Un-Flower Pots: Designing & Caring for Spectacular Succulent Container Gardens

May 9th, 2011 § 12 comments § permalink

Beautiful Container Gardens are all about Color, Form and Texture. Great Designers Work with both Contrasts and Harmonies to Create Stunning Results. Hanging basket available at Walker Farm.

Saturday morning I spent the better part of an hour and a half listening to enthusiastic oohs and ahhs at Walker Farm’s Succulent Container Gardening & Hanging Basket Design seminar. I had so much fun watching Karen Manix demonstrate how to create a container garden of succulents and listening to Daisy Unsicker talk about how to care for these gorgeous plants, that I just had to share a bit of my experience with all of you here today…

Pretty, dark-violet hued Aeonium arboreum and orange-tipped, chartreuse leaved Sedum nussbaumerianum (opposites in the spectrum of colors) make a stunning color combination

Last week I mentioned how much I’ve come to love succulent container gardening. My new-found obsession started innocently enough a few years ago, while expanding my indoor gardening pursuits during the cold winter months. Because I am so busy with gardening during the growing season, I’ve traditionally kept houseplants to a minimum; with only windowsill herbs, and a few tough ferns to satisfy my horticultural-urges from December through March. Then, after creating a Secret Garden Room, and experiencing much joy and success with my expanded indoor garden pursuits —and a passion for epiphytes and terrariums— I began to develop an interest in succulents…

Click on the photo above to read a previous post on indoor gardening with succulents

I’ve been teaching myself about cold-climate container gardening with succulents as I go along. And much to my delight, this expanding indoor-outdoor collection of tropic, sub-tropic and desert region plants has thrived and grown, thanks to a lot of research and a little help from my friends. I’ve discovered that succulents are remarkably easy, undemanding plants to grow —even for cold-climate gardeners— both indoors and out. But like all living things, succulents and cacti do have specific requirements and preferences all their own. Getting the container, potting mix and combinations right are the first step toward success with succulents. By learning about each plant, and continuing to provide these beauties with what they need —and never more— a gardener can achieve long term success and satisfaction from their investment.

And here are two of the plants pictured from the previous photo, now transferred to a larger pot which I’ve moved outdoors

Lucky gardeners in attendance at Walker Farm’s free seminar last Saturday got a real head-start on the subject by learning how to care for succulent containers from real pros! I’ve mentioned before that local Walker Farm is a world-class horticultural destination for rare plant connoisseurs throughout New England, New York and even further afield. Beyond the fact that their plants are unusual, healthy and beautiful, we hortimaniacs love Walker Farm because their staff is incredibly friendly, unpretentious and truly knowledgable about what they sell. The owners and staff at Walker Farm have a real passion and enthusiasm for what they do and generously share their experience without a trace of the dread ‘high brow’ attitude that so often tuns new gardeners away from horticulture. The excitement and creativity at Walker Farm is downright contagious, and it’s one of the many reasons why their loyal fans keep coming back for more.

Karen Manix began the talk by covering the basic principles of container garden design, with succulents in mind. Quickly covering the five most important aspects of composition —scale and proportion (finding correct sizes and structure for the container), balance (creating a sense of unity and point of view), contrast (using different colors, textures and forms to create interest), rhythm and flow (repeating color, form and texture plays) and fullness (giving a sense of lushness to satisfy the senses)— Karen immediately jumped into a wonderful demonstration from a dynamic display of containers and plants…

Karen Manix, owner of Walker Farm, demonstrates the basics of container garden design, using a variety of succulents in different sizes, shapes, textures and colors. Isn’t that clam-shell container gorgeous? Perfect for topping an outdoor living room table…

Succulent Container Design in Action. Isn’t this a beautiful pot?

While filling a gorgeous, clam-shell inspired planter with growing medium, Karen discussed the importance of proper planting mix for succulents. Because these fleshy, shallow-rooted plants need to dry out between waterings, it’s important to choose a light-weight, fast-draining container medium; such as cactus mix or a home-made equivalent. Regular potting soil is too dense and holds too much moisture to keep succulents and cacti happy. As a general rule, planting medium for succulents must contain 1/3 to 1/2 pumice or coarse sand —such as builders sand or poultry grit— for proper drainage. Some succulents prefer slightly more porous planting medium than others. Always read up on the plants you are growing and know their soil preferences prior to placing them in pots. Before you begin designing your succulent container, Karen recommends filling the pot 3/4 full of growing medium, and adding a small amount of time-release fertilizer (which you can mail order or pick up at most garden centers).

