Gardening Window Boxes

Fill window boxes with color and fragrance.

| April/May 1998

  • A white wicker window box holds golden hops, sage, coleus, ‘Red Shield’ hibiscus, Cuban oregano, miniature rose, and ‘African Blue’ basil. Plants clustered on the steps below complete the picture.
    Photograph by Rob Proctor
  • Imagine catching sight of these bright yellow and red nasturtiums every time you glance out the window.
    Photograph by Geraldine Laufer
  • Bay, alpine strawberries, salad burnet, parsley, scented geraniums, ivy, and Cuban oregano share a planter that is shaded in the afternoon.
    Photograph by Rob Proctor
  • Mexican bush sage, scented pelargoniums, and dianthus scent every breeze.
    Photograph by Rob Proctor
  • Here’s a window box without a window. This planter on a ledge stars ‘Siam Queen’ basil among the zinnias and verbena.
    Photograph by Geraldine Laufer

When my windows are open, incoming breezes are scented by sun-warmed lemon verbena, cinnamon basil, and sweet heliotrope growing in the window boxes. The herbs are close at hand where I like them, the leaves and flowers handy for cooking and useful for echoing interior color schemes. From the outside, the flower boxes that frame our windows lend a friendly, inviting look to the house.

Window boxes can enliven the front of a big-city brownstone, a suburban ranch house, or a farmhouse set amid rolling fields. They don’t even have to sit on windowsills. Whether hanging from the balcony of an apartment or over a deck railing, framing a broad veranda, mounted on a plain stretch of wall, set atop a stone fence, or resting on a bench or picnic table, the elongated planter is a graceful accent.

Each window box can be a small garden composition with its own structure, balance, and stimulating combinations of color, texture, and form. Bright annual flowers need not dominate; combinations of herbs with interesting, ­contrasting foliage are long-lasting, fragrant, and useful. Most window-box plantings are intended to be temporary, to be enjoyed through the warm months but outgrown by season’s end, giving us the opportunity to try something new the following year.

Even beginning herb gardeners can have imaginative window boxes full of healthy herbs. The right container, a good potting mix, and diligent watering are the secret to bountiful, fragrant boxes.

Pick a Box

Window boxes look best when they reflect their architectural surroundings. I chose stained cedar for the front of the house to match the siding and weathered pressure-treated pine boxes for my deck. Other rot-resistant woods include cypress and redwood. You can leave wooden boxes to weather or paint them to match the house or trim color. Plastic, fiberboard, or metal liners (with plenty of drainage holes) can extend their life.

Ready-made plastic or fiberglass boxes are available in many sizes to fit a variety of windows or other situations. I’ve seen plastic boxes that fit over deck railings like saddlebags. Most plastic and fiberglass boxes are lightweight and can withstand extremes of heat and cold without cracking. They are available in colors such as white, black, dark green, terra-cotta, gray, and granite to blend with any decor. A white plastic box might be conspicuous in a garden, but it is unobtrusive when placed on a white-painted windowsill. My friend Becky has a collection of beautiful terra-cotta planters on her deck, some adorned with swags and angels, but among the genuine pottery containers are several inexpensive, terra-cotta-­colored plastic window boxes overflowing with flowers and herbs. No one notices that they aren’t pottery.



September 12-13, 2019
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