SOMEBODY had a bright thought when the window-box came into existence. The only wonder is that persons who were obliged to forego the pleasure of a garden did not think it out long ago. It is one of the "institutions" that have come to stay. We see more of them every year. Those who have gardens - or could have them, if they wanted them - seem to have a decided preference for the window-box substitute.
There is a good reason for this: The window-box brings the garden to one's room, while the garden obliges one to make it a visit in order to enjoy the beauty in it. With the window-box the upstair room can be made as pleasant as those below, and the woman in the kitchen can enjoy the companionship of flowers while she busies herself with her housewifely duties, if she does not care to make herself a back-yard garden such as I have spoken of in a preceding chapter. And the humble home that has no room for flowers outside its walls, the homes in the congested city, away up, up, up above the soil in which a few flowers might possibly be coaxed to grow, if man thought less of gain and more of beauty, can be made more like what home ought to be, with but little trouble and expense, by giving these boxes a chance to do their good work at their windows. Blessed be the window-box!
Many persons, however, fail to attain success in the cultivation of plants in boxes at the window-sill, and their failures have given rise to the impression in the minds of those who have watched their undertaking, that success with them is very problematical. "It looks easy," said a woman to me last season, "when you see somebody else's box just running over with vines, but when you come to make the attempt for yourself you wake up to the fact that there's a knack to it that most of us fail to discover. I've tried my best, for the last three years, to have such boxes as my neighbor has, and I haven't found out what's wrong yet. I invest in the plants that are told me to be best adapted to window-box culture. I plant them, and then I coax them and coddle them. I fertilize them and I shower them, but they stubbornly refuse to do well. They start off all right, but by the time they ought to be doing great things they begin to look rusty, and it isn't long before they look so sickly and forlorn that I feel like putting them out of their misery by dumping them in the ash-heap."
Now this woman's experience is the experience of many other women. She thinks, - and they think, - that they lack the "gift" that enables some persons to grow flowers successfully while others fail utterly with them. They haven't "the knack." Now, as I have said elsewhere in this book, there's no such thing as "a knack" in flower-growing. Instead of "a knack" it's a "know-how." Ninety-nine times out of a hundred failure with window-boxes is due to just one thing: They let their plants die simply because they do not give them water enough.
Liberal watering is the "know-how" that a person must have to make a success of growing; good plants in window and veranda boxes. Simply that, and nothing more.
The average woman isn't given to "studying into things" as much as the average man is, so she often fails to get at the whys and wherefores of many happenings. She sees the plants in her boxes dying slowly, but she fails to take note of the fact that evaporation from these boxes is very rapid. It could not be otherwise because of their exposure to wind and air on all sides. She applies water in quantities only sufficient to wet the surface of the soil, and because that looks moist she concludes there must be sufficient moisture below and lets it go at that. Examination would show her that an inch below the surface the soil in the box is very, very dry, - so dry, in fact, that no roots could find sustenance in it. This explains why plants "start off" well. While young and small their roots are close to the surface, and as long as they remain in that condition they grow well enough, but as soon as they attempt to send their roots down - as all plants do, after the earlier stages of growth - they find no moisture, and in a short time they die.
If, instead of applying a basinful of water, a pailful were used, daily, all the soil in a box of ordinary size would be made moist all through, and so long as a supply of water is kept up there is no reason why just as fine plants cannot be grown in boxes as in pots, or the garden beds. There is no danger of overwatering, for all surplus water will run off through the holes in the box, provided for drainage. Therefore make it a rule to apply to your window-box, every day, throughout the season, enough water to thoroughly saturate all the soil in it. If this is done, you will come to the conclusion that at last you have discovered the "knack" upon which success depends.
I am often asked what kind of boxes I consider best. To which I reply: "The kind that comes handiest." It isn't the box that your plants grow in that counts for much. It's the care you give. Of course the soil ought to be fairly rich, though a soil of ordinary fertility can be made to answer all purposes if a good dose of plant food is given occasionally. Care should be taken, however, not to make too frequent use of it, as it is an easy matter to force a growth that will be weak because of its rapidity, and from which there may be a disastrous reaction after a little. The result to aim at is a healthy growth, and when you secure that, be satisfied with it.
The idea prevails to a considerable extent that one must make use of plants specially adapted to window-box culture. Now the fact is - almost any kind of plant can be grown in these boxes, there being no "special adaption" to this purpose, except as to profusion of bloom and habit of growth. Drooping plants are desirable to trail over the sides of the box, and add that touch of grace which is characteristic of all vines. Plants that bloom freely throughout the season should be chosen in preference to shy and short-season bloomers. Geraniums, Petunias, Verbenas, Fuchsias, Salvias, Heliotropes, Paris Daisies - all these are excellent.
If one cares to depend on foliage for color, most pleasing results can be secured by making use of the plants of which mention has been made in the chapter on Carpet-Bedding.
Vines that will give satisfaction are Glechoma, green, with yellow variegation - Vinca Harrisonii, also green and yellow, Moneywort, German Ivy, Tradescantia, Thunbergia, and Othonna. A combination of plants with richly-colored foliage is especially desirable for boxes on the porch or veranda, where showiness seems to be considered as more important than delicacy of tint or refinement of quality. In these boxes larger plants can be used than one would care to give place to at the window. Here is where Cannas and Caladiums will be found very effective.
Ferns, like the Boston and Pierson varieties, are excellent for not too sunny window-boxes because of their graceful drooping and spreading habit. They combine well with pink-and-white Fuchsias, rose-colored Ivy Geraniums, and the white Paris Daisy. Petunias - the single sorts only - are very satisfactory, because they bloom so freely and constantly, and have enough of the droop in them to make them as useful in covering the sides of the box as they are in spreading over its surface. If pink and white varieties are used to the exclusion of the mottled and variegated kinds the effect will be found vastly more pleasing than where there is an indiscriminate jumbling of colors.
A foot in width, a foot in depth, and the length of the window frame to which it is to be attached is a good size for the average window-box. Great care must be taken to see that it is securely fastened to the frame, and that it is given a strong support, for the amount of earth it will contain will be of considerable weight when well saturated with water.
Veranda boxes, in which larger plants are to be used, should be considerably deeper and wider than the ordinary window-box. Any box of the size desired that is substantial enough to hold a sufficient amount of soil will answer all purposes, therefore it is not necessary to invest in expensive goods unless you have so much money that economy is no object to you. If your plants grow as they ought to no one can tell, by midsummer, whether your box cost ten dollars or ten cents. If it is of wood, give it a coat of some neutral-colored paint before you fill it.