Garden Spaces: Joyful Windows

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Gayle Ford
You'll have a ready supply of edible petals and foliage with a window planter. These planters utilize, from left: fernleaf dill, English lavender, 'Spicy Globe' basil, pinks, calendula, 'Lemon Gem' marigolds, chives, scented geraniums, nasturtiums and violets.

Cheerful window boxes can improve your view, whether you’re looking from the inside or outside of your home.

With herb-filled window boxes, beauty and usefulness go hand in hand. You can fill your boxes with color, fragrance and flavor, and put on a bright show for the neighborhood at the same time. Best of all, you’ll have a ready supply of edible petals and foliage to snip onto salads or add to a bottle of vinegar.

These two companion boxes are designed to be used together on a pair of windows that have sunny exposure. The blooms’ colors mirror and balance each other. The bright pink of the chive pompons reflects the bright pink of the dianthus, just as the intense purple of the sweet violets echoes the deep purple of the lavender spikes. Similarly, calendula’s gaudy orange petals repeat the gold-orange hues of the marigolds and nasturtiums.

For interesting contrasts in foliage and form, the boxes include a mound of feathery dill, ‘Spicy Globe’ basil with tiny leaves, branching scented geraniums with rounded leaves and a clump of spiky chives.

These are just 10 of the many herbal possibilities for window boxes. Although some people prefer orderly groupings of five or six identical plants per box, with bloom colors that complement their home, I’ve gone for a different look–one that is less tidy but more bountiful. I think of it as a cottage-garden version of a window box. These little gardens would look particularly splendid in white boxes against a white house.

Choose a window box planting style that suits you. If you decide you don’t like it, simply change it next season.

Box Basics

Window boxes are available in a wide variety of materials, including plastic, fiberglass, rot-resistant wood, pottery, wire and wicker (with sphagnum moss liners). Keep in mind that the box will be heavy when it’s filled with potting soil, plants and water, so look for a material that’s lightweight yet durable. Whatever you choose, be sure the boxes have adequate drainage. If the drainage holes aren’t big enough, enlarge them or add more.

Most window boxes must be mounted with brackets and screws. When mounting them, remember to add spacers (narrow strips of wood attached to the back of the boxes) so that water drains away from the house, not down the side.

If you’re concerned about the weight of the boxes against your house, one option is to not use soil inside the box. Instead, nestle individual potted plants inside the box and cover the surface with moss. (That’s also a good way to see how they’ll look before you plant them.) The plants will grow larger if planted in soil inside the box, however, as their roots will have more room to grow.

Care and Feeding

Use a potting mix with some peat moss to help retain moisture, as well as some perlite to improve drainage. Window boxes are like any container garden in that they need regular attention, particularly when first planted. Sun, wind and heat reflected off the house can dry them out quickly, so check them daily and water thoroughly when soil feels dry an inch below the surface.

Feed your plants regularly throughout the growing season, using an organic liquid fertilizer in diluted form.

Plants for a Window Garden

Box 1:

Calendula (Calendula officinalis). Dependable ray flowers in bright colors appear throughout the season, providing edible petals. Easy to grow from seed.

Pinks (Dianthus spp.). Many cultivars have become available over the years, in soft to vivid pinks, reds and whites. Buy plants rather than start them from seeds.

Spicy Globe’ basil (Ocimum basilicum ‘Spicy Globe’). Its compact, round shape and tiny leaves make this basil perfect for a container. Can be grown from seed or starter plants.

English lavender (Lavandula spp.). These fragrant spikes come in a variety of colors. Start with purchased plants or a root division.

‘Fernleaf’ dill (Anethum graveolens ‘Fernleaf’). Fine, feathery foliage and lacy, yellow flowers are both tasty and attractive. This dwarf variety is good for containers. Easily grown from seed.

Box 2:

Chives (Allium schoenoprasum). Enjoy oniony flavor from both the strappy leaves and perky pink pompon flowers. Easy to grow from seed.

Nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus). Bright yellow, orange or red flowers trail nicely over the edge of a planter. Leaves and flowers have a peppery flavor; make a pretty accent for salads. Easy to grow from seed.

Scented geraniums (Pelargonium spp.). You can experiment with dozens of delightfully scented varieties, including rose and lemon. Buy the plants or ask a friend to share cuttings.

Marigolds (Tagetes tenuifolia ‘Lemon Gem’). Hardworking marigolds add sunny color, and the petals are edible. Grow it from seed or buy the plants.

Violets or pansies (Viola spp.). Colorful sweet violets and pansies thrive in the cool temperatures of spring and fall. Grow them from seed or starter plants.

— Kathleen Halloran, a former editor of The Herb Companion, is a freelance writer and editor living in beautiful Austin, Texas.

Challenge Us

If you have a challenging garden site and would like a design solution, or simply want to create a new look for a special border or bed, write to us and let us know. From time to time, we’ll select a reader’s challenge and provide a simple garden space design solution. Send your requests to, with “Design Challenge” in the subject line.

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