Sometimes the best view isn't what you see through a window but what catches your eye underneath it.
Window boxes deliver colour, edibles and fragrance. They're practical, too, as raised-bed gardens that elevate their contents to within easy reach.
"Window boxes are convenient containers," said David Trinklein, a horticulturist with University of Missouri Extension. "Plant them with herbs, for example, and you won't have to go outside to bring in the harvest."
If you have room for a window box, you have room for a garden. Window boxes are ideal for small, shallow-rooted plants like radishes, lettuce, marigolds, impatiens, pansies, begonias, parsley, basil, sage and thyme.
"Mix and match flowers with vegetables," said Rhonda Ferree, an extension educator with the University of Illinois. "They need the same soil types and have the same water preferences. Plant flowers toward the front for curb appeal; position vegetables toward the back for easier access."
The location of the window box usually dictates what you can grow, Trinklein said. "Window boxes that get a blistering afternoon sun require one thing. Window boxes in shade require another."
Fern Richardson, author of "Small Space Container Gardens" (Timber Press, 2012) describes herself as "a big believer in creative window boxing."
"There's nothing stopping window box gardeners from adding garden ornaments to their boxes," Richardson said. "Small gazing balls tucked between the plants can add a little sparkle to a shady area. Gardeners can even use short shepherd's hooks to plant a hummingbird feeder in a window box."
Window boxes work especially well:
— As theme gardens. Find flowers that display your school colours, patriotic mixtures that show the flag or plants that complement the paint on your house.
— At delivering fragrances. Fill window boxes outside bedrooms with evening primrose, four o'clocks (Mirabilis) and moonflowers for perfume-like scents on still summer nights.
— For four-season gardening. Grow daffodils, grape hyacinth and tulips in spring; ornamental edibles like peppers, strawberries and chives in summer; flowering kale and pansies for colour through fall and winter.
— To showcase houseplants. Display your favourite potted plants in empty window boxes during the summer growing season. That will free up some shelf space indoors while enhancing things outdoors.
"If there is no room in the budget for a high-style window box, thrifty gardeners can use spray paint and even stencils to upgrade inexpensive plastic window boxes into something that is one-of-a-kind," Richardson said. "Current fashion trends are always a great place to look for colour and pattern inspiration."
Be careful, though, when watering window-box gardens, Trinklein said.
"Most plants die from overwatering in containers, but window boxes can dry out quickly from exposure to wind and hot weather," he said. "Add a soilless medium like vermiculite or peat moss to the mix that drains well yet retains moisture and lightens their weight.
"Window boxes will need tending maybe three times a week, but that's a small price to pay for what they add in the way of attractiveness to the home," Trinklein said.
For more about window box gardening, see this Clemson Cooperative Extension Fact Sheet:
You can contact Dean Fosdick at deanfosdick(at)netscape.net