Country & Garden: Look on the bright side

There's no sadder sight than a tight-fisted window box. The answer is to go for a generous splash of colour

For summer window-boxes, you need flowers that have the same unflagging determination to perform as the young Shirley Temple. Geraniums, often coaxed into bloom before they go on sale at garden centres, are supreme in this respect. Their variety means that you can easily furnish window- boxes with nothing else: trailing ivy-leaved geraniums for the front, multi-bloom varieties such as `Sensation' for the bulk of the planting, with a few variegated types interspersed with the others for contrast.

This year I'm growing a new introduction, `Maverick Mixed'. "The ultimate top-quality garden geranium" says the seed supplier Thompson & Morgan. We shall see.

To flower most abundantly geraniums need sun, but a window-box in full sun is more difficult to manage than one in part shade. Compost dries out faster, and watering may need to be done twice a day.

A window-box looks best if it fits as exactly as possible the size of the window. Small plastic containers balanced on large sills have an uneasy, we're-not-stopping feel to them. Made-to-measure wooden containers are ideal. You can line them with heavy-duty black polythene, with a few holes punched in the bottom. The bigger the container and the larger the volume of compost, the easier it will be to keep.

Painting wooden boxes can trap you in a tyranny of annual repainting. Wood stains are less demanding and, watered down, give you some pleasantly murky greens and blues. Let the plants boss the box rather than the other way around.

Profusion is the effect that you want, but in a window-box you won't get it without a dedicated regime of feeding and watering. Slow-release fertilisers are excellent for this kind of gardening. So are the expanded polystyrene granules you can buy, which sop up water faster than sponges and then release it slowly as the plants need it. Both these can be mixed into the compost at planting-time.

Plastic boxes are cheap, but are not always sturdily enough made to take a full load of compost. They start buckling in the middle and sag outwards in a dispirited way. Whatever you use, make sure it is securely anchored. Some town houses still have the ornamental cast-iron surrounds of the late 18th and early 19th centuries to fence in window-boxes. If you've got them, flaunt them.

Often boxes look better from the outside than they do from within. Flowers naturally turn towards the light, so from inside, you are backstage, as it were, looking at the supports rather than the painted backdrop. You can get over this by dropping the level of the window box slightly, so that you look down on your flowers, but whether this is possible depends on the type of windows and sills that you have.

For a suitably lush effect (and window-boxes must be lush - nothing looks meaner than a mean window-box, with its plants as distant as oases in the desert) you need plenty of leaf. Include at least one good foliage plant in each mixture.

Helichrysum petiolare is a natural, because it is not too bossy, threads itself about well, climbs and cascades. The standard version has grey, felted leaves, but there is a good lime-coloured variety, `Limelight', and a cream variegated one as well. The grey-leaved one loves heat and will not flag in a sun-baked position. The sulphurous one is better in part shade. Use them with argyranthemums, white petunias and shrubby santolina, with perhaps some variegated ginger mint binding the whole cast together.

An average size window-box, 30-32 inches long, will easily accommodate a dozen plants, perhaps four each of the marguerites and petunias, one helichrysum, one santolina and two ginger mints. This will give a cool effect - lost, though, if you live in a white painted house. White-flowered window-boxes look best set against grubby stone, especially the dark grits and granites of the north.

Grey helichrysum also looks good weaving its way round ivy-leaved geraniums, such as the pale pink `Madame Crousse', with a mixture of lobelias stuffed into the gaps. `Cascade Mixture' trails elegantly and has flowers in many colours. Add some deep purple heliotrope if you want an extra benefit from your window box. It smells gorgeous.

For a much warmer effect use the greeny-yellow helichrysum `Limelight' with a golden variegated ivy and some brilliant yellow and blue pansies. These need regular dead-heading if you want them to give a long display, but they are reliable flowerers and have the sort of squidged-up faces that always make you smile. Ivy is very slow-growing, so you will need to splash out on some decent-sized plants. They are at least perennial and, with care, could be with you for several seasons. If you get tired of them in a window-box, you can pot them up and use them as pot plants inside.

Variegated ivy also combines well with white-flowered, variegated pelargonium. Add the pale lemon lance leaves of hosta, a golden-leaved vinca, campanula, purple pansies and feathery, bleached-looking grasses. If the window-box will stand it, interplant with a lemon-coloured lily such as `Limelight'.

Nasturtiums are also plants that raise the spirits. There is nothing restrained about a nasturtium. It is a helter-skelter opportunist and will probably swamp any plants that you put with it. Use it on its own, sowing seeds direct into the window-box. When you get rid of your spring display, replace the old compost before replanting for summer.

You will get less of a hiccup between displays if you start off your nasturtium seeds in pots inside and set them out as growing plants. `Alaska' (Thompson and Morgan, pounds 1.49) is a good mixture, with leaves splashed and mottled with cream. I'm also fond of `Empress of India' (Thompson and Morgan, pounds 1.39), with dark velvety leaves and equally velvety flowers, deep, deep red.

Any annual that lolls gracefully is a natural contender for a window- box. The swan river daisy, Brachyscome iberidifolia, could easily be used this way. It has lax stems topped with small daisy flowers and the foliage is lush and ferny enough to furnish a window-box with ease. The plants do best if you pinch them back early in the season to encourage thick, bulky growth. In the wild, they favour slightly acid soils, so you may find that you need to dose them occasionally with iron sulphate (Sequestrene). If the leaves turn yellow, they need treatment.

The wild species have been interbred to provide a series of different colours and types: `Blue Mist', `Yellow Mist', `Pink Mist'. Though they rarely grow more than 6in high, each will spread to cover 2ft or more. Swan river daisies do not immediately flag if they are dry at the roots, and they will flower for months.

As they are quite delicate they do not need anything too bossy with them. If you want height, interplant them in a window-box with daisy-flowered argyranthemums. This summer, I'm trying a new white one called `Summer Stars'. The leaves are grey and very finely dissected, as in the better- known variety `Chelsea Girl'. We are spoiled for choice here.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in new film 'Serena'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as undercover cops in 22 Jump Street

film
Arts and Entertainment
David Bowie is back with fresh music after last year's hit album The Next Day

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith Richards is publishing 'Gus and Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar', a children's book about his introduction to music

music
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris has generated £4m in royalties from the music platform

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week