Charleston’s Wonderful Window Boxes

April 21, 2011 | By | Comments (19)

Charleston windox boxes 008
Pink snapdragons, blue violas, rose callibrachoa, holly ferns, and pinks forced me to take this picture.

It’s no secret, dear reader, that every day, every hour, and every minute, the Grump suffers for you. Solely for your enlightenment and amusement, he is forced to visit exquisite gardens afar to bring back intelligence you can use. Such was the case again two weeks ago when Grumpy steeled himself for a three-day posting in that most stressful of Southern cities, Charleston, South Carolina.

So stressful. Oh, people smile at you as they walk by and pretend to be awed by their surroundings, but don’t be fooled. Beneath their facade of delighted amazement, they’re cowed by the secret courtyard gardens, the wonderful restaurants, the classic architecture, and the fact that you can explore using only your own two feet. Visitors seek reassurance that at least a tiny bit of what they covet and admire can be reproduced in their own gardens — like, for instance, Charleston’s window boxes.

Charleston windox boxes 003
Pink hydrangeas, yellow heuchera, blue violas, spotted dead nettle, and variegated English ivy. 

And make no mistake. Charleston’s window boxes are magnificent and play a vital role in the city’s appearance. One reason they’re so prominent is that in the city’s historic district, most houses extend nearly to the sidewalk. Thus, window boxes become the only gardening space people have — at least, in front. Another reason is that Charlestonians like to put on a good show for tourists — people like you.

Charleston Window Box Secret Revealed!

So can you have your own Charleston window box that looks just like the ones you see here? Yes! All you have to do is follow these three simple directions.

1. Get a million dollars.

2. Use that million dollars to make a 20% down payment on a house in historic Charleston.

3. Read the rest of this story.

Charleston windox boxes 005
Coral diascia, yellow snaps, nandina, and English ivy.

Key Ingredients to a Beautiful Window Box

No, Grumpy’s no talking about soil. That comes later. What I’m talking about is the kinds of plants you plant in your window box. To get that classic look you long for so much, your window box needs to include plants in the following three categories.

1. Tall centerpiece plants. Call them “thrillers.”

2. Mounding plants that go on either side. Call them “fillers.”

3. Cascading plants that hang over the side. Call them “spillers.”

The window boxes you see here all contain cool-weather flowers for Charleston’s spring season and were planted last fall. Soon, however, hot weather will arrive and most of these plants, especially the fillers and spillers, will need replacing with heat-loving ones for the long, hot summer. So Grumpy has generously compiled a list of thrillers, fillers, and spillers for both cool and hot weather.

Charleston windox boxes 009
White snaps, ‘Tidal Wave Silver’ petunias, burgundy ivy geranium, purple verbena, crimson ‘Ballet’ geraniums, rose-red callibrachoa, and a walking iris in the middle.

Cool-Weather Window Box Plants

Thrillers — variegated English boxwood, snapdragons, holly fern, tulips, hyacinths, geraniums, delphinium, foxglove

Fillers— pansy, viola, ornamental kale and cabbage, stock, tuberous begonia, primrose, candytuft, snapdragon, dusty miller, wallflower, calendula, English daisy, diascia, osteospermum, petunia

Spillers— bacopa, edging lobelia, ivy geranium, nasturtium, English ivy, callibrachoa, spotted dead nettle (Lamium)

Warm-Weather Window Box Plants

Thrillers— cordyline, phormium, purple fountain grass, flowering maple, dracena, bromeliad, variegated yucca, croton, Chinese hibiscus, calla lily, hydrangea

Fillers— angelonia, begonia, caladium, coleus, ‘Diamond Frost’ euphorbia, geranium, heuchera, impatiens, pentas, polka-dot plant, golden Japanese forest grass, ornamental pepper, Madgascar periwnkle, petunia, zinnia

Spillers— callibrachoa, fanflower (Scaevola), lantana, ivy geranium, sweet potato vine, verbena, ‘Silver Falls’ dichondra, wishbone flower (Torenia), spider plant, variegated English ivy, pothos, licorice plant, yellow creeping Jenny, creeping rosemary, spotted dead nettle, wandering jew

Charleston windox boxes 006
Red cordylines, yellow violas, and foxtail fern.

Window Box Reminders

OK, here’s where Grumpy talks about soil and other stuff. If you want to be happy with your window box, pay attention to the following.

1.  Never use anything other than a name-brand potting soil in your window boxes. Top soil, garden soil, peat humus, and manure are too heavy and don’t drain fast enough. Heavy soil will rot your plants.

2. Speaking of rot, if you have a wooden window box, make sure it contains a metal liner with drainage holes to keep moist soil from contacting the wood. Run a bead of silicone caulk along every joint of the liner to keep it from coming apart. Failure to do this will rot out your window box.

3. Speaking again of rot, make sure there’s an open air space between the window box and windowsill to allow water to drain off the sill or it will rot.

