why is it that window-boxes are invariably left neglected and empty for nearly half the year ? This, too, at the particular period of the year when something is wanted to relieve the dull monotony of rows and rows of houses with closely drawn blinds, and the general look of desertion which meets the eye in so many directions. And what is really worse than empty flower-boxes is the sight of dead or dying summer flowering plants left to wither still further if not soon removed, a sorry spectacle indeed where life and beauty have only recently reigned.
Some people are under the impression that there are no suitable plants that will live out of doors through the winter except heavy, dark laurels or yew; and the latter are objected to by some persons as having the superstitious credit of being unlucky; but a row of the former, although better than nothing, does little to relieve the sombreness of the house in the dull and dreary winter days. If it is not possible to have the boxes filled and looked after during this period, they had better be taken down, emptied of the mould, etc., and stored away in the basement until they are required again in the spring, and so avoid the damage which damp and exposure naturally cause. Then they will come up again clean and bright for the spring and summer seasons.
A neat and simple window-box for a town house
The green and variegated euonymus, and some Aucuba vera, with their clusters of red berries, will last through the whole winter until they can be replaced by the spring or summer plants. The green and golden privet is also a most useful evergreen for window-boxes, the golden variety being most effective. A row of these placed at the back of the box, with a row of solanum (winter cherry) in the front, or red China asters, make a really bright filling for boxes, and can replace the geraniums, etc., which have faded in the early autumn. When the asters have done flowering, a row of short euonymus can be planted in their stead. Another autumn arrangement is to use yellow to bronze chrysanthemums at the back of the box, with a tall cryptomeria or juniper at each corner, and solanum in the front; the red-coloured berries tone very well with the autumn-tinted shades of the chrysanthemums. Another suitable combination of plants is physalis (Cape gooseberry) mixed with silver euonymus, which is very showy with its larger leaf, and a row of asplenium ferns, all of which will last and look well until the frost appears, when they can be replaced by the hardy winter evergreens and berries, or dwarf variegated holly-bushes can be used instead of the shrubs mentioned.
Small-leaved ivy hanging out of the box
It is sometimes thought that any outdoor plants, whether in window-boxes or on balconies or terraces, in tubs or stone vases, do not require regular attention in watering during the winter months, but this is a mistaken notion. It is necessary to watch the weather, and occasionally to feel if the earth or mould below the surface is kept moist, and not to allow it to become too dry. There are many days of constant high and strong winds which dry up the surface moisture of the pots or tubs. All houses facing the north or east necessarily require that the window-boxes should be more often looked after and watered. From these directions much rain does not fall, and, even when it does, the plants in these aspects get very little natural watering.
In country towns and villages a much greater variety of combination and changes can be effected, for the owners are generally on the spot to superintend the arrangements, and to make suggestions. Besides, the gardener would have a natural desire and interest in keeping the window-boxes nicely and well filled whilst the family, and probably guests, too, were in residence. In rural districts it is not considered so necessary to maintain such symmetrical lines and quite the rigid neatness which have to be observed in town.
For instance, the variegated small-leaved ivy looks charming hanging out of the box, with a row of any of the berried shrubs standing up behind. For quite a cottage arrangement we might suggest the ivy alone, allowing it to trail on the top, with perhaps a plant or two of solanum. Where economy has to be considered, these can be replaced by a few berberis plants, which, with their tinted foliage, give a pleasing effect. Then again, laurustinus, with its pinky-white flower furnishes another pretty change in the autumn. Where strict neatness is prefened, this can be obtained by carefully arranging a compact row of green and variegated box, placed alternately, and backed by some good plants of barberry. This can be made to suit the purpose admirably.
As in everything to do with plants and flowers a look ahead is not only advisable, but necessary, so with window-box decorations there is work to be done in the autumn in anticipation of the coming winter months and the early spring. Bulbs should be planted, but they need not interfere with the use of other plants, for they can be buried in the earth between the plants in the same boxes. Snowdrops, crocuses, and the double jonquils all give such pleasure, and especially in town, where there is no garden to appreciate and enjoy. In the country it is a good plan to have two zinc linings for each box, so that whilst the one is doing duty for the dull months of the year, the other one is being prepared with bulbs - and kept in a cold frame - so that when in bloom the whole can be placed in the position of the other lining, which has then done its duty, and so save the trouble of re-planting the bulbs, as you have only to lift out the old lining bodily and replace it with the other, already flowering and complete in itself.
It is quite possible, with care and attention, to grow plants in window-boxes in the basement of houses, as well as in flats, and even down an area, or in a back yard or so-called back garden, by those who have to live where the outlook is somewhat cheerless and dreary. Much pleasure can be derived from so doing. The humblest cottager need not be without these rays of comfort. In addition to the pleasant sight of the bright, growing plants there is also the interest of watching their progress in life.
A pretty arrangement of trailing plants
More care and attention is required to rear flowers under such conditions, for they do not receive the benefits of Nature's aid in the way of fresh air, light, and sunshine which are to be enjoved under more favourable surroundings