Window boxes are something the British whip up exceptionally well. They brim with a kaleidoscope of color: lavender lobelia, red-and-white stripped petunias, pink pelargoniums, orange geraniums, magenta china asters, and, of course, sprigs of English ivy.
Whether you live on massive acreage or in a small apartment, window box dressing gives a special kind of gardening pleasure.
The good news is that there is no magic in creating your own showcase window box. All you need is a container, soil, a small variety of flowers and some foliage imagination.
Simple containers are the most versatile; they blend with most architectural styles and don't detract from the plants growing inside. Neutral colors--gray, beige, brown, natural wood, white--are the best complements.
Boxes are made of wood, metal, stone, fiberglass, plastic or clay.
Wood--either redwood, pine or cedar--is the "traditional" choice for window boxes. A 24-inch-by-12-inch redwood box costs about $25. Redwood resists rotting and adds a touch of country. Painted white, it offers a traditional look.
Clay boxes are romantic and whimsical. Italian terra cotta clay containers blend well with almost any floral selection. They can be bought or painted white for a dressier look. There is a new plastic window box that looks like clay.
Metal and stone boxes are more modern and sleek. Exotic chiseled stone boxes are hard to find, difficult to maneuver and expensive--but elegant. Fiberglass boxes are durable in hot and cold weather and are relatively inexpensive. One popular model sold by numerous mail-order garden-supply companies looks like white-painted wood. Fiberglass boxes are also easy to clean.
Where to put your flower boxes? Find a spot where they can slip in easily--fitting onto a windowsill or doorway ledge. If your windowsill is wide enough, a window box can simply rest upon it. Anchor the box with rocks in the back to make sure it does not slide or blow off the sill. If your window sill slopes forward, as many do, place wedges of wood under the front of the box to level it.
Few tools are required for window box gardening. You will need a cultivator to aerate the soil and scratch in granular fertilizers, a watering can, a hand sprayer for misting and feeding, pruning shears for trimming shrubs and clipping dead flowers, a small trowel for digging planting holes and a dibble for planting seeds.
Coloring your window box with flowers is where you get to be as wild or as timid as you wish. You can go neon-rainbow with bright, mixed color, or monochromatic for a serene color scheme.
If you want soft harmony, plant analogous or related color schemes, those close to one another on the artist's color wheel, like pink and purple; red, orange and yellow; or pastels. White flowers or silver foliage can be added to lighten and brighten the effect.
A monochromatic box idea would be to set pink chrysanthemums and rose pelargoniums inside English ivy. Or purple china asters, pink and white petunias and lavender lobelia. Try different shades of lobelia, from deep purple to palest lavender with impatiens in rose and light pink amid cascading Swedish ivy.
The English cottage garden look requires more contrasting color. Let your imagination run riot with polychromatic color schemes. The appeal of window box gardening is that you can rarely make a bad choice with too much color.
Red petunias, yellow marigolds, pink pelargoniums, blue china asters, white nasturtiums, lavender lobelia, stripped sweet Williams, scarlet snapdragons--or any combination of color--gives a window box a charming "the-more-the-merrier-look."
My favorite window box sat outside my dorm room in London--a white wood box filled with lavender, pink and red lobelia, Swedish and English ivy, scarlet impatiens, rose and pink geraniums, red wax begonias, white petunias and sweet Williams. How do I remember it so well? Some memories you carry with you like a photograph.
When making your plant choices, consider the plants' height and width since a good mixture makes for a more pleasing box.
Dip your hand into some unusual plants. For height, experiment with lavender-blue catmints, white candytufts, wish-bone flowers (lavender flowers with deep purple markings and a yellow spot), rosy speedwell or sapphire flowers (good for front-of-window boxes). For width, try Kolomikta vine (leaves splashed with pink and white), dusty miller, silver-lace (lacy silver foliage), love-in-a-mist, snow-on-the-mountain (white-edged green leaves) or lovingstone daisy (neon-like colors).
There are three options for putting plants in window boxes. You can plant directly in the boxes, plant removable liners that fit inside the boxes, or plant in individual pots sunk into peat moss inside the boxes. Regardless of the method you use, every box and liner need drainage holes in the bottom. In stone trough containers in which you cannot drill drainage holes, put a layer of gravel in the bottom of the box to improve drainage.