Claudia “Lady Bird” Johnson once said, “where flowers bloom, so does hope.” Perhaps that is why so many of us smile brighter in the spring: we are hopeful for new beginnings. Certainly, the month of May is synonymous with sweet smells of jasmine, nascent flowers, and idyllic weather. Window boxes are free from their winter foliage and eager to display an assortment of colorful flora.

In tropical environments such as South Florida and southern coastal regions such as Charleston, gardeners must consider the morning and afternoon shade, use heat resistant foliage and flowers, and ensure adequate irrigation to keep flower boxes vibrant throughout the summer season. Kelli Shaw, of Kelli Shaw Designs, graciously gives some helpful advice to create an impactful window box. Shaw, who began her career with Hyams Garden Center, specializes in plant design, floral arranging, and weddings. With more than 20 years in the industry, she is an expert horticulturist who is passionate about plant design and creations.

When is the best time to plant window boxes?

Historically, we tell clients October and May are great guidelines for planting containers seasonally, but with climate change and extreme temperatures, we often find it necessary to refresh planters in September for the fall and sometimes as early as February for the spring. Mother Nature truly has thrown us some curveballs with the weather the past few years: snowing for five days and sweltering heat for weeks. These extreme conditions stresses and shortens the life of the plant.

 Downtown Charleston is chock full of spectacular window boxes. How do you create a window box worthy enough for a downtown display?

Certainly, downtown Charleston has plenty of planters and window boxes from which to draw inspiration. I especially love how each window box is unique and often characterizes the business itself. Several of my window box designs, including the one in front of NV Realty Group’s window on Broad Street, contain three main elements: thrillers, spillers and fillers. Typically, I look for a dynamic focal point and build layers of plants to highlight that focal point. Before you plant the box, always remember to water each plant in its original pot to ensure proper hydration. If you plant dry root balls, water is likely to run around the dry root ball as opposed to saturating it. This is where I use my fine arts degree! Creativity and artistic liberty cultivate a beautiful masterpiece.

Specifically, what types of plants do you plant in summer versus winter?

In the summer, I recommend embracing colored foliage as well as hardy flowers such as pentas, coleus, caladiums, scaevola, potato vine, sunpatiens, hibiscus, dragon wing begonias, vinca, and portulaca. Be sure to water well in the morning to give plants strength to survive the heat of the day. If you come home after work and find a plant struggling from the heat, be sure to water immediately. However, as a rule of green thumb, water in the morning so plants don’t go to bed with wet leaves. Regularly having wet leaves on your plants as the sun goes down can invite disease.

For winter window boxes, I like to add small shrubs and evergreens with the small flowers in order to add depth, texture, and fullness to the containers. Winter flowers are small and sometimes take longer to fill in, so the use of evergreens gives an immediate visual boost. Greens such as lemon lime cypress, ferns, liriope, and winter grasses pair well with pansies, cyclamen, snapdragons, petunias, alyssum, nemesia, cabbages, and kales. In the winter, you should fertilize biweekly because the slow release does not break down in the cold, and these flowers are heavy feeders. Be mindful of long periods of cold, dark rainy days. This also stresses the flowers, breeds fungus, and invites bugs. If you have irrigation, turn it off when those days occur. During this season, it is also a good idea to deadhead the small flowers to encourage new growth.

If novice gardeners need to call an expert, what types of services do you offer?

I offer services such as container gardening, flower arrangements, special events, maintenance, courtyards and weddings. Since starting my own business in 2003, I have never advertised my business. Simply all word of mouth, and I love that. It means that if you found me, you likely saw my work and really wanted my services! I have an amazing loyal client base that truly supports my love for creative, artful designs out of live plants.

To see Shaw’s work firsthand, take a stroll down historic Broad Street. The window box in front of NV Realty Group showcases her artistic abilities. For information regarding prices and residential home services, contact Shaw directly at

All Images From Kelli Shaw Designs

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