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Window Boxes in the Windy City

Adapted from: “Window Boxes in the Windy City,” an article by Brian D. Coleman in partnership with HCBA published in Arts & Crafts Homes and the Revival magazine in May 2016

When Chicago Bungalows were built, the masonry façades were laid with projecting stone corbels meant to hold a window box. Window boxes would help to make the landscape part of the home since Chicago Bungalows were designed according to the Arts & Crafts movement of the late 1800s and early 1900s, and one major principle was to intimately connect architecture with nature.

Over time, the boxes were ditched as high-maintenance relics of a bygone era. With the revival of bungalow living, planting window boxes and front-stoop urns has come back in a big way.

The original box containers were made of unpainted cast stone or concrete, often detailed with geometric bands or scrolls. Replacing them can get pricey--$400 and up. A concrete box blends in even when empty, develops patina, and is too heavy to steal. But drainage may not be adequate, and the concrete may crack during freeze-thaw cycles--Chicago’s extreme weather doesn’t help.

Wood, commonly cedar, is the most popular material today and easier on the budget—$50 and up. Design and color options abound, wood is easier to move, plants stay cooler and better drained. But wood does require refinishing every few years.

Metal, fiberglass, and PVC planters are also sold today. These are very economical and can be painted. NOTE: Plastic must be kept painted to avoid fading and cracking. Paint color may match window trim; or choose a neutral color that complements the masonry and doesn’t compete with the plants.

Plant expert Jackie Riffice of Prairie Godmothers says the best window boxes have a combination of annual and perennial plants to provide color and bloom longevity. Gardeners refer to container selections as “thrillers, fillers, and spillers.” Thrillers rise dramatically as focal points. Fillers soften the base and add fullness. Spillers cascade over the sides.

See the full article at for how to measure, install, choose plants, and more.

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