Cultivating Miniature Garden on a Windowsill : Flowers: Window boxes provide small spaces in which to nurture a variety of colorful plants.

<i> Guffey is a Malibu free-lance writer. </i>

Window boxes have several advantages over gardens: They bring nature up close at eye level, they provide a compact place to nurture plants for individuals without much space and they brighten buildings.

Although on a smaller scale, window boxes today are planted for the same reasons as those in ancient times. In Egypt, Queen Hatshepsut decreed that stone vessels be filled with plants to ornament terraces and balustrades, and Queen Semiramis had terraces constructed in which flowering plants and trees were grown in containers.

The same desire to showcase ornamental plants at eye level, where they can be enjoyed, underlies the creation of miniature landscapes on windowsills today. In other countries, notably England and Switzerland, window boxes are quite common, both for residences and for businesses.


Suitable materials for flower boxes are pine, redwood, cedar, concrete, plastic and metal. Pine is cheap though not very durable; cedar is more expensive and more moisture resistant. But redwood is best because of its resistance to rot.

Concrete boxes sound uninviting, but they are quite good so long as they have adequate drainage. Plastic and metal boxes tend to overheat in the sun; they can, however, be employed as liners within concrete or wooden boxes.

In filling a window box, don’t be tempted to dash out into the back yard and dig up the needed dirt. Generally, such soil compacts quickly, is low in nutrients, may contain soil diseases, drains poorly--many reasons for avoiding its use in a concentrated growing area. Commercial potting soils are better.

The soil should be rich in nutrients because of intense competition of roots in a restricted growing area. Before planting, work in organic or granulated chemical fertilizers.

Drainage is extremely important. The bottom of the window box should have a number of holes. If a box rests directly on a windowsill or balcony, the drainage holes may be ineffective. Attach thin strips of wood to the underside of the box to elevate it.

Here in Southern California, window boxes can be colorful the year round and quite creative. The number and variety of plants available is considerable, and your local nursery will stock many possibilities. The window boxes I remember from my childhood in the Midwest always contained red geraniums (or salmon-colored geraniums for iconoclasts), white petunias and trailing variegated vinca.


But here in the Southland, the range of plants is overwhelming, and gardeners have few preconceptions about material. Some recommended choices, most of which I’ve grown in containers or window boxes, are shown in the accompanying chart, which shows flowers for planting in summer, fall, winter and spring.

The window box outside our bedroom window has contained many combinations over the years. At first, the area was quite sunny, and I planted it with yellow marigolds, golden fleece (Dahlberg) daisies, blue salvia and parsley. When the area became a little shadier, I used tall coleus, trailing coleus, and the fuchsia ‘Display.’ Another year it held tuberous begonias and maidenhair ferns. In the winter, it contains cyclamen and in the spring, cineraria or primroses.

If you’d like to create an immediate, continual show of color, use a technique that nurseries, hotels and businesses follow. In their window and planter boxes, gallon containers of blooming plants are sunk.

Then spaghnum moss is arranged around the surface to conceal the tops of the pots. This method provides instant color--at a price, of course. Commercial establishments remove the pots when the blooms are spent and replace the entire display.

To produce the maximum bloom from window box plants, feed twice a month with a diluted solution of plant fertilizer. Because boxes dry out quickly in hot weather, be prepared to water once or twice a day. Drip irrigation systems can be most helpful to reduce watering chores.

Remove dead blossoms to prolong the bloom period. If aphids or other insects attack, spray with an insecticide or insecticidal soap. Actually, plants in boxes are less vulnerable to insect attacks since they are off the ground.



Partial Upright Cascading Sun Shade Growth Growth Season* Ageratum X X Sp/S Alyssum X X All Begonia, tuberous X X X S Begonia, wax X X Sp/S Cabbage, flowering X X F/W Calendula X X F/W/Sp Celosia X X Sp/S Cineraria X X W/Sp Chrysanthemum X X F/W Coleus X X X Sp/S Dahlberg daisy X X S/F (Golden Fleece) Dahlia (dwarf) X X Sp/S/F Dianthus X X All Dusty Miller X X All Fuchsia X X X Sp/S Gazania X X Sp/S Geranium X X X Sp/S Gerbera X X Sp/S/F Hawkesbury River daisy X X Sp/S/F (Brachycome) Impatiens X X X Sp/S Marigold (low-growing) X X Sp/S/F Nasturtium X X Sp/S Nemesia X X F/W/Sp Pansy X X F/W/Sp Petunia X X All Phlox (annual) X X All Portulaca X X S/F Primrose X X F/W/Sp Salvia (red shades) X X S/F/W (S. spendens) Salvia (blue) (S. farinacea) X X All Snapdragon X X F/W/Sp Stock X X F/W/Sp Verbena X X Sp/S Zinnia (low-growing) X X S

*Sp = spring, S = summer, F = fall, W = winter