Pink snapdragons, blue violas, rose callibrachoa, holly ferns, and pinks forced me to take this picture.

It's no secret, dear reader, that every day, every hour, and every minute, the Grump suffers for you. Solely for your enlightenment and amusement, he is forced to visit exquisite gardens afar to bring back intelligence you can use. Such was the case again two weeks ago when Grumpy steeled himself for a three-day posting in that most stressful of Southern cities, Charleston, South Carolina.

So stressful. Oh, people smile at you as they walk by and pretend to be awed by their surroundings, but don't be fooled. Beneath their facade of delighted amazement, they're cowed by the secret courtyard gardens, the wonderful restaurants, the classic architecture, and the fact that you can explore using only your own two feet. Visitors seek reassurance that at least a tiny bit of what they covet and admire can be reproduced in their own gardens -- like, for instance, Charleston's window boxes.


Pink hydrangeas, yellow heuchera, blue violas, spotted dead nettle, and variegated English ivy.

And make no mistake. Charleston's window boxes are magnificent and play a vital role in the city's appearance. One reason they're so prominent is that in the city's historic district, most houses extend nearly to the sidewalk. Thus, window boxes become the only gardening space people have -- at least, in front. Another reason is that Charlestonians like to put on a good show for tourists -- people like you.

Charleston Window Box Secret Revealed!

So can you have your own Charleston window box that looks just like the ones you see here? Yes! All you have to do is follow these three simple directions.

1. Get a million dollars.

2. Use that million dollars to make a 20% down payment on a house in historic Charleston.

3. Read the rest of this story.


Coral diascia, yellow snaps, nandina, and English ivy.

Key Ingredients to a Beautiful Window Box

No, Grumpy's no talking about soil. That comes later. What I'm talking about is the kinds of plants you plant in your window box. To get that classic look you long for so much, your window box needs to include plants in the following three categories.

1. Tall centerpiece plants. Call them "thrillers."

2. Mounding plants that go on either side. Call them "fillers."

3. Cascading plants that hang over the side. Call them "spillers."

The window boxes you see here all contain cool-weather flowers for Charleston's spring season and were planted last fall. Soon, however, hot weather will arrive and most of these plants, especially the fillers and spillers, will need replacing with heat-loving ones for the long, hot summer. So Grumpy has generously compiled a list of thrillers, fillers, and spillers for both cool and hot weather.


White snaps, 'Tidal Wave Silver' petunias, burgundy ivy geranium, purple verbena, crimson 'Ballet' geraniums, rose-red callibrachoa, and a walking iris in the middle.

Cool-Weather Window Box Plants

Thrillers -- variegated English boxwood, snapdragons, holly fern, tulips, hyacinths, geraniums, delphinium, foxglove

Fillers-- pansy, viola, ornamental kale and cabbage, stock, tuberous begonia, primrose, candytuft, snapdragon, dusty miller, wallflower, calendula, English daisy, diascia, osteospermum, petunia

Spillers-- bacopa, edging lobelia, ivy geranium, nasturtium, English ivy, callibrachoa, spotted dead nettle (Lamium)

Warm-Weather Window Box Plants

Thrillers-- cordyline, phormium, purple fountain grass, flowering maple, dracena, bromeliad, variegated yucca, croton, Chinese hibiscus, calla lily, hydrangea

Fillers-- angelonia, begonia, caladium, coleus, 'Diamond Frost' euphorbia, geranium, heuchera, impatiens, pentas, polka-dot plant, golden Japanese forest grass, ornamental pepper, Madgascar periwnkle, petunia, zinnia

Spillers-- callibrachoa, fanflower (Scaevola), lantana, ivy geranium, sweet potato vine, verbena, 'Silver Falls' dichondra, wishbone flower (Torenia), spider plant, variegated English ivy, pothos, licorice plant, yellow creeping Jenny, creeping rosemary, spotted dead nettle, wandering jew


Red cordylines, yellow violas, and foxtail fern.

Window Box Reminders

OK, here's where Grumpy talks about soil and other stuff. If you want to be happy with your window box, pay attention to the following.

1. Never use anything other than a name-brand potting soil in your window boxes. Top soil, garden soil, peat humus, and manure are too heavy and don't drain fast enough. Heavy soil will rot your plants.

2. Speaking of rot, if you have a wooden window box, make sure it contains a metal liner with drainage holes to keep moist soil from contacting the wood. Run a bead of silicone caulk along every joint of the liner to keep it from coming apart. Failure to do this will rot out your window box.

3. Speaking again of rot, make sure there's an open air space between the window box and windowsill to allow water to drain off the sill or it will rot.

4. Don't forget to water when the weather gets hot. A window box can dry out in a single day. This is a great excuse for installing a drip-irrigation system on a timer to water all of your window boxes.

Have You Seen This Window Box Thief?

Grumpy was in Charleston to photograph window boxes put together for us by garden designer Tracee Lund of Holy City Horticulture. (Hers are photos #2, 4, and 6.) Just before we arrived, Tracee was stunned to learn that during the night, some low-life had stolen the flowers from one of her window boxes, forcing her to replant it at the last minute. Fortunately, the thief was caught on tape.


If you see this creep anywhere around your window boxes, exercise extreme caution and notify the Grumpy Gardener immediately. I'll take care of him.