A Sunny Window Sill

DSC_8638I was shocked to see that a post I wrote just about this time last year featured the same dirty snow and cold temperatures we are having right now.  It’s easy to forget that as a winter month, March can be only slightly more moderate than February.  As a spring month, it is stingy with both the sun and moderating temperatures.  March can go either way, and neither way is particularly wonderful. This year, I still have my nose pressed to the glass, looking from the inside out.  It was 12 degrees this morning, and barely better by 3pm. But we have had more sun the past few weeks than all of January and February.  We have a little warm and sunny weather streaming through the windows.


Our helleborus festivalis held over the past 3 days drew lots of gardeners looking for some sign of spring.  Many commented that the greenhouse smelled like life.  My observation?  I could hear gardeners exhaling their dry winter air.  The shop smelled fresh.  Sun was streaming in every window.  Lot’s of hellebores went home to good gardening families.

DSC_8669I have never been a fan of plants in the house.  In my opinion, plants belong outside. Whether in the ground or in pots, plants need fresh air, the sun and rain from the sky.  A plant stuck indoors is a plant longing for another time and situation.  But this very cold and still snowy late March is a situation few plants could endure outdoors.  Indoors, they make the lack of a garden for me to tend a little easier to endure.  Handling garden plants indoors is different than handling tropical plants indoors.

DSC_8646My house is hot, dry, and dark, by plant standards. The heated house air has just about no humidity.  The light inside my house largely is courtesy of the miracle of electricity.  That light is miraculous for people, but not so swell for plants.  I might be able to get some tropical plants with a very low light requirement to live. But tropical plants don’t so much interest me.  I am ready to garden. Can garden plants live indoors long enough for me to take them, and me, outside? I do have some sunny window sills. Given my need for some signs of green life, there are plants that will oblige.

DSC_8655I would not say that any plant loves to be grown indoors.  I would say that a fair number plants tolerate life indoors.  Some low light tropical plants have the ability to adapt to interior conditions for years.  The successful culture of tropical plants indoors is not my expertise.  My interest in plants inside the house is confined to living through the madness I call March.  Some garden plants will tolerate a short stint inside on a sunny window sill, providing certain cultural conditions are met.  Spring flowering bulbs, once their requirement for cold has been met, will send forth leaves and bloom stalks in a low light too warm interior environment.  Don’t expect them to love the house for long.  Luckily, lots of nurseries carry pots of forced bulbs.  Buy lots, and stock your sunny window sills.  Restock when you need to.


Lemon cypress is not hardy in our zone.  Hardiness zones refer to the hardiness of the roots of a plant-not the tops.  Lemon cypress can actually tolerate a good bit of cold.  Should you see a lemon cypress now that you have a mind to grow on this summer, chances are you can bring it along on that sunny window sill until the night temperatures are warm enough to move it outdoors.

DSC_8643Helleborus orientalis, and its hybrids, are incredibly cold tolerant.  They stir in late March.  They send up flowering stalks in April.  They are glorious in bloom, in late April.  In May, and in to June, the green tepels still look great.  Can you hold them indoors until the ground is ready to be worked?  Sure.  Give them the sunniest window sill you have.  Enjoy those gorgeous flowers.  Go easy on the water. Garden plants do not transpire or grow so much indoors.  If they are not growing so much, they don’t need so much water. Though they appreciate some sun, they would not appreciate the cooking heat from a radiator or heat duct.

DSC_8653I have kept ivy topiaries in the house over the winter plenty of times.  I err on the side of dry.  I give them the best sun I have.  A sunny window sill indoors is but a small shadow of a sunny place outdoors.  For plants lacking sun, dial back the water.  Plants in full sun outdoors transpire a lot, and need a regular drink.

DSC_8658Myrtus communis is an evergreen shrub in zone 8.  They like full sun, but will tolerate some shade.  What they will not tolerate is getting too dry.  As they are willing to be trained and pruned into topiary forms, they are a popular garden plant for indoors for the winter season.  Garden plants that are being grown indoors are not so much growing on.  They are holding on until they can get back outdoors.  This makes growing myrtle topiaries indoors dicey.  They need just enough water, not too little and not too much.  They are much easier to kill than grow.  As for the table in the above picture, do not try this at home!  Myrtle topiaries may look great on your dining room table or mantle, but they cannot be grown in the dark.

DSC_8665Myrtles grown indoors are great on an interior table for a party, or a weekend, but any longer that this in the dark will bring trouble.  Plants need light to survive.  Some gardeners buy myrtle topiaries in pairs.  One sits on the kitchen counter while the other has a sunny cooler sill.  Once every 3 or 4 days, the plants switch positions.  Forced spring flowering bulbs are much easier to keep indoors than a myrtle topiary.  Once they start to grow, they are programmed to bloom.  They will do their destiny unless impossibly challenged.

DSC_8667English daisies are available now.  Their small scale makes them a great choice for the average shallow window sill.


The idea is just to have a small sign of the garden inside the glass.  Long enough for the season to turn.

