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Green Acre #78: Winter Comes for the Window Box

Ornamental cabbages flanked by pansies, another winter staple. Here and on the front, iStock photos.

TAKING MY OWN advice, which as we know sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t, the Prince and I went bargain-shopping at Home Depot’s garden center on Sunday.

Rummaging around in the dregs of the tree section we spied a handsome Japanese Holly at half price, just $12 and change. That looks good, I said, knowing nothing about it and not bothering to read the label past the name.

Still, it was a couple of feet wide and a couple of feet high and looked just the thing to plant in

LittleBird Stephanie actually grew a potato, under the earth of the window box, from her lovely cascading sweet-potato vines, her first! “I’m a little afraid to eat it,” she says. “There’s something abnormal to me about growing food.” / Photo by Stephanie Cavanaugh.

place of the white bird of paradise that needed to come in for the winter, which would leave a critical spot in the front garden to fill, this being the route the postal person would take from our house to the next, should we to be so foolish as to leave the space open.

Gone would be the various groundcovers, downtrodden would be the gerbera daisies and plants asleep for the winter, as  Cruella dePost (it is always a woman) would march through, clucking  into her ever-present phone as she makes her appointed rounds, “ . . . and you know what he did then. Really.” And so forth.

Immediately upon returning home I read the tag that said the Japanese Holly will grow 6 to 8 feet tall and 6 feet wide, in other words, several times the size we need for the three-foot-wide patch. It also grows quickly, or so reported the plant website I consulted at random said, though they don’t say exactly how quickly. This might be an issue sooner than later.

On the other hand, its leaves are glossy, it’s evergreen, it appreciates part sun, takes well to pruning, and it likes acid soil. Not that I have ever tested the soil, though we do have a test kit gathering dust in what I euphemistically call my potting shed.  I just assume the soil is acid, given the romp of ivy out front.

The Prince dug a nice hole for it while I lay on the sofa listening to Sinatra and doing the New York Times crossword puzzle as my nail polish dried—a necessary renovation as those digits had actually worked earlier in the day.

That morning, with freezing temperatures predicted for the end of this week, I had realized it was time to refurbish the window boxes, yanking summer’s tender annuals and the sweet-potato vines that cascade so exuberantly down the front of the house, and replacing them with purple pansies and ornamental cabbages, our preferred winter guise.

Happily, our Home Depot haul included pansies at bargain prices and 10 baby cabbages in—I almost hyperventilated—4-inch pots.  Starting them small is key: Try stuffing the roots of a fully grown cabbage into a window box already overstuffed with stuff and you’ll see what I mean. Yet, for some reason, this size is a rare find.

Being too lazy to find the trowel, I rooted about with my fingers, creating luscious little nests for my winter crops.

And that is why I needed a manicure. You should know: A couple of coats of Opi’s, shall we say mud-colored, You Don’t Know Jacques works wonders after an afternoon grubbing in the soil.

—Stephanie Cavanaugh

LittleBird “Stephanie Gardens” sometimes follows her own gardening advice, sometimes not. To read earlier columns, type “Green Acre” into the Search box at the top of the page.

One thought on “Green Acre #78: Winter Comes for the Window Box

  1. Michele P. says:

    I always loved your window boxes, Stephanie – reminded me of London, and the so-pretty window boxes there!
    I do miss the weather in the mid-Atlantic, because we can’t grow pansies through the winter, this far north.

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