Creating A Window Garden with Plant Shelves & Brackets

September 2, 2009


Potted plants, strewn like confetti all over the house…or grouped together in a window garden? The decision is yours. For my own limited space, a window garden, as you may have guessed, offers unlimited appeal.

Any ordinary window can become a garden, once it has been outfitted for the dramatic containment of plants. Shall we start with the windowsill?

Sill. Most windowsills are pathetically narrow. You might find room there for an unimaginative row of tiny pots and their saucers, but there isn’t enough space for the creative arrangement of plants. The easiest and also the cheapest solution to a narrow sill is a foot-wide board, painted or stained to compliment the window frame, and braced at each end with shelf supports. Or, perhaps an attractive piece of furniture can be found that matches the height of the existing sill. In one of my window gardens, a pine cabinet fulfills this role; in another, a painted bookcase makes a broad surface for plants.


When a plant picture is confined to the windowsill alone, it seems inadequate. For it resembles a one-line drawing. A real window garden must be a complete horticultural portrait. As in classical landscape design, vertical elements are necessary to generate eye movement.

Shelves. Glass shelves add a vertical dimension, and thus draw the eyes upward. Three shelves are generally adequate for the average window. Align one shelf with the latch ledge above the windowsill, and another at the midway point between the two. Position the third shelf an equal distance above the latch ledge.

I should warn you that heavy, tempered glass is very expensive – often $100.00 per shelf. But you can ask your glass cutter to use salvage glass of a half-inch thickness. This will reduce the cost to about $10.00 per shelf. Non-tempered glass is fine – I use it.

Brackets. Mounted to the window frame, brackets are useful accessories for holding pots of trailing or spreading plants that require a “perch” of some sort. I favor old, cast-iron kerosene lamp holders to support my vines, holiday cacti, scented geraniums and cascading petunias. You can find these highly decorative brackets for auction at Ebay.

Staples and wire. The window garden, like any “Still Life with Plants,” deserves a suitable frame. Philodendron and grape-ivy are my favorite “framers.” I give them something to climb by stringing wire along three sides of the window frame. Two-inch staples, hammered part-way into the window frame, keep the wire in place. The potted vines are placed at each end of the uppermost shelf, where they climb and join together at the top.

A broad sill, glass shelves, brackets and wire — these are the architectural components of a window garden with unlimited decorative value. And whatever your view is beyond the window — rain, snow, or a busy street — you will see it through a springtime setting of fragrant flowers, climbing vines, and lush, graceful greenery.

Is a window garden in your future? You can let me know by posting a comment below.

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Related Posts:
What To Do In September
The Amazing Meyer Lemon
Seven Ways to Beautiful Houseplants
Tolmiea menziesii – The Lovely “Piggyback” Plant

Comments

  1. Neil says:

    Kevin, what a great blog. I'm so glad that you've included window garden design that even I can accomplish in my NYC apartment. I'd much rather look at plants than the building across the street!

  2. Welcome, Neil, and thank you! When I lived in NYC, it was my window garden that kept me connected to nature, while improving the view of a very ugly building across the street.

    Hope to see you around here often.

  3. Samantha says:

    Do you ever worry about the glass shelves breaking?

  4. Justin says:

    I was wondering about the shelves too. How wide are they, and how thick is the glass?

  5. Samantha & Justin: The shelves in the photo on top are 1/4-inch thick and 8-inches wide. They can hold a surprising amount of weight. I never worry about breaking them.

  6. Gregory says:

    Not only is your window garden beautiful to look at, it takes advantage of all the light that streams in. But I guess that's the point?

  7. Gregory – it's the sunlight issue, and also the fact that eyes skip over an arrangement of houseplants confined to the windowsill alone. In terms of decorative value, the window garden packs a terrific punch, and becomes the focal point of a room.

  8. Cheryl says:

    What's on the shelves? African violets? They are lovely.

  9. Safety Gates says:

    This looks cool. I'm going to do it.

  10. Cheryl – yes, this window garden features African violets on shelves and broad sill; bracket on right is pink rose-bud impatiens, while on the left is piggyback plant.

    Safety Gates – Welcome! I hope to “see” you here again!

  11. Janis in Chicago says:

    What a great way to transform a window into a garden! I love the philodendron vines in the picture. Who needs curtains?

  12. Yolanda says:

    Kevin, I'm going to do this. And, I've forwarded your article to a friend who loves gardens, but lives in an apartment. I want her to see that she can easily turn one of her windows into a very real, and very satisfying garden.

  13. colepronab says:

    Designing, building and maintaining beautiful gardens and grounds, Five Valleys Landscaping provides a full package from concept to completion.
    landscape planting

  14. Mel says:

    Kevin, someone mentioned to me that you can grow grape vines in a garden window. I’m intrigued although it seems unlikely. Any thoughts on if this would work and how to do this? I’m guessing you would have to find the right grape.

  15. Mel – I grow grape ivy (Cissus rhombifolia) in one of my windows — it is trained on wire to “frame” the plant-picture. Have not tried growing actual grape vines — although I’m sure it can be done. Wild grape would probably grow quite well in a window.

  16. Sheri Rice says:

    Hi Kevin – this is lovely, but the lazy housekeeper in me wonders how you water and tend these beauties without getting the glass covered in water spots, dirt, fallen leaves, etc? Does everything come off the glass shelves and get watered in the kitchen, and then you wipe off the glass? Just curious. Here in Wisconsin, we have long winters and by April, I’m so eager to get the houseplants back onto the screen porch so I can clean my windowsill shelves thoroughly. Do you have any tips for keeping it clean and pretty?

  17. Hi Sheri – I keep saucers under the pots, and use a long-necked watering can, so rarely does any water drip onto shelves. Dropped flower blossoms (and the occasional leaf) are easy enough to pick up. Once a month I remove the pots from shelves (easy to do, as I do not use use large pots). Then I quickly polish the shelves, and return the pots. This cleaning procedure takes no more than 5 minutes — I promise!

  18. Scarlett says:

    Love your monthly things to do.

  19. Shirley says:

    Living in the Northern Minnesota; I sure wish I can have the winter garden, but my windows gives off cold..no matter if they are double pane. :^(

    Shirley

  20. Hi Shirley – Houseplants — especially the fragrant, blooming types, ADORE the cold. I removed the storm sashes from several of my windows just to keep the bulbs, Meyer Lemon, African gardenia, Thunbergia grandiflora and etc., etc. happy.

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