Crocus chrysanthus 'Prins Claus' © Ghislain118 Bulbs Your window box

Crocus chrysanthus 'Prins Claus'. © Ghislain118 Shared under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported licence.

Looking ahead, many people will have planted up their winter window box in autumn. They will have predicted, correctly, that spirits needs a little uplifting when you look outside on a dreary, dank day, or if the winds are biting, or even if the skies are brilliantly blue.

Some of us just didn’t get to this point. Perhaps we didn’t get the memo but, really, there’s no need for excuses and it’s too late anyway. It’s silly to wait until spring – let’s just get on and cheer ourselves up a little.

No window box? That's no excuse: take the same approach to pots and other containers.

(Be a bit sensible with the weather. Obviously, don't plant up your window box and just stick it out there in heavy snow.)

Go for the lush, abundant look

Winter weather can be mean but there’s no reason your window box should be! A lush and abundant window box will help you relax and think of spring. Keep thinking of the look you want to achieve and choose plants which hang together but have some variety in their size, texture and colour.

Evergreens or ‘grasses’ to give background

Choose an evergreen shrub like box, skimmia or bay. One or three (odd numbers work best) of these will be spaced across the back of the box.

Skimmia is a compact evergreen shrub with simple, aromatic leaves and small white or yellowish flowers followed by shiny red berries. ‘Rubella’ might be a good choice with its showy late winter red buds which open into fragrant white flowers in early spring.

Or choose something grass-like to give your window box a variety of leaf shape.

Carex or sedge has 200 members in the family. Try leatherleaf sedge, Carex buchananii. It’s a tufted evergreen perennial with narrow, orange-brown, arching leaves with curling tips, and grows to 75cm.

Black mondo dragon grass (aka black mondo, Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Black Dragon') has very striking dark purple, almost black, leaves which grow in dense tufts. It has purple flowers in summer, followed by dark purple-black berries. It can create a very stylish background for your brighter plants, like white crocus or Tête à Tête daffodils.


Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Nigrescens' at New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, NY, USA. Your window box

Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Nigrescens' at New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, NY, USA
By Stickpen - Own work, CC0,

Something light or bright

Choose something light or bright to fill in the spaces in between your evergreens or grasses. Fragrant white or pink cyclamen would do the job. Winter pansies would also do the job, and they’re long-lived as long as you keep deadheading them.

Autumn pansy display - lovely bright colours for the winter! Your window box

Autumn pansy display - lovely bright colours for the winter!
© Jonathan Billinger and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence CC BY-SA 2.0

Something abundant to spill over the edge

This gives that lush feeling. A variegated ivy almost always does the trick here. I tend to choose a small-leaved one.

Spring-flowering bulbs

Add some bulbs – crocus, daffodils, grape hyacinths - so that your window box carries you through, effortlessly, into spring.

Tête à Tête daffodil with the heather Erica carnea in the background. Bulbs. Your window box

Tête à Tête daffodil with the heather Erica carnea in the background
© Mawis and shared under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported licence.

How to plant up your window box

Cover any holes in the window box with some broken pot, broken up polystyrene or horticultural grit. Add a layer of soil-based compost and then arrange your plants.

Put the evergreens or grasses at the back and the trailing plants at the front. Fill in the gaps with the light and bright plants, and the spring bulbs. Remember to plant in zig-zag fashion rather than in straight lines to give a natural look. Fill in the gaps with more compost and leave a gap between it and the top of the window box so you can water effectively.

Enjoy – whatever the weather!