Home & Design

Green Acre #450: The Window Box in Winter

A window box, one of five, from March 2022, chez Cavanaugh. / Photo by Stephanie Cavanaugh.

By Stephanie Cavanaugh

IT’S BEEN MANY years (man years) since My Prince, in a burst of enthusiasm, not only began, but finished, five beautiful window boxes for the front of the house. We’d just returned from London and were both taken with the boxes that seemed to adorn every other window there, dripping with ivy and perky with geraniums. 

It was late January. What a delightful shock when shivering in my shoes. Winter flowers! Can we do this?

We had tried before, with pretty clay boxes that rested on the sills, heavy enough, and narrow enough, that they posed minor danger to anyone standing beneath. A concussion perhaps, but not death. They were also totally inadequate for anything but cacti—unless they were watered morning and night throughout the summer; forget the winter, when the boxes were in danger of freezing and breaking. 

The British boxes were big, wide, deep, and overflowing with plants that actually had room for roots. Who’da thunk it?

So, it was the first order of business when we got home. It’s rare when we agree, me and the Prince, particularly when it’s me who does the imagining and he who is tasked with the doing. Most times foot-dragging occurs. But this time, do it he did. The boxes aren’t quite as big as some we saw in London, but big enough, spanning the width of each of the windows on the first and second floors. Deep and heavy enough to decapitate if they fell, so they were well supported and painted deep purple to match the front door and trim. 

I bought a fine book on window boxes, filled with delightful photos—but there was nothing I could find about maintaining them year-round. This is something I still rarely see—and yet it’s no more difficult than summer boxes. Just different. 

Other than the corners, each of which has clumps of ivy and a few patches of sedum, the boxes are changed out with the seasons. Last weekend I pulled up most of the summer stuff, which was growing raggedy and browning, cutting back but leaving the sweet-potato vine for a little frill at the front and keeping sprigs of purple tradescantia and spikes. Though they’re both doomed when we have a frost, their presence does temporarily enliven the texture.

The soil was freshened up, scooping out some of the old and putting in some new. The highly scented  Earlicheer double daffodils I got from Colorblends, and wrote about last week, were put in the holes and topped with pansies and small ornamental cabbages. I lucked into those little ones: Big ones are plentiful, and the little ones often  hard to find, but it’s best to use them in boxes, letting them grow up in place. 

Blanketed in soil, the daff bulbs will grow and push up their creamy white heads, which resemble little roses or gardenias, past the flowers, and burst into perfumed bliss as promised. (Colorblends is out of Earlicheer, but I see that White Flower Farms has them in stock).  

To give the boxes some height in the back, I stuck in dried fan-palm leaves that I picked up on sale at Lowe’s. These were spray-painted leafy green, which you should note is a great remedy for many flower failures. (Hello, boxwood!)

Next up, Thanksgiving, and then the winter tart-up will take place, bows and balls and lights . . . oh my.



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