Just a few of the beautifully tempting terra cotta pots available at Walker Farm

And speaking of pots, getting settled in the right home, with a location you love,  is just as important for your plants as it is for you! Although terra cotta is the best choice for succulents and cacti, due to its porous nature, it’s equally important to choose a pot that suits your plant’s style, and satisfies your eye. Try playing the colors and textures of your chosen pot against the colors and textures of foliage, as well as your overall design and composition. Check to be sure that your chosen pot has a good drainage hole (although pots without holes can be modified with a base of pumice, but this is more advanced). Karen mentioned covering the drainage hole in pots with screening, rocks or broken pottery. Although this isn’t always necessary to prevent soil-loss, it can definitely come in handy when you are moving pots in and out of your home, or when you are dealing with large sized drainage holes.

This spiky, ice-blue Senecio serpens would be nice in combination with a terra cotta pot or another plant with peachy toned foliage or flowers. Red-orange and green-blue are opposite on the color wheel, and they make beautiful music together…

Once you have your container and growing medium ready, feel free to play around with individual plants while they are still in their nursery containers, until you find a combination you like. Perhaps you might combine a dramatic upright specimen with a mound shaped plant and a couple of trailers in colors chosen to contrast with your pot. Like a dusky-purple echeveria? Look for a chartreuse colored species to settle in next to it, and make that violet color sing. New to container design? Don’t be afraid to look at photos for ideas or imitate other gardeners until you get the hang of it. The process should be fun and relaxing. And remember, you can always move the plants around and try again if you aren’t quite happy.

Choose pots to bring out the best in your plants. Walker Farm has incredible selection in their potting shed, but if you live far from here, you can find some real beauties online in Etsy shops; such as those made by Vermont artist Virginia Wyoming (click here to visit her lovely shop). And there are plenty of gorgeous containers melting my heart at Terrain as well.

Satisfied with your arrangement? Karen advised us to tuck in all the plants; gently adding potting mix to fill in gaps, and bring soil level approximately 1″ below the container rim. Top dress the container with a decorative mulch to help keep soil stable during watering and conserve moisture. Some designers like to use glass pebbles or marbles, others prefer to use colored gravel or natural stone. Whatever you choose, when you are finished, brush growing medium away from leaves and gently water, rinsing dust and soil from the foliage as you go.

At this point in the seminar, focus shifted to long-term care of succulent containers. Both Karen and Daisy (pictured below) emphasized that over and under watering —particularly in tandem— are a recipe for plant woes. Keeping soil moist —but no wetter than a wrung-out sponge— and allowing the planting medium to dry out a bit between waterings is key to success. Keep in mind that these conditions mimic the natural environment of these semi-tropical and desert region plants. The foliage of plants like succulents and cacti has evolved to hold moisture, in much the same way as a camel stores its water in humps to provide hydration between stops at the oasis!

Daisy, head propagator at Walker Farm, discusses the maintenance and care of succulents and container gardens…

Daisy covered all of the keys to success with container garden maintenance. In addition to balanced watering and regular fertilizing —probably the two most important chores in gardening— one of the major points Daisy covered in her thorough over-view was container size as relative to plant size. It’s always important to educate yourself about the plants you are working with. How big is that cute little button going to get in a year? How long will that enchanting vine trail… Will it visit you in your bed at night? With scissors in hand and orders to clip away at plants for fullness and to promote flowering, Daisy declared: “You control your plant, your plant doesn’t control you”. Now there’s some advice worth taking! Potted plants looking scraggly or leggy? Then it’s time for a haircut. Prune and pinch plants frequently, she advised, to keep them looking great and in proportion with the container. There’s no reason to struggle with an unmanageable plant.

Keep hanging plants attractive and manageable with regular pruning. Manage growth in confined containers, such as wreaths or baskets, by limiting fertilizer.

Of course, Daisy emphasized the importance of knowing both yourself, your location, and the plants you choose. Are you away from home a great deal? Lower maintenance, drought-tolerant succulent species are the best choice for your containers! Sunny spot with six or more hours of direct sunlight? Choose plants that can tolerate such hot, dry conditions. Cacti and many succulents from the American desert regions are a good choice for full sun. Partially sunny location? Most container plants thrive in this situation; including many succulents from the tropics and subtropics. Shade? The vast majority of succulents do not like full shade, and with a few exceptions —such as sansevierias— plants other than succulents will be a better choice for containers in shady situations.

Aphids are sometimes a problem for succulents, particularly when they are brought inside to overwinter. A lack of natural predators allows outside pests to grow un-checked when carried indoors. Here, they cluster and feed on a Kalanchoe in my studio. Click on photo for details on how to deal with succulent garden pests….

