Along with our love affair with succulent plants, a new handmade trend has appeared.
Many gardeners growing these amazing water-conserving species no longer seem satisfied with ordinary mass-produced pots for their plants.
Observers say it might stem from an appreciation for one-of-a-kind creations or be an offshoot of shows where plantophiles display their specimens in competitions. Either way, gatherings of the succulent-minded appear to be the genesis of a new art form emerging onto the national scene.
Succulent shows are all about staging. This considers the size and quality of a plant as it sits in just the right pot, often accented with a matching stone or piece of driftwood.
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Staging doesn’t limit style but opens the door to create unique compositions. Naturally you don’t want your super-fine specimen plant sitting in a pot just like that of another competitor. That’s like wearing a designer frock and discovering someone else at the party is wearing the very same thing.
Enter the demand for one-of-a-kind pots, which has stimulated a revolution among art potters in the West. Each artist creates a container designed specifically for succulent plants. These can be pricy, but there’s a chance of a payoff if the pot earns the coveted blue ribbon or a shot in Architectural Digest.
Potters seeking to meet the needs of succulent-plant lovers are often inspired by the Japanese technique called wabi-sabi, which celebrates the imperfection of nature through art.
This wonky, off-kilter look is the antithesis of perfectly manufactured, mass-produced ceramics. The colors are earthy and rarely feature glossy finishes — seemingly to avoid overwhelming the presence of the plant.
There’s a goal of creating a plant and pot combination that is eye-catching sans blooms, and some of the best are studies in textures inspired by stone, plants, landscapes and even man-made materials. The right texture in combination with the smooth surface of an aloe becomes a dramatic expression of contrast.
Shapes almost always feature a wide mouth relative to limited depth in order to maximize the amount of soil surface area visible. This is vital to succulents that tend to “pup” or offset identical clones around the base of the mother plant. It also helps to repot plants when they exceed the size of the container.
Best of all, a wide mouth ensures space on top to use sizable stones to ground the plant and gravel to top-dress the surface.
Succulents must have a very well drained root zone, so it’s the drain holes of a succulent pot that make it different from all the other planters. Instead of one small hole in the bottom, there may be two more. For living stones, which are particularly sensitive to residual moisture, many drain holes are required.
Potters indulging in this new artistic expression claim it is a Western version of bonsai, using a much wider range of plants. Due to the low moisture requirement of succulents, they are rarely watered, thus making a great office accent or a bold living display in an otherwise bland interior setting.
With succulent plants commonly sold by nurseries and other retailers, anyone can jump on the bandwagon. The only question? What to buy first, the plant or the pot?