Window Boxes Give Any Home A Floral Facelift
(SHNS) -- Germany must be the window box capital of the world. A legion of ledges there have little painted boxes overflowing with red geraniums.
Every last window seems to have its own mini-box garden beneath, hooked onto charming Bavarian cottages and the most imposing civic buildings.
Panes above are often open in the cooler summer climate, so Germans can enjoy their window boxes inside and out. Imagine a cool breeze wafting across a window box stuffed with fragrant plants and herbs. Or to please the palate, a little mint, lemon verbena and scented geraniums could be planted at the level of a kitchen-sink window.
But window boxes don't have to be for harvest or the human nose. Window boxes are just plain wonderful for their looks alone. They soften the hard planes of a house. They help make a house a home.
Geraniums are the Germanic choice, but there are so many more plants suitable for window boxes. You can pick a favorite or go with a mixed planting that resembles an untamed English cottage garden.
Colors can be coordinated with a house. Soft pink impatiens or petunias flatter stern gray-stone walls. Or a sage-green Victorian house might do with deep purple flowers spiked with day-glo orange blossoms.
Some garden designers hold that grouping one flower color makes more of a visual impact than mixing flower colors. But window-box builders should be allowed to please themselves. Flowers never really clash with each other or anything else.
One very popular color scheme now is inspired by the Monet gardens of Provence. That sunny yellow and assertive blue are everywhere in home decorating, in fabrics, paint colors, wallpaper, and gardens, too.
The fun of a window box full of flowers is that you are encouraged to crowd it for a full, lush look, to experiment, and to try something different for next year. Mistakes can be pulled out mid-season, something else plugged in, even if it's only green. What wall of a house couldn't do with a little chlorophyll?
In other words, window boxes are bite-sized botany for anyone to enjoy.
We're not talking about huge investments for annuals to cover a swath of land. And even brown-thumbers can feel a sense of accomplishment when a window box shows its colors, because things just seem to grow better in a box.
There are special problems encountered by window-box gardeners, however.
Metal-lined wooden boxes conserve moisture; you don't want your plants waterlogged, so drainage holes are crucial. Some walls reflect sunlight and raise the temperature surrounding window-box flowers and dry out the soil quickly.
Karen McMullen of suburban Cincinnati is good at solving window-box problems. In fact, she is the 1996 winner of the problem-solving category in the Sunshine Creative Windowbox Contest. This annual national competition is sponsored by Sun Gro Horticulture Inc. of Bellevue, Wash., producers of growing mixes, including a special planter box mixture, and peat moss.
Mrs. McMullen has always loved plants and works part-time at a commercial greenhouse, where she often finds herself giving customers tips on better window boxes. She also designs custom window-box plantings.
Last spring a customer bought a window-rack style of window box, made of weatherproof black plastic over a steel wireframe, also called a " hayrack." These are patterned after the feeders used for livestock on farms dotting the English countryside. They can be lined with coco mats or moss.
The customer didn't want to fuss over this particular box, so Mrs. McMullen filled it with moss, potting soil (regular soil is too heavy for window boxes) and a pleasing variety of low-watering plants and succulents: There was hoya (with a variegated green-and-white leaf, a touch of pink); sedum (dark-burgundy leaves, red bloom); kalanchoe with pink bloom; some trailing sedum, and purslane (lots of pink flowers).
The customer placed the hayrack stuffed with pink-and-green plants to dress up a blank wall. Her hands-off gardening worked so well for those low-watering plants over summer that a picture submitted to the Sunshine contest was named a winner.
Mrs. McMullen plants window boxes for her own home, too, despite her husband's initial reservations about moisture damage to the wood-sided walls of their house. He wondered about rot or staining.
" I just bought some hayracks," says Mrs. McMullen, " and they do drain more. But you can buy small pieces of wood or plastic inserts (known as spacers) to protect walls."
Now she and her husband both relax and enjoy the special look of their window boxes.
Overall, though, she says, " I do think the (style of the) box itself is secondary. The flowers form the look."
Tips for putting botany in a box (or deck planters, porch or front-door containers):
For a budget window box, start early with a packet of seeds. Transfer tender bedding plants to window boxes after all danger of frost has passed, or sow hardy annuals like candytuft, dwarf sunflowers, nasturtiums and cosmos directly into window boxes.
Monochromatic schemes use flowers of a single color, like white, but be sure to vary the shapes and foliage for interest. White salvia is a striking contrast to white asters.
Flowers with a blue base color, pink, blue, purple and fuchsia, enhance a gray or blue house. But brighten the effect by adding silver-gray highlight plants, such as dusty miller.
Contrasting colors are good, such as orange and purple. The most popular home-decor color today, inside and outside the home, is cornflower blue with lemon-drop yellow.
Consider the light. If the outside of your house is dark and has shade most of the day, light-colored pastel flowers, shade-tolerant, of course, will work best. If your home is flooded with sunshine, use strong colors. Also use brightly colored flowers that show up at a distance if your house is set back.
A balanced window box has tall, upright plants to the rear, like geraniums and stocks. Those in the front should trail, like ivy and lobelia. And, in the middle, you need plants with a round or mounding shape.
Garden boxes can contain small edibles like loose-leaf lettuce, chives and baby French carrots. Basil and rosemary like the soil to dry out between waterings, as in window boxes. Pinch back basil a lot for it to bush out and spill over the sides.
Cover drainage holes with fine mesh to keep potting mix in, and let the water out.
Source: Sun Gro Horticulture Inc.