Pests aren’t usually a big problem for succulent container plants outdoors, but aphids, scale and mealy bugs can occasionally trouble some plants; particularly during and just after over wintering. Daisy, Karen and I all strongly advise using organic methods to deal with pest problems, and always try the least aggressive method first. During summer, try removing aphids by spraying plants with a strong blast of water from a hose. Often this will knock back pests long enough for natural predators —like ladybug larvae— to take on the battle. For particularly troublesome container pests —like mealy bugs or spider mites— or serious infestations, try insecticidal soap with neem oil or hot pepper in the mix. See my previous post (click here) for more ideas.

The Jewel Box Garden – Thomas Hobbs

Looking for more design ideas and care tips for succulent containers? We’re all big fans of Thomas Hobbs’ gorgeous books. I especially love his colorful Jewel Box Garden (pictured above). And of course, as I recently mentioned, Debra Lee Baldwin’s Succulent Container Gardens is a wonderful resource for the creative container gardener. Walker Farm’s seminars and the regular support of their friendly staff are a great resource for local gardeners here in southern Vermont. I’ll be reporting more from their wonderful gardening seminars in the coming weeks. And if you live in the area, I encourage you to take advantage of these fun and free events for gardeners of all ages and stages…

Succulent Container Gardens – Debra Lee Baldwin

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Gardening Seminars at Walker Farm are Free and Open to the Public. The Gardener’s Eden received no compensation, of any kind, for editorial mention of businesses or products in this post.

Article and all photographs are copyright Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden, all rights reserved. All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used, reproduced or reposted elsewhere without written consent.

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Dusting Off, Cleaning Out, Taking Stock & Getting Ready for Gardening Season… Plus Another Giveaway!

April 18th, 2011 § 33 comments § permalink

The bright gold of Kalanchoe blossfeldiana is a cheerful welcome in a chair beside my front door. I like using natural baskets as decorative covers for inexpensive, recycled plastic flower pots. I do a similar thing with plants placed outside in summer, using everything from wooden crates and baskets to tin cans and flea market finds to add color, texture and interest to plants with less-than-attractive interior containers.

Ah, fog, mist, sunshine and April showers. What a mixed jumble the forecast is this week! My schedule seems to be at the mercy of the elements lately. But, undaunted by the moody weather, I’ve decided to take advantage of the unpredictable situation and use any rainy days or hours this week to sort through and give a spring cleaning to the growing collection of baskets and pots in my Secret Garden Room.

I love accenting my garden with colorful pots and overflowing baskets, but moving containers in and out every season results in a bit of wear and tear. Each year a few woven baskets are retired to the compost pile, and I lose one or two clay pots to a ‘whoopsie’. For the most part, I’ll replace those containers with new ones found at flea markets, tag sales, curb-side freebies and recycling centers. But sometimes a special handmade vessel catches my eye and I will add to my collection of beautiful clay pots, ceramic urns and stoneware containers. Right now I am admiring a few gorgeous pots I spotted at the lovely online garden store, Terrain, and last fall I also spied a bunch of fabulous pieces at Virginia Wyoming’s pottery studio in Westminster, Vermont. There are so many wonderful handmade pots on Etsy and local craft fairs. I like supporting independent artists when I can, and I always encourage others to do so as well…

Sometimes an Empty Vessel is as Lovely as a Container Filled with Plants. Here, a Cracked, Old, Clay Pot Adds Character to a Shady Nook Filled with Perennials (Including Kiregeshoma palmata and Astilbe) in My Garden

I Like to Create New Container Garden Vignettes Every Year. Here in Front of My Painting Studio, a Collection of Pots, Urns and Vessels Brings Color and Life to the Stone Terrace and Tobacco-Stained Barn Siding. All of these pots came from local, Vermont sources like Walker Farm and A Candle in the Night

Here’s Another Empty Vessel in the Walled Garden. I Love Contrasting a Smooth Surfaced Pot with Intricately Textured Foliage. Here, Indian Rhubarb (Darmera peltata) Provides a Lacy Skirt on this Beautiful Piece of Pottery.