DSC_8679My office has very deep window sills, and faces south.  There is room on them to bring on some rare hellebores that were only available as very small plants.  The windows are very tall, so the space is light.   I have to look in on them over every day, watching the water, and turning the pots so every side gets some of that sun.  What started out being a chore has become a ritual I am enjoying.

DSC_8663They are saying 50 degrees here next week.


  1. A welcome sight indeed. We are just getting our second topiary delivery this week. Gorgeous! And with a similar winter here in Chicago we are all looking for the touch of garden indoors, for now. Great tips too Deborah, thank you again for sharing

  2. Decades ago, working at a nursery, did the cases/cases of forced hyacinths indoors. Still cannot abide their fragrance inside. Not even 1.

    Agree about plants inside.

    If one comes in it’s in a pot and promptly taken back outside after the dinner/luncheon or whatever reason it was brought in. Of course the cats have a lot to do with this choice.

    Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

  3. Gail Morrell says

    I pick up Christmas Rose (Helleborus niger) during the holidays and keep it in the house all winter. Then when it warms in the spring I move it outside to it’s permanent home. Looking forward to 50 degrees!

  4. Cheryl Ellenburg says

    What is the blue flower in the top picture?

    • Deborah Silver says

      Cheryl, they are grape hyacinths.

      • Cheryl Ellenburg says

        Grape Hyacinths don’t grow like that in the south. I have always planted mine outside and they have always been much shorter. Next year I will try keeping inside. I love the look.

        • Deborah Silver says

          Dear Cheryl, grape hyacinths forced indoors have stretched stems, from lack of light. Is is a beautiful look though! Thanks, Deborah

  5. Starr Foster says

    Very helpful and interesting, Deborah. I love the lemon cypress texture and color. I keep moving the hellebores I bought last weekend from the conservatory, which warms up very quickly on sunny days, to the darker, 45-50 degree garage. Watering is a bit of a challenge, because hellebores can rot with soggy feet and it’s hard to tell how wet they are halfway down the pot. Clay pots are easier for me because even inside the house the soil usually dries out quickly.

    From the 10 day forecast I am cautiously optimistic about putting them out in a shady protected spot until I can plant them in the ground. I’m wondering if your hellebores were grown in a cool green house, or outside somewhere south of Michigan.
    Your hellebore festival cheered everyone up, including yourself! Your shop was especially beautiful and what a pleasure to see after this loooooooong winter.

  6. Myrtle topiaries in the house….well, we have become mini experts at this. I love nothing more than our large front stoop covered in myrtle and boxwood topiaries in the summer. But they all come indoors for the winter until — one can only dream — we get our greenhouse solarium kitchen. A season doesn’t pass without losing at least one. I always restock in the spring assuming that we will lose one to heat in the summer and one to dryness in the winter while indoors. I have come to learn that the watering is all about the light. Right now I am starting to water vigorously as the light is really coming on and they are waking up out of their dormancy. In the dead of winter, they go bone dry for a while. The day they are all hauled outside, one of the best days of the year. I took three boxwood pots out of the barn this weekend. That process, a balm like no other.

    • BTW, years ago I managed to kill the favorite Myrtle I ever owned. It also happened to be the first thing I ever purchased at DGW: a dramatic topiary in the shape of an obelisk on a ball. I dream about that topiary. May it RIP.

  7. I bought my first hellebore 2 years ago. Love the evergreen and that the deer haven’t eaten it. Thank you, Deborah, Rob and all for the wonderful hellebore weekend. I bought six–all lovely.

  8. Jody Costello says

    My thoughts exactly on houseplants! It made me laugh when I heard you describe your desperate interior conditions for growing plants. The only plants in my house are those that I loved too much to toss into the compost heap last fall. They’ve been diligent soldiers in my dark, cold house this winter, forcing new foliage (do they pity me for trying so hard?) Looking forward to spring and being able to free my plants from their household imprisonment. Thank you for giving us hope that spring is coming soon.

  9. Susanne G says

    I just LOVE your blog and your shop! I visited last Friday and bought my first ever Hellebores. Read that I should not over water and should place them in a sunny window. So I moved them to sunnier window and my Snow Frills drooped over! Oh, no!! What did I do wrong?

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Susanne, I sent you an email with details-but it sounds to me like your hellebore is dry. Let me know if a watering helps. Best, Deborah

  10. Susanne G says

    Correction… it was Spring Promise that drooped.

  11. Well you are all not alone! I live in Massachusetts, and the ground has been so frozen here that not even skunk cabbages have emerged – even though there are some swampy patches of open water. Frogs and salamanders are still completely hidden. Usually March is a time of frog choruses and rejuvenation. Animals are hungry – voles even ate some of my frozen iris rhizomes – which are poisonous! But the clear night skies have ben excellent for viewing beautiful Orion, Gemini, and brilliant Jupiter overhead! Cheers!

  12. I don’t think people realize the many different types of indoor plants that are available. Have plants in a variety of colors can really change the mood and feel of a room.

  13. Tom Baldinette says

    Deborah. Once again, lovely work! And I have to mention, I keep “running into you” in waiting room lobbies. Today, it was in a doctor’s office while flipping though the March issue of Better Homes and Gardens, with a fine example of your potting prowess. Nice to see you getting more of the recognition you deserve.Tom

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