The Window Box at My Back Porch…Before and “During”
In last week’s post (Container Gardening 101…a la Helen Weis…) I mentioned that not only had Helen so graciously shared some of her container garden magic with all of us…but personally, she gave me some suggestions as to what to put in a few of my container gardens as well. The window box at our back door was the first I was going to tackle.
Not only did it look like it had been torched…seriously, just dirt and a few fried remnants of last year’s plants…but we were also hosting our family Easter Brunch…the next day! This family “plant guy” definitely had some work to do! So with Helen’s “rules” and her plant suggestions in hand, I went about the business of redeeming some window box ground.
Let me start out by saying, Helen’s last “rule” about breaking rules…quoting the Dali Lama – “Know the rules well so you can break them effectively”…was the “rule” I found most helpful. Not because the others weren’t helpful, but because what I had hoped was going to be an in-and-out shopping experience…it was not.
Here are some things that I learned as I shopped for my plants and installed them in the currently dead window box:
- There are a ton of plants to choose from: For horticultural plant freaks – whom I love and admire…the seemingly 1000s of plants to choose from probably gets them all jazzed. Not me…I felt a bit overwhelmed. Standing there with my list of plants Helen suggested, I didn’t know where to begin. So I took a deep breath and tried to remember the Golden Rule of container gardening…“tall, full, & trailing”…so off I went.
- Plant suppliers make plant shopping easy, well…at least easier: Upon looking further at the labels of many of the plants (mostly annuals), I noticed that plant suppliers know the Golden Rule too…and although using different words, they labeled the plants accordingly: tall = “thriller”; full = “filler”; and trailing = “spiller”. So now I’m golden. It was like shopping for Garanimals clothes at Sears back in the day. If you don’t know what I’m talking about…take a look at this classic Garanimals commercial.
- You still need to be creative and remember the importance of proportion: Even with the Garanimals-esque labels and the fact that I had the list o’plants from my Facebook friend and Container Design Guru provided me, I still had to flex a bit and be creative. Only 1 of the plants Helen suggested was to be found…either because I just couldn’t find the others in the vast array of choices or because they just weren’t plants carried in the Atlanta market or by this specific nursery…they weren’t to be found. Nor could I find an appropriate “thriller” option. So thinking of where our window box is…on the railing of my back porch…having too tall of a “thriller” wasn’t important…actually I didn’t really want anything to block the view of our backyard. So I broke the Golden Rule and chose another “filler” option that was more vertical in habit and proportionately and texturally different than the true “filler” I had chosen. (Below you’ll see the 3 plants I ended up going with.)
- It’s okay to work with what you have…as long as you know what you’re in for: Helen does not recommend using the coco fiber window box liners…the soil dries up too quickly, requiring you to water very often. However, that’s what I already had. Not only did I not want to buy something new…I also knew if I waited to buy or build something new, I would invariably not do anything…leaving my lovely scorched earth window box to greet my Easter Brunch guests…not a message we wanted said. So I went with it…and just accepted the fact that I will be pulling out the watering can more often.
- Just put the plants in the dirt…placing them where they will do their jobs: If you give plants the dirt and the amount of sun they need, and water them when or just before they look thirsty…you’ll be good. So don’t over think it. After you fill your container with soil most of the way, all you have to do is pull the plants out of their plastic temporary homes and shove them in the dirt. It’s that simple. Don’t worry about being too gentle…your plants will be fine. You do need to remember to put them in a place where they will best thrill, fill, and spill…but that’s it. Give them a good drink of water and you are good to go…all that’s left is enjoying them.
If you’re curious, here are the plants I chose:
- Trailing “spiller” – Creeping Jenny “Goldi”: Helen called it Moneywort…and I’ve also heard others call it Creeping Charlie…but I’ve always called it Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia). Not only is it a great container garden “spiller”, it’s also an outstanding ground cover. Because it’s not an annual (it’s actually an evergreen perennial)…and because I’m a bit cheap, I like to initially use Creeping Jenny in my containers and then throw them in my landscape beds. And when I say throw them…that’s exactly what I mean…I throw them on the ground and either step on them or poke them in the ground. They take root that easily.
- Full “filler” – Sweet Alyssum: Not only is this a great choice to fill your container from a visual perspective, Sweet Alyssum (Lobularia maritime) also has an incredible fragrance…like honey. You have to get fairly close to it to smell it…so if you want to enjoy that added benefit, you’ll want to place your container somewhere where you can pause and take a sniff every once in a while.
- Vertical “Filler” – Gerbera Daisy “Jaguar”: As I mentioned earlier, I broke the Golden Rule and instead of using a tall “thriller”, I chose a more vertical “filler” as a substitute. Not only will this give me a better view of my back yard when sitting on our porch, Gerber Daisies (Gerbera jamesonii is the specific one I used) are also a favorite of Britt’s…so I get some bonus hubby points there. I also broke my personal “white” flower rule to add this pop of yellow…which I have to say, I like quite a bit.
So there you have it, my first attempt at more thoughtfully creating a container garden. I’m actually quite pleased. Consider these pics as “during” pics. In the next few weeks, after my trio of plants have thrilled, filled, and spilled a bit more, I’ll post a few “after” pics.
What are your favorite window box plant combinations? I’d love to try them out and share them with the rest of the ground redeemers out there.
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Doug, I haven’t been able to start my container garden or window boxes yet. We have been busy planting trees. They make a big difference to our new home’s landscape. We planted the Carolina Cherry Laurels you suggested. They will do great hiding the fence. Yesterday we planted a ligustrum tree and today we got the Wax Myrtle you mentioned. All of these trees are evergreen and exactly what we need. Hopefully next week I can send a picture of my container garden. Thanks, Helen
Thanks again Helen! Glad the plants are working out so well. And I can’t wait to see your container garden. Please do send me a pic…I’d love to see it! Take care, D.
Getting ready to fill two containers on my lattice work fence & I appreciate your suggestions. However, I love bright colors so I will probably use the Creeping Jenny, Sweet Alyssum & a very bright red or other bright Gerbera Daisy or Red Geranium as I have had these before & know they do well as long as you keep them watered. Helen is correct in saying the fiber filled boxes need lots of water, especially if they’re in full sun. Keep the ideas coming!
Sherrill: Thanks again for adding to the conversation about window boxes! Love the idea of adding bright red Gerber daisies. Now that Helen Weis has me thinking beyond you “shades of white”, I’m going to add some of the same on our pergola near our hanging day bed…and probably the same – red Gerbers or Geraniums. The added benefit of Geraniums is that they are known to repel mosquitoes. Although I think to make a dent to the number of mosquitoes we have (we are surrounded by creeks/water on 2 sides of our property…I’d have to have a whole field of them! Thanks again Sherrill. Take care, D.