As I sit here writing there are small snowflakes coming down outside my window. It is only early April and I am already daydreaming about long summer days. Setting up the patio for summer entertaining is still weeks away but I am getting a jumpstart on indoor gardening that can transition to the patio once the warm weather arrives.
We recently asked our friend and style maven [with a green thumb], Anne Livingston, to show us how she creates her beautiful and unusual succulent and cacti arrangements. I spent an afternoon with Anne and learned a few of her tips for creating and caring for low water plants. They are easy to make and much more interesting than picking up a potted plant at the nursery. Follow her quick and easy steps below to create your own!
ABOVE: TRIPOD PLANTER [ACQUIRED AT A BEAD SHOP THAT WAS CLOSING ] WITH NEWLY REFRESHED SUCCULENTS AND OBJECTS. AFTER A SUMMER ON OUR SOUTHERN FACING DECK. "I SLIDE THIS TRIPOD PLANTER INTO OUR DINING ROOM WHERE IT ASSUMES A SCULPTURAL ROLE".
ANNE'S 7 STEPS TO CREATE BEAUTIFUL MINI-GARDENS FOR BOTH INDOORS AND OUT
1. Find Your Vessels for Planting:
Visit junk stores, antique stores and garage sales for unique finds. Don't settle for what you can find at the local gardening store. Think clear glass or old containers that can be repurposed. What objects would you enjoy seeing on your table or on your patio? Often it is the unexpected container that enhances the arrangement. Also consider bowls or dishes that are interesting and fit your mood or style: modern, natural, traditional, vintage and don't be afraid to mix it up a little.
ABOVE: A VARIETY OF SUPPLIES AND VESSELS COLLECTED FOR PLANTING
2. Objects for Your Mini-Garden:
Look for interesting—not overpowering objects that will enhance the planting. Allow yourself to experiment with some fun and unexpected objects:
• pebbles and rocks [ I've even used sand found at the pet store]
• cast sand or small concrete objects [look at places like TJ Max, World Market, Pier 1 ]
• aquarium objects from the pet supply store
• beach glass
3. Plant Selection:
Once you have your vessels for planting you will want to choose your plants. Most gardening stores have a good selection of succulents and cacti this time of year. You really cannot go wrong but below are a few key things to keep in mind when shopping for your plants:
• Color: combine colors like silver-blues, blue-greens, reds, bright greens
• Texture: spikes, fuzzy, smooth, nubby, the more textural variety the better
• Form: short leaves, round or flat leaves, small or broad pods, cascading tendrils, and upright growers
• Height: some succulents are low growers and can be placed in the front while the taller, more upright growers should be positioned near the back of the pot to create height and layering.
• Remember that a variety of forms, textures, color and height will add interest
ABOVE PHOTOS: CACTI AND SUCCULENTS IN A VARIETY OF TEXTURES, COLOR AND SIZES
4. Potting Soil:
Ask your local gardening store to point you to the best soil for succulents and cacti. These plants like to have well drained soil and they do not do well in standing water.
If you have a deep vessel for planting you can build it up with stones then add planting soil. Once you have the plants arranged the way you like them you can easily drop them into the dirt as they do not have deep roots. Once all roots are covered with soil you can add a top layer of white sand or pebbles to complete the look.
Good news—these plants do not like a lot of water. Drop ice cubes where you can on the soil to water every week or two. This is much more efficient and keeps the plants from getting over watered. Keep in mind that succulents and cacti have different watering requirements. Read the sun and water requirements for each and you may want to plant the succulents in a separate container than the cacti to help manage both better. Overwatering, resulting in root rot, is the most common mistake with succulents and cacti, and using a vessel without drainage is more likely to have that result. Sometimes if I'm modifying a vessel not intended for this use, I will drill holes at the bottom to ensure drainage. The other "Cheat " with succulents is that they will actually tell you if they are getting under-watered by becoming dimpled. Depending on the variety, their leaves act as cisterns—If they're thirsty. Suffice it to say less water is best versus overwatering.
7. Sun, Sun and More Sun!
It goes without saying that succulents and cacti need lots of sunlight and indirect sun is fine. Bear in mind, my dining room with a 20 foot awning outside is ANYTHING but direct, yet does the job for 6 to 8 months of the year when temps are too cold outside.
The main thing I want you to remember is to have fun with this project and let it be an extension of your taste and sense of humor. They also make really great gifts.