Home & Design

Green Acre #222: Deck the Halls . . . and Window Boxes

The incredible 9½-foot-long window box of Colleen Ward in Kensington, Maryland. / Photo courtesy of Colleen Ward.

MY HOLIDAY window boxes are a repeat of last year and the year before and the year before that. . . .  Big purple bows tie purloined branches of fir that drip over the front of each box and stand at attention in the rear. Glittery stems poke out here and there amid the pansies and cabbages. Lots of little lights. Lots of over-the-top. 

If ever there’s a time to go over the top, it’s the holiday season. And in a year such as this one—thankfully about to end—a dazzling dose of enchantment is just what we all need. And enchantment is exactly what gardening pro Colleen Ward has created in her own fabulous window box, a fantastical forest far, far away that appeared on my Facebook page several weeks ago. 

The mantelscape of Little Bird “Stephanie Gardens” owes some inspiration to Colleen Ward. / Photo by Stephanie Cavanaugh.

I may be belligerently Scrooge-like in my dislike of fairy settings and anything verging on twee, but this is grandeur on a miniature scale. Like a holiday window in a Fifth Avenue department store—amazingly found on a street where you might happen to live.

The 9½-foot-long box spans four windows of Ward’s Kensington, Maryland, home. Filled with seasonal greenery, poked with red berries and woven with white lights, it’s a glorious setting for her collection of miniature birdhouses. Look closely and you’ll see tiny red and white birds perched here and there amid the foliage. 

“It’s a lot of work,” she said. “My window box is big, and it took me a couple of days to do it.” This is not a surprise—the balance, the swoops and drips and stands of greens, the perfection of every element . . . well, it’s beyond me and my 15-minute attention span.  But what a quick course in design mastery it presents. 

Most of the greens, she said, are from Home Depot. They toss the trimmed bottom branches of Christmas trees, and the scraps are free for the taking, one trick with which I’m well acquainted. For this project, she gathered a grocery cart full. 

A jeweled bird takes flight from the copper birdhouse on the mantelpiece in LittleBird Stephanie’s house in Washington DC. / Photo by Stephanie Cavanaugh.

She filled the window box with floral foam and watered it well to preserve the branches. She then placed the greens and added the birdhouses, which are hot-glued to floral picks to keep them stable. Red nandina berries, also wired to picks, were then nestled in the shrubbish.*  

Michaels craft stores provided the birds and the fabulously fake branches that provide a backdrop that gives the box that snowy forest air, and “fuzzy white leaves” that resemble lamb’s-ear punctuate and brighten the arrangement. A roof overhang protects it all from damage.

While Colleen has collected her birdhouses over the years from yard sales and thrift shops, Michaels has an assortment of unfinished models, starting at about five bucks each—you might give them an elegant amber finish like the buildings created from seeds and nuts at the US Botanic Garden train show, which we’re sadly deprived of this year. 

Michaels is also a great resource for glittery stems and faux berries and flowers like nandina, holly and Queen Anne’s Lace, all great accents to tuck in amongst the greens. 

Weaving bits of fanciful fakes with real greenery creates the magic; too much fake is . . . too much fake. 

If my own window boxes are as always, the fireplace mantel owes a debt to Colleen: It’s draped with a peacock-feather boa and strands of white lights, to which I added my (tarnished) copper birdhouse and glittered and feathered birds taking wing. I’ll keep my scavenger eye peeled for more birdhouses . . . maybe next year. 

Colleen, who studied with “fantastic floral designers” Jeanne Ha and Amy O’Brien at the Washington Flower School, has been creating window-box fantasies like this one for clients for years, she said.  She can be reached at colleenjoyward@gmail.com or 202-240-0346.

—Stephanie Cavanaugh

LittleBird “Stephanie Gardens” knows who to steal decorating ideas from. 

*Not a word, but should be.


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