4. Don’t forget to water when the weather gets hot. A window box can dry out in a single day. This is a great excuse for installing a drip-irrigation system on a timer to water all of your window boxes.

Have You Seen This Window Box Thief?

Grumpy was in Charleston to photograph window boxes put together for us by garden designer Tracee Lund of Holy City Horticulture. (Hers are photos #2, 4, and 6.) Just before we arrived, Tracee was stunned to learn that during the night, some low-life had stolen the flowers from one of her window boxes, forcing her to replant it at the last minute. Fortunately, the thief was caught on tape.

Charleston windox boxes 010
If you see this creep anywhere around your window boxes, exercise extreme caution and notify the Grumpy Gardener immediately. I’ll take care of him.





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  3. Kelli Evers

    Would love to know the paint brand/color of the gorgeous blue window box and shutters!

    May 10, 2016 at 7:45 am
  4. Pamela Rutledge

    My husband and I were in Charleston this past week-end for the Southern Living’s Taste of Charleston and were we ever impressed with the glorious window boxes, as everyone had already changed their window boxes and planters, etc. for a beautiful fall look for all of us to enjoy! It reminded me that colorful foliage can be just as exciting as colorful flowers. Everyone in the Historical District had gone to great lengths to make their front beds very eye catching and singing with great songs of the season! Now back in Richmond, Virginia I am very inspired to continue the great spirit of this season!

    October 1, 2012 at 7:31 pm
  5. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    The plants are white geraniums, blue lobelia, coral diascia, and coral petunias.

    April 30, 2012 at 7:37 am
  6. Janelle

    Can you tell me the names of the flowers that are in the last picture, please? I’m looking to make red, white, and blue-ish window boxes this year and this is beautiful.

    April 26, 2012 at 11:02 pm
  7. Grumpy Gardener (His Magnificence)

    The trick here is that all of the boxes in the pictures were planted for cool spring weather. This allows what you might call shade plants to be used in sunny spot. When the weather gets hot, plants have to be changed out so that a window box in hot sun has only plants for hot sun.

    January 10, 2012 at 2:42 pm
  8. Bren

    Grumpy I see some plants that do well in shade mixed with others that are sun lovers. I am sitting here wondering how that made that work. Any suggestions to an old gardener?
    I love your blog. Wish I had found it a long time ago. Love your humor mixed in with such great advice and lovely photos.

    January 8, 2012 at 6:33 pm
  9. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    In order to help your son avoid a life of crime, I suggest you buy him his own copy. What better way to express a mother’s love?

    April 25, 2011 at 12:16 pm
  10. cameron

    With your wonderful wit and humble (ha) description, you’ve managed to turn a mundane how-to (aka “Ambien” into a delightful tale.
    I just loaned my son my precious copy of your Southern Living garden book (you know, THAT encyclopedia of yours) and I hope it gets returned.

    April 24, 2011 at 3:06 pm
  11. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    I do it all for my readers, Jim. Never a thought for myself.

    April 23, 2011 at 7:06 am
  12. Jim Long

    Grump, you should get an award for all of the hard work and suffering you have to do, just to bring us these stories. I can just see the sweat and bruises and the aching feet. What a martyr you are. Thank you!

    April 22, 2011 at 6:01 pm
  13. Henry H.

    Laugh if you want but staying in a dumpster is the only way I can afford my plant addiction. Plus with all the fine restaurants Chuck-town has to offer, I’m the one living the back-alley high-life

    April 22, 2011 at 9:43 am
  14. Rhonda D.

    Wow, what gorgeous window boxes!
    I can see why those snapdragons and pinks forced you to photograph them.
    Just for a second that last photo looked like the Hamburglar in street clothes. Scary.

    April 22, 2011 at 8:20 am
  15. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    Well, Henry, if you would just stay in a hotel instead of a dumpster, you wouldn’t have that problem.

    April 22, 2011 at 8:09 am
  16. Henry H.

    Thanks Steve, I will go home and watch “The Patriot” tonight to make sure they put window boxes in the movie. Hollywood is always trying to cut corners……
    Cool article. Charleston is one of the most beautiful, gorgeous, historic and roach infested cities I’ve ever been in. Next time I go back I am bringing a bigger appetite and a can of Bengal.

    April 21, 2011 at 5:09 pm
  17. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    Thank you, Laura and CCCC. It makes my miserable hardship working in Charleston worthwhile.

    April 21, 2011 at 4:17 pm
  18. CarlaCarlaCarlaCarla

    Discovered Southern Living’s Grumpy Gardener while investigating chaste trees. I am SO bookmarking and subscribing – after which I’ll begin planning my own charming windowbox for the coming autumn. (Just reading the word *lobelia* gave me goosebumps.)

    April 21, 2011 at 4:14 pm
  19. Laura

    Grumps, this post could do double duty as a travel article; it made me itch to get up there and spend the weekend! What a gorgeous town, and great window box ideas, too. Thanks for this one!

    April 21, 2011 at 3:37 pm

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