Window Boxes All Year ’Round

Overflowing with colorful blooms, window boxes dress up many Island homes and businesses in the spring and summer, but with a little extra effort, you can have eye-catching displays through fall and winter too. We asked four State Road garden centers for some window box ideas for all four seasons.

Elizabeth Cecil

Fall: For an autumn window box, Dee Dice at Eden Market & Garden Center in Vineyard Haven used a mix of Chrysanthemums (the tiny buds at center and yellow blossoms), two varieties of Heuchera with their colorful ruffled leaves, and orange sedge grass (Carex testacea). Heuchera, commonly known as coralbells, have delicate flowers early in summer but are best known for their leaves, which come in a riot of colors. Dee used ‘Dolce Peach Melba’ for its combination of pink-orange leaves and ‘Dolce Blackcurrant’ for its silver leaf with green veins and an edging of deep plum. Heuchera foliage can also be dark purple, crimson, and several shades of green.

“You don’t need a wide variety of plants, just ones with different colors,” Dee says, adding that she likes to decorate the autumn boxes with small ornamental gourds. She also recommends perennial asters, fall cabbages and kale, pansies, Liriope (also called lilyturf), Euphorbia, and ornamental peppers. For a Halloween box, she might use black grasses with orange sweet potato vines. “Think of perennials more for their [leaf] color than for their blooms,” she says.

Winter: The season of freezing cold may seem formidable, but Christine Wiley of Vineyard Gardens in West Tisbury rose to the challenge and produced some attractive variations on winter window boxes. The box we feature at left contains dwarf Hinoki cypress (in background), Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’ (at far left with spiky yellow-green foliage), Pachysandra (not seen in the photo), and Sempervivum, the succulent also known as hen and chickens (at right in deep burgundy and green). Christine suggests the addition of a few hardy flowering annuals in spring to keep the box looking fresh at the end of the winter season.

She also says plants can start in a window box and later be transferred to the ground: “Sink pots in the boxes and cover them with pine bark mulch. Then you can move them elsewhere when they get too big.”

More ideas for winter

For the other winter boxes, Christine worked with heath and other varieties of Sedum and evergreens. In the center of this box, she used a pink flowering heath called Erica ×darleyensis ‘Kramer’s Rote’, along with Sedum spectabile (rear corners), deep burgundy Sempervivum (front center), and Sedum rupestre ‘Blue Spruce’, which resembles rosemary (front corners). She says other plants that work well in winter include dwarf conifers, hellebores, and cuttings of Alberta spruce, holly, and boxwood.

Spring: To welcome the season, Heidi Larsen-Arroyo at Middletown Nursery in West Tisbury prepared a cheery box with yellow Gerbera daisies, lots of tall star-shaped purple Campanula, the tiny blue-violet blossoms of Vinca minor, and little pink pansies tucked in here and there. She says the box, which she planted in late May, held up until the beginning of August when the pansies gave out.

“I also love doing spring boxes with little Narcissus, wood hyacinths, tulips, and Johnny-jump-ups,” Heidi says. You can buy bulbs in the fall to plant in the box or get plants already in bloom in spring at a garden center.

Summer: Using sun-loving plants from Heather Gardens, landscape designer Peggy Schwier of West Tisbury planted a box with ‘Dresden Blue’ Angelonia in the back with the star-shaped blue flowers of Tweedia caerulea. The middle holds white Marguerite daisies and blue Felicia daisies. In the front, she used trailing blue Evolvulus and the cascading foliage plant Dichondra with rounded, silver-green leaves. For a summer box in a shady location, Mike Saunier at Heather Gardens recommends tuberous and rex begonias, Alocasia, Caladium, and maidenhair fern.

Many smaller annuals or perennials will work well in summer. Miniature roses could be happy in a box for a few seasons before outgrowing the space. Planted outside a kitchen window, a summer salad box could hold lettuce, onions, and celery or a selection of favorite herbs like parsley, thyme, and chives.