two giant windowboxes-off the deck, at the railing height.  There is a whole symphony of flowers in those boxes every year-every year a new arrangement. The pots we outfitted with automatic irrigation-there are too many pots for one family and one hose.7

I heard my client tell someone recently  I had brought her garden upstairs for her. I had neither the words, nor the clear conscious intent to do this-but I realized when I heard her that she was exactly right.

8As I said, she is a client that encourages me to be the best I can be.  I am a very lucky designer.