Window Boxes for All Seasons

A colorful window box is a gracious gesture of good will and welcome, flourishing on the edge between house and garden and cheerfully blurring the distinction. In the country or in the city, gardeners love them. They are an essential element in the old-fashioned cottage garden style, and they serve a huge need on suburban deck rails and city balconies, where high-rise dwellers can’t hope for anything more than a couple of square feet of soil in a box.

Window boxes make up for their small size with dapper charm and an easy intimacy. They are big enough — and prominent enough — to attract the ambitions of a grand garden designer, and small enough not to overwhelm the enthusiasm of a novice. Urban farmers can plant a window box with a quick crop of lettuce in spring, or fill one with parsley, basil, rosemary and other herbs for a steady supply for the kitchen all summer long.

Many styles and materials are available to suit your gardening roots and style. The only requirements for successful window boxes are that they must have drainage holes, they should be deep enough for a good root run, and they must be sturdy enough to hold up in the weather. When you choose plants for window boxes, you can please yourself: there are no rules or regulations, and when the garden is no bigger than a tea tray, it's hard to blow the budget. Here are some planting ideas for window boxes for all seasons:

— Bloom up close is the reward of window boxes, but have fun with foliage, too. Colorful coleus, sweet-potato vines, and small ornamental grasses look very striking together in a window box.

— In a shady spot, try hostas, heucheras, and small ferns (Japanese painted fern is especially pretty). A few impatiens will add splashes of color.

—Keep up with the seasons. When a brilliant spring display of hyacinths and pansies is done, plant some hard-working petunias or other annual flowers for the summer, and then chrysanthemums in the fall. For a tailored and sophisticated look, add some touches of white flowers.

— Grow kitchen crops at your fingertips. You can even plant carrots and chard in a window box. Lettuce and herbs have terrific texture, and can be grown among flowers.

— If you’re not sure what plants go together, try two or three colors of the same plant: petunias, pansies, begonias, and marigolds will fill a window box with cheerful flowers.

— Take care of your window boxes: plants in pots need fertilizer to grow and bloom, and they have to be watered regularly. You can add slow-release fertilizer when you plant, or fertilize with a water-soluble fertilizer mixed in a watering can.