Big Style In A Little Box

Garden: Container gardens can bring color and scent nearly anywhere, and they won't break the bank.

In The Garden

June 20, 1999|By Ary Bruno | Ary Bruno,Special to the Sun

Gardeners, have you filled every inch of ground and then some? But are you still seized with that summer madness to acquire just a few more enchanting specimens?

Are you longing for a bright splash of color to perk up the front of your rowhouse? Wistful for the scent of flowers outside your window?

Fear not. The answer is at hand: container gardens, especially window boxes.

Whether gracing a townhouse facade or attached to a balcony, window boxes and other container gardens can offer fast results and big style on a small budget. Bold foliage, bright colors, bewitching scents and intriguing plant partnerships are just a few of the attractions.

The gardener has only to choose a theme -- from a Victorian bouquet for a front window to a selection of favorite herbs to keep handy outside the kitchen.

Window boxes are just plain fun. There is a kind of delightful incongruity in seeing a mass of colorful plants hanging, as it were, in midair, suspended between heaven and Earth. And if a flower is like a smile, a window box must be very much like a child's laughter adrift in the summer air.

Local garden centers and nurseries offer a wealth of options to choose from for both plants and containers.

There are basic, sturdy, plastic boxes to use with brackets that can be hung over deck or balcony railings. Wire baskets with cocoa mat liners are fashionable for hanging or bolting to window sills or house walls. Handsome wooden containers can be lined with plastic or used with preplanted pot inserts for quick-change artistry. They range in style from the rustic to elegant Chippendale motifs.

Once you have selected your container, the next -- and perhaps the most important -- point to keep in mind is to make sure that the supports you are using are firmly attached to both the window box and window (or other) frame. It can be quite disconcerting, to say the least, to have one's handiwork come tumbling down to the ground.

Also check that the supports are strong enough to bear the weight of the filled container. Large screws and angle irons or steel brackets are recommended. Even a smallish box, with watered earth and plants, can be surprisingly heavy.

For the growing medium you may amend good-quality, high humus potting soil with vermiculite to reduce weight and increase water retention.

Slow-release fertilizer should be mixed in before planting. For flowering plants, a 5-10-10 mix is good. If you prefer organic fertilizer, a blend like Espoma Plant Tone is excellent, especially with an extra 1-to-1 dose of bone meal mixed in to encourage bud flower formation. For herbs or foliage plants, a fertilizer with a 10-5-5 balance will produce best results.

The box or container you are using should have drainage holes. Broken pot shards or an inch of pea gravel should be arranged in the bottom of the container to keep the growing medium from falling out of the holes, and to provide drainage for plant roots.

Plants are spaced more closely in containers than in the open garden. Five to six inches apart is fine, depending on the size of the mature plant. Pinching plants back to leaf nodes early on to encourage branching will result in bushier plants and more flowers later.

Do remember to water your window box garden frequently, even daily, in hot or dry weather.

Fertilize with a soluble fertilizer every week as directed on the package for optimum growth, as both the frequent watering required and density of planting will take nutrients out of the soil more quickly.

Consistent deadheading (picking off the spent flowers) will keep most plants blooming merrily until frost.

Favorites

Here are some of the most popular plants this season and ideas for combining them:

Herbs

Basil, bush

Chives

Coriander

Italian parsley

Oregano

Rosemary

Thyme

Victorian

Coleus

Fuchsia

Ivy, variegated

Lobelia, trailing

Pansies

Petunias

Scaevola

Trailing geraniums

Fragrance

Calamintha

Dianthus

Heliotrope

Lavender

Nicotiana

Orange mint

Scented geraniums

Sweet woodruff

Shade

Begonias

Dwarf hosta

Euphorbia

Impatiens

Ivy

Maidenhair fern

Pulmonaria

Butterflies

Agastache

Dwarf monarda

Helichrysum petiolare

Heliotrope

Lantana

Lysimachia

Oregano

Verbena

Pub Date: 06/20/99

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