If you love to garden but don't have much time or acreage, you'll love window boxes. These gardens in miniature work equally well for cozy cottages or urban town houses, and fall is the perfect time to plant a window box. As warm weather flowers die back, you can replace them with fall performers with little effort and expense. If you don't like the way your window box looks, you can always plant something new. We'll show you fail-safe tips for greening up your window on the world.
Think of a window box as you would a centerpiece. The same guidelines for proportion and balance apply. Like a floral arrangement, your design should look good from all sides, since it's on view from indoors as well as out. Plants selected because of their contrast -- in texture, form, and color -- yield the best results. Group plants that share the same basic needs; for example, sun lovers shouldn't be asked to keep company with plants that prefer shade. Here, purple asters are flanked by flowering kale, leather leaf sedge, trailing ivy, and fountain grass. 'Jack Be Little' pumpkins and 'Festival' squash tucked into the arrangement add a touch of autumn to the window box.
Thanks to professional hybridizers, the range of plants that look great well after the first frost continues to grow. The new Icicle-brand pansies and violas have a growing reputation as particularly cold-tolerant hybrids. These perky performers bloom until covered by snow. Hardy ornamental kale, with its ruffled leaves, and smooth-leafed ornamental cabbage have long been dependable for late-season color. The vivid hues of 'Pink Pigeon' cabbage, 'Feather Red' kale, and other cultivars intensify as the thermometer drops, for a display that dazzles right up to December. Asters, ivy hybrids, and such grasses as leather leaf sedge all go the distance. Small stature, extended bloom time, and a broad color range make mums in the Cheryl series good bets for boxes.
Window boxes are ideal places to experiment with color; the investment is small, so any "mistakes" aren't too costly. Take a paint of your house with you to the nursery so you can see how a plant will look against it. A color wheel, available at crafts stores and art-supply shops, is another handy tool to tuck in your pocket when plant shopping. Pick colors directly opposite each other on the wheel for a complementary scheme. The dark burgundy Coleus, at left, pairs well with the lime green margarita sweet potato, even though they're at opposite ends of the color wheel. For a monochromatic scheme, consider white kale and creamy-hued mums. Mostly, just follow your instincts. If you're not wild about the decisions you made, relax -- you won't have to live with the results for more than a season.
Pansies and violas deliver hardworking color to last through the season, while the silver licorice plant ties the whole combination into this home's subdued, neutral color scheme.
Hardy fall bloomers like geraniums and petunias also thrive in container gardens. Perenials like rosemary and oregano tolerate cool weather and can provide you with a bonus of fresh herbs right up untill Thanksgiving. For a window dressing that lasts all year, plant tiny evergreens.
Window boxes are available in a variety of materials. Redwood and cedar boxes weather to a beautiful patina but must be replaced every few years. Plastic boxes don't rot and are inexpensive, but they look less refined. Copper, fiberglass, and zinc are durable but expensive. Remember to attach boxes to your home with corrosion-free screws like galvanized or stainless steel decking screws.
The Wave Front windowbox (left), from 30 inches to 72 inches with brackets is available from walpolewoodworkers.com .
Steel, fiberglass, and copper windowboxes are available from smithandhawken.com.
A wide assortment of window boxes in a variety of materials are available at windowbox.com.
Handmade copper windowboxes and freestanding planters are available from copperheadnorth.com.