The Best Plants for a French Window Box

Updated April 17, 2017

A French window box is a wrought iron design used to display flowers on windowsills, porch railings or fences. Although the window box was created originally out of necessity due to space considerations, it has evolved into a feature used to display flowers and plants, creating interest to the outside of homes and adding to the beauty of the landscape.


Window boxes were used as far back as 1 B.C. in Rome. The Romans planted gardens for growing food and herbs for medicinal purposes and cooking. Flowers, including lilies, violets, pansies and roses, were grown for rituals and decorating. Among the lower classes, window boxes were utilised due to their lack of space. Through the years, window boxes spread to Europe, including Germany, England, Ireland and France. Although the Romans used terra cotta planters, in England villagers utilised wire hay baskets, and the French created ornate wrought iron window boxes. Similar window boxes are still used today to add to the exterior beauty of homes, as well as for practical purposes.

French Window Boxes

Today's French window boxes are fashioned after the wrought iron versions inspired by the ironwork of Provence. The modern versions are formed from metal, in openwork designs and powder-coated for durability. The coating is typically flat black but may also be a textured black surface. Since French window boxes are made in an openwork design, metal or PVC liners are available to hold the soil. Moulded moss or coconut coir liners are other options used to line window boxes. You can also place terra cotta pots of flowers directly into the planters, eliminating the need for a liner.

Flowers and Plants

For a window box, the plants chosen will depend on the amount of sun and rain that the window box receives each day. Once those considerations are out of the way, you're only limited by the colours and varieties that appeal to you. If you want a more traditional look, pots of bright red geraniums (Pelargonium hortorum) placed in the window box are a good choice. To add more interest and depth, consider planting a variety of flowers and plants. Bright colours, such as red, yellow, orange or bright pink, show up well from a distance while blues, purples and dark green are better when viewed close up. Combine an assortment of plants, such as geraniums, French marigolds (Tagetes patula), petunias (Petunia hybrida) or varieties of miniature bulbs. Add trailing plants, such as lobelia (Lobelia erinus) or sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima). Compact plants, such as pansies (Viola wittrockiana) or impatiens (Impatiens wallerana), are also appropriate in a French window box. Most of these flowers come in a variety of colour choices to accent your home and landscape. You can use your French window box for planting herbs, keeping them convenient to your kitchen. Choose miniature or dwarf varieties since you have limited space in the planter. Add edible flowers, such as nasturtiums (Tropaeolum minor), violas (Viola odorata) and pansies to provide colour.


Unless you are simply placing pots of flowers in your window box, you need to fill the liner with potting soil. Plant taller plants in the back of the planter. Set trailing plants to the front and sides so that they can cascade over the planter. Fill in spaces with plants that are more compact and low-growing. Plants should be spaced about 5 inches apart in a zigzag pattern for a more interesting presentation. If your planter is under a wide eave or overhang where it will not benefit from rainfall, be sure that you can easily reach it for watering. Trim and deadhead your flowers, as needed, to keep your window box looking its best.

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About the Author

Michele Norfleet is a freelance writer who writes on travel, home and garden and education topics. She has coauthored a handbook for teachers on school-wide discipline and has contributed tips for special-needs students in the basal curriculum for RCL Benziger. Norfleet holds a master's degree from Southern Illinois University and has experience as a special-needs teacher and speech pathologist.