Like many gardeners, I’ve recently become enamored with succulent container gardening. And why not? Succulents –and their close relatives, cacti– are so easy to care for. Last year, my studio’s steel balcony was filled with all sorts of dramatic pots (including the one pictured below), crammed with outlandish, colorful beauties and textural curiosities. Like ornamental grasses, succulents make great container plants for hot, dry spaces; think stone terraces, decks and windy balconies. Of course not all succulents are cold-climate hardy, so they must come inside if you live in a wintry region. But some cacti and succulents –including many sedum, sempervivum and others– are quite tough, and can be overwintered outdoors. Most of these fleshy, shallow-rooted plants are easy to propagate, and in cold climates, cuttings can be taken indoors before the frost in autumn and saved for next year’s container display. If you live in New England, I recommend signing up for Walker Farm’s free, succulent container gardening seminar on May 7th (click here for details). Daisy Unsicker, who will be leading the seminar with owner Karen Manix, propagates some incredible succulents at Walker Farm. Daisy creates gorgeous and inspirational succulent containers. Click here —or on the photo below— to see my previous post on “Un-Flower Pots”, for more unconventional, lower-maintenance, container gardening ideas.

A Collection of Plants (including Sempervivum and Haworthia) From Last Year’s Succulent Container Garden – Click Here for Post with More Details, Photos and Plants

A few years back, The Jewel Box Garden, one of my now-favorite container gardening books by Thomas Hobbs (author of the also gorgeous garden book, Shocking Beauty), inspired me to look at unconventional ways to use pots and vessels in my landscape. And more recently, I’ve found some fabulous ideas in Debra Lee Baldwin’s book Succulent Container Gardens from Timber Press. If you’ve been following this blog for awhile, you may remember that I’ve mentioned this title before; both here and over at Barnes & Noble’s now-archived Garden Variety. This is a fabulous book, and a real must-have for any cacti/succulent lover or container gardening enthusiast.

Order Succulent Container Gardens by Debra Lee Baldwin from Amazon.com image courtesy of fabulous publisher, Timber Press

Because I love this book so much, I’ve decided to purchase one to give away as part of this blog’s second anniversary celebration. To enter, simply leave a comment on today’s post, and in your comment, tell me what you like to grow in containers: ornamental plants, vegetables/herbs, or both. Be sure to correctly enter your email address so that I can contact you if you win the giveaway (your email won’t be visible to others, nor will it be shared or sold). Your entry must be received by 11:59 pm Eastern Time, Friday, April 22nd. A winner will be randomly chosen from the entries received in comments, and announced 4/25 here, on this site’s Facebook page, and also on Twitter. Due to shipping restrictions, this giveaway is open to readers in the United States and Canada only.

Good Luck! xo Michaela

The Winner of Debra Lee Miller’s Succulent Container Gardens is Lisa N. Congratulations Lisa!

Thank you to everyone for playing. If you didn’t win, please stay tuned for another chance this month!

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Article and Photographs (with noted exception) ⓒ Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

All photographs, articles and content on this site, (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced or reposted without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

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A Warm Welcome to Spring: Blossoming Beauty at the Smith College Bulb Show…

March 20th, 2011 § 2 comments § permalink

Tulipa ‘Blue Spectacle’

Narcissus, tulips, hyacinth, freesia, iris and clivia; from the brash and bold to the delicate and ethereal, all of spring’s finest ladies were on display this week at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. The Bulb Show at Smith College’s Lyman Conservatory —where thousands of bulbs are carefully arranged and artfully displayed with flowering trees, shrubs and exotic plants— is an annual rite of spring for this gardener. Never one for crowds, I notice that somehow I always convince myself to brave the sea of curious characters, enthusiastic gardeners and focused shutterbugs in order to take in this annual floral exhibit. The Vernal Equinox marks the beginning of spring today —March 20th at 7:21 pm ET (23:21 UT)— and in honor of her arrival, I thought it fitting to share some highlights from The Bulb Show at Smith College. Enjoy… Soon the bulbs will be in full bloom outdoors and I can hardly wait!

Welcome Sweet Springtime. We Greet You with Open Arms and Unfolding Petals!

Delicate Charm: Narcissus ‘Hawera’ (one of my favorite garden bulbs)

Wild Color: Red Hot Tulips and Violet-Colored Anemone

Exotic Beauty: Veltheimia bracteata (South African Forest Lily, Sandui)

A Stunning Combination: Iris ‘Blue Magic’, paired with Tulipa ‘Jackpot’ (must remember to try this one)

Always Elegant: Clivia miniata ‘Grandiflora’

A Rhapsody in Blue: Hyacinth, Muscari, Anemone, Ipheon and Tulipa

Color-Saturated Flamboyance: Tulipa ‘Sensual Touch’ (I love growing the more outrageous tulips, particularly the parrots, for cutting)

Dark Drama: Tulipa ‘Queen of the Night’ (one of my all-time favorites)

Exquisite Edging: Tulipa ‘Lucky Strike’ in a sea of pink, rose and purple

Delicate and Lacy: Tulipa ‘Cool Crystal’ (so girlish)

Thank you to the faculty and staff of Smith College for such a beautiful and inspirational show.

