Gardening With What You Have

It's Not Easy Being Green: Rethinking Holiday Containers

Christine Froehlich 11/20/2017 Comments




Every year I tell myself I'm done with decorating, but now that the holidays are approaching, I've caved in to decking the halls again.  And anyway, I can't look at this empty window box all winter  -  it's too depressing. Last year I stuffed it with hemlock branches pruned from my sister's hedge and it looked pretty opulent. But that's not an option this year - they succumbed to disease this summer and she ripped them out. So, unless I completely rape the few arborvitae, sparse number of hollies and smallish boxwood on my property, I don't have enough greens to fill it. Buying them is way too pricey, so I decided to rethink my decorating strategy.


window box



There's no rule that says the whole thing has to be filled with evergreens, right? Scoping out what was left of my garden, I noticed all kinds of ornamental grasses and perennials with interesting seedheads - maybe I could get a little more mileage out of them.  Why not? They're kind of pretty as they're going to seed, and after all, it could  be a Thanksgiving treat for the birds. I picked some of them, grouped them together in bunches and jammed them into the potting soil I had left in the boxes when I yanked out the summer annuals. The more I added, the better I liked it.


ornamental grasses and seed heads


Here's a ligularia I had forgotten about. I never realized it had such a cool flower head after it was done blooming.


seed heads


Red twig dogwood, silvery russian sage (Perovskia) stems and a few branches of holly scrounged from around the back yard provided some color. I glitzed it up a bit by hitting some spent hydrangea heads with silver spray paint. I stole a few stems off a gold cypress in the front garden and added a little bit of arborvitae, ilex and boxwood behind the stems to make them stand out more. You could use any type of evergreen you can get your hands on. Grouped together with the other stuff, a little green goes a long way.


Even though I used fewer evergreens than last year, the box looked even more opulent, bursting with subtle colors and textures that fit right in with the Thanksgiving theme. 


winter container


  I'll jazz it up later with lights,more berries or give it another shot of silver to give it a bit of flair for  Christmas. 


winter container



winter containers


The palette of plants I chose  include Calamogrostis 'Brachytricha', Perovskia 'Little Spires', Hydrangea 'Lady in Red', Cornus 'Ivory Halo' (red twig dogwood) Ilex crenata, Ilex 'Blue Princess' (Holly) Thuja 'Green Giant' (Arborvitae), Chamaecyparis ' Gold  Threads' (gold Cypress) Ligularia 'Britt Marie Crawford' and Physostegia  virginiana. That's just what I happened to have in my garden, but you could pick just about any type of perennial or grass that has a significant seed head. There are many varieties of plants that could provide an interesting mix for a winter container. Don't confine yourself to your own garden. Look around - weedy things like bitterweet, thistles and milkweed pods are fun to play around with too. Just make sure that whatever you pick is sturdy enough to withstand wind and snow. Here's a list of some plants that would be suitable.


  • sedums 
  • yellow or red twig dogwood, birch, or anything with an interesting branching habit.
  • rudbeckia
  • echinacea (coneflower)
  • rose hips 
  • berrying branches
  • aliums
  • milkweed pods
  • ornamental grasses

When you're putting your container together make sure to jam the stems deeply into the soil so they don't blow away. Group  grasses and perennials into bunches before putting them into the soil - they show up better. If you already have existing soil in your container, so much the better, as it will probably be damp and heavy enough to secure the stems and branches. If you're using new potting soil, or adding to it, water it in and tamp it down around the stems and branches. The biggest challenge is to get your container or window box finished before the soil is frozen solid. Depending on where you live, there's still a little time left!


As all of the plants I've mentioned can be left standing in the garden all winter, I have no doubt that they'll hold up nicely in a window box or any other type of outdoor container. I leave mine for the birds anyway, but by putting them in the window boxes I have the option of seeing them up close - an added source of entertainment for me as I watch them from my kitchen window!


inside view of window box
























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