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The History of Window Box Planters

By Maureen Katemopoulos ; Updated September 21, 2017
Window boxes originated in ancient Rome.
window box image by Samuel Birkan from Fotolia.com

Window boxes have an ancient history in Europe. Over the centuries, they took on various forms in Italy, England, France, Ireland, Germany and Holland before traveling to America with early settlers. The wire hay baskets of English cottage gardens, the wrought iron window boxes of France and the colonial window boxes of the United States are some styles that still exist.

Roman Origin

The earliest terra cotta window boxes date back to Roman times, according to Blooming Baskets Ireland. In the first century B.C., it was the practice for Roman households to cultivate cottage gardens for their food, medicine and religious uses. Over time, window box plants and flowers became more decorative and less functional. Roses led the way as the favorite decorative flower, followed by lilies, violets and pansies.

Higher and Higher

The potential of window boxes fired the imagination of affluent Romans. They took the terra cotta window box concept to a different level, literally. They created balcony and rooftop gardens, which they filled with elaborate arrangements of flowers, vines, small trees and even fish ponds. In Italy, the window box remains a very popular and attractive feature, especially on balconies.

Early 20th Century View

The April 4, 1908, edition of New Zealand’s “The Star” newspaper carried an article--Window and Verandah Gardening--which showcases an early 20th century view of window boxes. The article explains how to make window boxes from any wood and either paint or cover them with virgin cork. It recommends making troughs from tin or galvanized iron, with drainage holes pierced through, to fit the window boxes. It also lists nasturtiums, pansies, geraniums and other suitable flowers for window boxes, as well as sweet-smelling basil and lemon thyme.

Creative Designs

Window box themes remain a favored design element in homes and commercial buildings. Flowers cascade over the balconies of the elegantly renovated Bienville House Hotel in New Orleans’ French Quarter. About 200 years ago, an old grain house stood where the boutique hotel stands today, near the Mississippi River. Window boxes and planters are central to the inner courtyard, with its rare Antoine Durenne \casting of the figure of Pan perched on a conch shell. Custom-made French cast iron window boxes contain tall bamboo stalks and Chinese jasmine vines. A large brick planter accommodates evergreen wisteria, clematis, cape honeysuckle and a Louisiana sweet orange citrus tree.

Self-Watering Window Boxes

Modern innovations include water reservoirs designed to transform PVC window boxes into self-watering units. Place a water reservoir into the base of the window box and cover it with soil. The reservoir water travels through wicks, replenishing the water in the soil as necessary.


About the Author


Based in Northern California, Maureen Katemopoulos has been a freelance writer for more than 25 years. Her articles on travel, the arts, cuisine and history have appeared in publications such as "Stanislaus Magazine," "Orientations," "The Asia Magazine" and "The Peninsula Group Magazine." She holds a Baccalaureate degree in journalism from Stanford University.