Gardening: think outside the box

Sometimes the best view isn't what you see through a window but what catches your eye underneath it.

Window boxes deliver colour, edibles and fragrance. They're also practical, as raised-bed gardens that lift their contents for easy reach.

"Window boxes are convenient containers," says horticulturist David Trinklein.

"Plant them with herbs, for example, and you won't have to go outside to bring in the harvest."

They are ideal for small, shallow-rooted plants like radishes, lettuce, marigolds, impatiens, pansies, begonias, parsley, basil and sage.

"Mix and match flowers with vegetables," says Rhonda Ferree, an extension educator with the University of Illinois. "They need the same soil types and have the same water preferences. Plant flowers towards the front for curb appeal; position vegetables towards the back for easier access."

The location of the window box usually dictates what you can grow, Trinklein says. "Window boxes that get a blistering afternoon sun require one thing. Window boxes in shade require another."

Fern Richardson, author of Small Space Container Gardens, describes herself as "a big believer in creative window boxing".

"There's nothing stopping window-box gardeners from adding garden ornaments to their boxes," she says. "Small gazing balls tucked between the plants can add a little sparkle to a shady area. Gardeners can even use short shepherd's hooks to plant a bird feeder in a window box."

Window boxes work very well:

■ As theme gardens. Find flowers that display your school colours or the flag or plants that complement the paint on your house.

■ At delivering fragrances. Fill window boxes outside bedrooms with evening primrose, four o'clocks (Mirabilis) and moonflowers for perfume-like scents on still summer nights.

■ For four-season gardening. Grow daffodils, grape hyacinth and tulips in spring; ornamental edibles like strawberries and chives in summer; flowering kale and pansies for colour in autumn and winter.

■ To showcase houseplants. Display your favourite potted plants in empty window boxes during the summer growing season.

"If there is no room in the budget for a high-style window box, thrifty gardeners can use spray paint and even stencils to upgrade inexpensive plastic window boxes into something that is one-of-a-kind," Richardson says.

Be careful, though, when watering window-box gardens.

"Most plants die from overwatering in containers, but window boxes can dry out quickly from exposure to wind and hot weather," Trinklein says.

"Add a soilless medium like vermiculite or peat moss to the mix that drains well yet retains moisture and lightens their weight.

"Window boxes will need tending maybe three times a week, but that's a small price to pay for what they add in the way of attractiveness to the home." AAP

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