Wishing You All a Very Beautiful Spring!

xo Michaela

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Article and photographs are copyright Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden, all rights reserved. All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used, reproduced or reposted elsewhere without written consent.

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On Magic Wings: A Visit to the Beautiful Butterfly Conservatory & Attracting Butterflies to Your Garden…

March 4th, 2011 § 6 comments § permalink

Postman (Heliconius melpomene) – Native to Central and South America

Spring may be fast approaching, but yesterday’s cold and wintry temperatures left me craving a bit of warmth, moisture and color. I love visiting conservatories at this time of year, and fortunately, I live near several, wonderful gardens-beneath-glass. One of my favorite wintertime ‘vacation’ spots is the nearby Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory & Gardens in Deerfield, Massachusetts. The 8,000 foot greenhouse contains hundreds of blooming, tropical plants, a koi pond, birds, reptiles and of course, beautiful and exotic butterflies from all over the world.

Gardeners often ask me what they can do to attract beneficial insects —especially butterflies— to their gardens. Providing a constant source of nectar from cluster-blooming flowers —particularly Buddleia (butterfly bush), Asclepias (both native and tropical milkweed and butterfly weed), Verbena bonariensis, Monarda (bee balm), Phlox, Heliotrope, Aster, Scabiosa, Daucus carota (Queen Anne’s Lace), Clethra alnifolia (sweet pepperbush), Viburnum, Eupatorium (Joe Pye Weed), Liatris (gayflower) and Sedum (stonecrop)is one of the keys to drawing butterflies into your garden. And although the plants mentioned here are favorites, remember that most flowering plants will attract butterflies. Try to fill your garden with blossoms from spring through fall (when migrating butterflies need to gather strength for their journey south), supplementing flowering perennials and shrubs with free-blooming annuals. And remember, many plants attractive to butterflies are also fantastic sources of food for other pollinators; including bees and hummingbirds. Native plants and grasses supply not only food for local caterpillar and butterfly populations, but also create and provide habitat for butterflies throughout their lifecycle and metamorphosis. Butterflies prefer protected spots —enclosed by nearby fences, shrubs/hedges, trees or other tall plants— where they may light on flowers without being blown away by wind. Creating a still oasis will help you to spot these beautiful creatures on calm-wind days.

Beyond design and planting, there is another critical thing to consider when gardening with butterflies in mind. Most gardeners reading this blog have adopted organic practices, but it’s important to note that even the use of organic pesticides can be harmful to butterflies and other beneficial insects. Butterflies of course begin their lives in tiny, vulnerable egg-clusters. As their life cycle progresses —and they become voracious caterpillars— many butterflies are inadvertently killed when they consume pesticide-laden foliage on host-plants; including leaves treated with organic substances like insecticidal soap and Btk (Bacillus thuringiensis kurstaki). Use organic pesticides sparingly —only when absolutely necessary— and in a targeted manner. To avoid unintentionally killing butterfly caterpillars and other beneficial larvae, become familiar with garden insects, and their various stages of development. Learning about butterflies —and watching their metamorphosis from egg to caterpillar to mature butterfly— is a great activity to share with children. If you live in New England, I highly recommend a visit to Magic Wings Conservatory & Garden at any time of the year.

Cattleheart (Parides iphidamus) – Native to Central and South America

Glasswing (Greta oto) – Native to Central and South America

Yet-to-be Identified.

Female Cairns Birdwing (Ornithoptera priamus) – Native to Asia (see male below)

Zebra Longwing (Heliconius charitonia) – Native to Central and South America

Rice Paper (Idea leuconoe) – Native to Asia

Male Cairns Birdwing (Ornithoptera priamus) – Native to Asia

Owl Butterfly (Caligo eurilochus) – Native to Central and South America

Blue Morpho (Morpho peleides) – Native to Central and South America

All of the butterflies pictured here —from Central/South America and Asia— were taken at Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory. I will be writing more about North American butterflies in spring and summer. My favorite butterflies from my visit to the conservatory were the Glasswing and Blue Morpho, and in my own yard, I am partial to Monarch butterflies. What are your favorites? Do you try to draw butterflies to your garden oasis?

Special Thanks to Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory & Gardens in Deerfield Massachusetts for Information, Resources and a Lovely Afternoon!

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Article and Butterfly/Botanical Photos are ⓒ Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

All photographs, articles and content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent.

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