#26 Window Boxes: Materials and Planting
Over the last month or so, we’ve discussed ornamentation in the garden. I’m approaching an end to that aspect of garden design, but before I do, I’d like to talk about a couple more topics, and one of those is window boxes.
Window boxes can be a wonderful addition to the garden, and provide color and scent at eye level from the interior of the house. They also provide accent to the exterior, and can add dramatic color in combination (both box itself and planting) to otherwise drab window areas.
Of first concern when selecting window boxes are price, weight, and durability. Remember that they must have good drainage to prevent rot, that with soil and plants installed they may become heavy; for that reason they must be securely attached to the house to prevent accidents or damage to those walking below. Containers may be purchased or homemade, and often the plants contained within them hide the actual structure of the “box”.
The boxes may be made of metal, wood (painted or weathered), cast-stone or terra cotta, and some of the newer synthetic materials found in other garden ornament. They may be highly colored and contrast with the house itself, or muted and rely upon the color of the plantings for their drama. Some of the “hayrack” style planters that can be purchased at garden centers can also work well in a more naturalistic setting, but in our heat they require even more frequent watering than other less “breathable” materials. Because of this issue, window boxes, in general, are not for the low maintenance gardener
Plantings may be simple (multiples of one kind), or contain a wide variety of plant form and foliage and flower color. Not my own invention, but that of a variety of garden writers, is the “thrillers, spillers, and fillers” concept for planting containers. First choose something dramatic, with unusual foliage and most often upright, to center the design. Then chose a plant with trailing habit,, that will spill over the sides of the container to some degree. Finally, fill in with a plant that will create fullness in the overall design, and perhaps continuous flower color.
Look at local garden centers for the common redwood or simple plastic window box. If you have something more specialized in mind, try the website: www.hooksandlattice.com There you will find a wide variety of both materials and styles.
Plant of the Week
Geraniums are probably the classic plant for a window box, and they come in a variety of species and cultivars. The actual botanical name is Pelargonium, and they are woody-based perennials that can take light frosts but not hard freezes. The most common form (P. x hortorum) is available in several heat-tolerant types such as the American, Eclipse, Maverick, and Orbit series. There are also Ivy geraniums, which grow to 1 ½ feet tall and trail to 3 feet or more, that are especially desirable in window boxes. The heat tolerant varieties of this form are the Blizzard and Cascade series. There are also a large number scented geraniums with aromatic foliage and small flowers that also work well in containers.