Last updated on October 20th, 2019
I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the window garden in my upstairs bath. This is an ordinary window that I outfitted for the decorative display and easy maintenance of houseplants. If you’d like to produce a living “wow” effect for your home, I can assure you that a window garden is the way to go.
Design a Window Garden
Pictured above is my window before it became a garden. It’s an east-facing exposure which, thanks to an ancient beech tree, receives only dappled light in summer. But when the tree drops its leaves in autumn, the window becomes flooded with morning sun.
Now, if a plain window is to perform a Cinderella act, it must first be equipped for the happy containment of plants. Let’s start with the sill.
Step 1: Widen the Sill
A narrow window sill is useless. You might be able to place a few pots there, but there’s not enough room for an enticing “plant-scape.” The easiest answer to a narrow sill is a bookcase or a cabinet. I found the bookcase pictured above at a shop that sells unfinished furniture. The bookcase reaches the height of the existing sill, and its width is the same as the window frame. I painted the case to match the window trim.
A broad windowsill provides healthy, un-cramped quarters for plants, such as the ferns and wax begonias pictured above. But make no mistake — the garden must not stop at the sill, or the plant picture will look inadequate. By “inadequate,” I mean it will look like a one-line drawing. To be a masterful portrait, the entire window must be put into play. And that’s where glass shelves come to the rescue.
Step 2: Install Glass Shelves
This is an easy job. As you can see, I mounted bronze-colored, scrolled shelf-supports to the window frame, using standard wood screws. (Shelf supports are available at any hardware store.) Line the supports up with the latch ledge, and then mount more supports equal distance above and below the ledge. This will take you all of 5 minutes if you have an electric drill.
Set the glass shelves on their supports. I used 1/2-inch thick shelves, which were acquired from a glass cutting shop. They were acquired for a song, too, because I asked the shop to use “salvage” glass. The shelves are 8 inches wide, and perfectly suited for plants in 4- or 5-inch pots. These small pots are what African violets and wax begonias usually prefer.
Step 3: Add Staples and Wire
With the broad sill and shelves in place, the final step is to string wire along the window frame. I’ll explain why in just a moment. To secure the wire, hammer 2-inch staples (available at any hardware store) along the top and half-way up the sides of the frame.
Now set two pots of vines on each end of the top shelf. I used philodendron for the window above, and grape ivy in another, similar garden. As the vines grow, they will climb (with a little assistance from you) up the sides of the window, and join together at the top. This will produce a leafy-green frame for the living portrait within.
And by the way, the only permanent features of a window garden are the vines, the glass shelves, and the broad sill. The plants themselves can be moved from shelf to shelf until you find an arrangement that floats your boat.
Plants can be changed to suit the season. For instance, in autumn I like to feature chrysanthemums, miniature roses, and African violets. All these flourish in the bright light an east or west window affords.
A Christmas show is fun to design. Just replace the African violets with poinsettias. In the picture above, red poinsettias flank a bowl of narcissus on the first shelf, while pink and rose cyclamens flank a rabbit’s foot fern on the broad sill.
And on the first shelf, I enjoy the sight of yellow roses flanking my home-grown cyclamen.
Meanwhile, on the third shelf, I find that fragrant muscari (grape hyacinths), forced in a blue and white china bowl, and set between red-toned African violets, creates an authentic preview of spring.
Well, I hope I’ve inspired some of you to design such a garden for your own home. When you outfit a window for the contentment and containment of plants, the decorative possibilities are unlimited.
Questions or comments? Leave me a note in the comments field below.
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