In Fall/ Fall Decor/ Fall Refresh/ Floral Design/ Garden/ Horticulture/ House and Garden/ Hydrangeas/ Lifestyle/ Tips and Tricks/ Window Boxes

Beyond Mums…Time to Update Your Outdoor Spaces!

It is October 15. A little late for my fall window boxes and urns, but that’s ok. If there are still apples on the trees (which I discovered to be the case yesterday when I went apple picking with some of my favorite people!), then the time is still right to install some fall plantings and floral displays. And my window boxes certainly deserve to have some life injected into them after my summer of horrible neglect. (Actually, I was performing an experiment with them…I called it “Weeds or Winners? Established Plantings and Benign Neglect.” Let’s just say that Proven Winners are Proven Winners for a reason!! And Sweet Potato Vine is a Betsy Winner for the 7th year in a row…it goes straight from summer right into fall. Love it! Oh, and I’ve found one really great looking weed, too. I just can’t figure out what it is…a project for another day.)

I’ve always loved doing my window boxes and urns for the fall. I think it’s the plethora of “stuff” that I can put into my fall displays that makes them so much fun for me. I can get away with so much more in the fall and really let my creativity run wild (and let me tell you, that is truly something to see!!). That’s not to say that I rip everything out of my summer displays. I always keep my Sweet Potato Vine. Talk about an amazing plant. An ornamental vine, it comes in a several different colors (and varieties) and has now reached “favorite” status with me.  When I do have to refresh it, I tend to use whichever of the dark purple varieties I happen to find at the nursery–I’m not picky, as they all look great throughout the summer and then, of course, they move beautifully into the fall.

Late Summer Window Box containing my beloved Sweet Potato Vine, Vinca Vine, (dark)pink/purple Salvia, Veronica and a delicate white flowered ground cover, whose name has conveniently escaped me. Snow something? (If you can identify it, please let me know….it’s on the tip of my tongue!) ©betsygibsondesign


Fall Window Box containing Ornamental Grasses, Peppers, Crotus, Verbena and Mini White Pumpkin ©betsygibsondesign

Aside from my Sweet Potato Vine, which will always have real estate in my boxes, what do I use? Anything!!! One year, I went to my incredible Kousa Dogwood and cut several “little” laterals and used them as the backdrop for the rest of my plantings. (I refreshed them with Stewartia as soon as the incredible fiery red-red/orange fruit turned brown. I didn’t just leave branches with rotting fruit in my precious boxes! Never!!) Another year, I made a beeline for our Japanese Maple and used some of its brilliant red limbs as my backdrop. So I tend to like dramatic backdrops that define my space. I suppose they would be called the “thrillers”, though I have a personal aversion to the whole “thrillers, fillers and spillers” formula. What else have I used? Grasses! Feather Reed Grass has always been good to me. It’s tall enough to make a statement, and its neutral color allows me to add elements to it that would not work with a strong looking backdrop–I’ll add things like (green) moss covered lotus pods, for example, and/or Croton plants, with their brightly colored and variegated leaves and their ability to remain upright in my display. (And though there are guidelines for how to care for these plants, which are mainly used as indoor plants, I have never had a problem using them in window boxes and urns. They’re sort of like my tried and true Split Leaf Philodendron. They work outside through the fall and look great–yep, even after the first frost. I don’t know why. I just know that in my window boxes and in my urns, they do really well. What they’ll do in your displays, I have no idea. And there you have my disclaimer for using what are typically houseplants in outdoor arrangements!) Combined with the neutral grasses, or even with dried hydrangeas (brown), these elements create a strong base for the other elements. Apparently, I also used pine branches back in 2014. I told you I that I use “anything”. See left corner in the photo below….total “Kitchen Sink” window box with those pine branches in there!!! But I like them. They look pretty good, don’t you think?

“Kitchen Sink” Fall Window Boxes containing Crotus, Pine, Feather Reed Grass, Ornamental Cabbage, Ornamental Peppers, Purple Verbena (likely, but I can’t see it very well!), Mini White Pumpkins. Though where is my tried and true Sweet Potato Vine??


Fall Window Box containing Sugar Pumpkins, Mini Pumpkins, Dried Hydrangea, Oriental Peppers, Kousa branches (after they’d already turned colors), Grasses, Japanese Maple and Pepper Berries ©betsygibsondesign

In addition to my anchoring limbs, grasses and statement plants, I tend to use flowers (though NEVER, EVER Mums!!!), including New England Aster in purple; purple Verbena; white Creeping Phlox (as opposed to the taller variety); Salvia (which, like the Sweet Potato Vine, I am sometimes able to use from my summer displays) and too many others to remember. I also use ornamental vegetables, including the ubiquitous Cabbage in green, green and white, green and pink or deep purple. And ornamental peppers! In red, orange and yellow, they add an extra little punch of color and mirror the croton plants in the background. Plus, they add a new and unexpected shape to the mix. The cabbage adds great color and fabulous texture, and the flowers or flowering plants add their blooms, along with the much needed bits of green to the plan. The finishing touch to each of my fall windowboxes has always been the addition of ornamental fruits. I’m talking gourds here, including squash, pumpkin and anything else I can find of the approximately 975 species of the gourd family (Cucurbitaceae). Not always “pretty,” these little guys are always fun to include and work well with the other window box inhabitants.

Mini Pumpkin in white. ©betsygibsondesign

The only thing you will find missing from my own personal fall creations are mums. I never, ever use them. For some reason, I just have a “thing” about them. I think it’s because I feel inundated by them. It’s as though no other fall flower exists! To counter that feeling, and to wage my own silent protest against the invasion of the mums every fall, I make sure to use whatever I can in places where mums might otherwise be used. But if a friend or client wants mums, I’ll certainly use them. They are pretty, after all. However, I will never use mums alone. I will always glam them up with a few ideas from my “Kitchen Sink” brain. I haven’t had any complaints so far, so I hope that’s a good sign that my “Mums Plus” designs make people happy. Below is a “Mums Plus” design that I did for a national non-profit’s outdoor office space.

African Sunrise, Gourds, Mums, Cabbages, Crespia (sprayed) and Ornamental Peppers ©betsygibsondesign

There you have it. A few of my ideas for celebrating fall with your outdoor plantings (and don’t forget your urns!!)–and all of these plants, flowers, fruits and vegetables can be used inside in any number of fabulously creative ways. In fact, Why not have your Thanksgiving table arrangements mirror your outdoor decor? That sounds like a fun project–and one that is sure to impress even the most critical discriminating of your guests!!! 😉




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