Home & Design

Green Acre #32: Deck the Window Boxes!


Um, did she mention glitz? / Photo by Stephanie Cavanaugh.

MY PRINCE bought home a few flats of pansies for the window boxes last month. The squirrels have eaten all but one plant. This is typical, despite my going to lethal lengths to discourage them: inserting fondue forks prongs-up (when was  the last time I made a fondue anyway?), a wall of chopsticks, rock embankments. Squirrels are not always cute.   

Meanwhile, the recent cold snap decimated the massive drips of purple potato vine, the centerpiece of each of our five boxes, that had reached Rapunzel lengths, though frills like the bits of wandering jew tucked in last April, linger on, grown from exclamation points to now-substantial flourishes. Sadly, this weekend promises a frost, so they’ll be done in as well.

The ornamental cabbages, however, will flourish. As always, mine are shaded purple to fuchsia, to go with the house trim.  Oh, how they delight me. The intense color, the fabulously ruffled edges, like a birthday card when you’re 5 years old and the bunnies hop, hop down the yellow path with blue birds and butterflies winging overhead and daisies and zinnias dotting the psychedelically green grass . . . all cabbages need is a little glitter. (Mmmmmmmm, thinking glitter. That’s an aside, though I am toying with the notion of edible glitter, turns out there IS such a thing!)


Cabbages and Christmas, they just go together. / Photo by Stephanie Cavanaugh.

Back to cabbages: Do try to find small ones if you intend them for boxes. Full-size cabbages, the ones the size of a basketball, are not only expensive, they bolt too quickly in this warmish climate, shooting up leggy bits that disorder the pretty clump, and then die. They are also difficult to plant in most boxes because of their large root balls (which don’t take kindly to trimming, by the way). Plant full-size cabbages and you can have little else, which doesn’t at all suit me, particularly for the holidays when only a full Martha Stewart will do.

Last Sunday, my goy toy hauled my cartons of odds and ends down from the attic. If I were more organized, I would take before and after photos . . . showing you in shot after constructive shot how these largely dirt-filled window boxes, with just a spill of ivy off the sides, are magically transformed with the help of a pile of fake or once-alive crap combined with a bit of glitz and white lights.

You will note the jolly (fake) boxwood ball. It’s stuck on a sturdy stick to get it above the rest of the shrubbish and promises to do exactly what I want it to do (stay green and look alive).

Dangling in front are fir branches, from discarded trimmings at Eastern Market on Capitol Hill.* The red berries that resemble red berries but are some kind of Chinese substance were stuck in last Christmas and never removed. They were too jolly to pull, somehow looking right even in midsummer nestled among the sometimes-real pink geraniums.

In a stroke of luck, my friend Maggie is leaving in the morning to spend the hols in her native Yorkshire. What I get out of that—in one of those “my pal went to Hawaii and all I got was this stupid T-shirt” events—are several miniature fir trees, all decked in bitty balls and bows and such, which would otherwise be doomed if left on her windowsill. These fit in quite nicely, giving the boxes just a little extra oomph. Also present: gilded pine cones, shiny ornaments, fantastical glittered stems, Mardis Gras necklaces (because, why not?) and big purple bows with wired edges that twist this way and that. The bows more or less match the color of the boxes, which are painted the same purple as the front door.

Of course there are white lights twisted throughout. Quite the sight at night.

*If you’re feeling impoverished, or creative (you’re allowed to be both), you can build a free tree from the scraps at Christmas-tree lots. There’s almost always a mountain of clippings somewhere, heaped in a corner and destined for some dump. Bat your eyelashes and ask nicely and you can probably haul away as much stuff as you’ll need for boxes, railings, mantel and whatever else needs greening.

—Stephanie Cavanaugh

LittleBird Stephanie is writing a book on city gardening. Next week, she’ll deal with some of the other spots around your property that need a bit of holiday glitz.

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