They last when a lot of other things are merely hanging by a thread during brutal summer days and they allow us to appreciate plant life on a smaller scale on our desks at work and in intriguing nooks and crannies. Succulents have even worked their way into fashion, bridal bouquets and boutonnieres.
If you see a crowd of people hunched over large tables at garden centers right now, it might be because there are more distinctive succulents to marvel over than ever.
In addition to their hardiness, they are captivating to collect. But the big lure these days is where they can be grown. Succulents increasingly are being planted in some wildly imaginative containers.
“I think people are drawn to the interesting geometric shapes and textures of succulents, so I try to highlight their uniqueness accordingly in equally interesting containers. They just draw you in for an intimate inspection and admiration of their unusual qualities and quirks — always a talking piece whether it’s just a single specimen or a lavish arrangement on display, someone will have questions,” says Deryk Poynor, owner of The Greenhouse 817 in Fort Worth.
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Poynor takes organic materials and sows in a beautiful assortment of succulents, creating a real work of art for customers. Her pieces made of wood, rock and stone are stunning filled vessels, and the arrangements will not be tossed out in a week as their petals wilt. They keep growing and going forward.
Some of the succulents she arranges are on wearable jewelry. Yes, you can wear them! Her cuffs allow a lone rosette to be cradled in moss. It sort of grounds one’s look with an accessory that is organic and alive. It’s also quite a conversation piece.
The sky is the limit for places to plant succulents. Just keep in mind that even succulents need to be in a container that drains water, whether it's a vintage cupcake pan or a piece of enamelware from yesteryear.
One way to allow for drainage is to create a simple liner (or double liner system) within your container. For my old, green wooden tool caddy, I didn’t want the bottom to rot out from watering, so I headed to the dollar store and bought plastic bins just big enough to fit inside it. I planted the succulents in regular clay pots as I’d normally do, with the proper soil and rocks. I set the clay pots inside the plastic bin (which will catch excess water), and then I placed it inside the caddy. The caddy stays dry and the plant can be watered without worry of root rot.
Sometimes you can just mist succulents with a small spray bottle to water them, but it's still best to have a liner in place.
Hide all areas that you don’t want to see with moss of various colors and types. It’s a great way to fill gaps in your design, but it also softens the look of the whole arrangement.
There are many fun ways to display succulents.
Old drawers, dough bowls, small vases that are sitting on a shelf collecting dust or Depression-era glass pieces like milk glass serving dishes can be pretty with the contrast of greenery inside.
With summer approaching, try filling collected seashells with a few small succulents to use as party favors on the dinner tablescape. They also make great wedding favors. You can make the favors yourself or you can buy them online in large quantities ready to use.
Old boots, baby shoes or ice and roller skates that have sentimental value can be fun to fill. It sounds nuts, but it can be a really ornamental arrangement that means something to you or your friends and family. (See the accompanying video to see how we turned a 1970s pair of tennis shoe roller skates into an intriguing arrangement.)
Lunchboxes, watering cans, bird cages and flour sifters can be filled with these ornamental, hardy plant gems.
Case in point: My brother’s G.I. Joe 1970s military jeep for his action figure’s wild adventures (nearing half a century in age now) is the perfect ride for a table centerpiece at a cocktail party, weekend barbecue or Father’s Day get-together. The attached artillery trailer is perfect to stuff full of succulents for an evening of laughs and memories.
Although G.I. Joe would most certainly scoff about his jeep getting loaded down with this plant project, his rig would otherwise continue to gather dust on a shelf in the garage without this unique assignment.
Think about using your old toys, like a pickup truck, a wooden boat or even a small, open-to-one-side dollhouse. If you protect the interior with plastic containers or foil, you can borrow them for a few nights to use them as planters. The memories these items bring back will keep the conversation going at any summer party or dinner.
Taking center stage
Collecting succulents can be an adventure. For some people, though, it’s all about the plants, not the container. There is much to be learned from them, as growing succulents in their passion.
Bill Utley, president of the Fort Worth Cactus and Succulent Society, has been making his own pots for about 12 years. He keeps the designs very simple. It's all about the plant.
“Most of the pots are wheel thrown but a few are hand built, “Utley says.
“If you attend a plant show that is put on by a cactus and succulent society you will, most probably, not see arrangements of plants. Sometimes there is a category for dish gardens but that is unusual,” he says. “We are more focused on individual plants, a particular plant genus, or plant family. We primarily want to produce mature specimen plants that are well grown and healthy.”
Although those who know how easy it is to grow and nurture succulents would shudder at the thought of fake ones, there are situations where the latter be useful. Whether it's an educational craft project for young children or a fun activity at an assisted living center, the fake variety can be a good way to teach design principles. Artificial succulents are helpful in party and wedding decoration settings, too, where there is no room for error and stress-inducing timelines exist. Some large craft stores also sell fake dirt by the bag.
Types of succulents
Living succulents come in so many forms that it's fun to search for and collect what you don’t have. When grouping them for a container, look for varying colors, textures, shapes and heights. Having some contrast in your plants can really pack a punch. Lighter, whiter varieties are becoming popular because they contrast beautifully with the traditional green hues.
Super-hardy Sempervivums can add a lot of texture and color to your arrangement, as can Jovibarba heuffelii with its green leaves and purple shading.
There are certain plants for terrariums and some tiny succulents for miniature gardens or settings. Some toy train collectors plant miniature succulents around their hobby train tracks for the perfect scaled greenery.
Echeveria (Mexican Hens & Chicks) is a popular genus in the stonecrop family called Crassulaceae. Named after a Mexican botanical artist named Atanasio Echeverría y Godoy, they are native to Central America, Mexico and South America. People love the rosette style and range of colors.
Coming from a wide spectrum of hues, the vibrant red Echeveria agavoides, aka ‘Romeo Rubin,' commands attention, while lighter shades like Echeveria Lola provide a lovely contrast to the melody of green, pink, purple and red hues you may already have.
If local nurseries and garden centers don't have specific plants you want, search online for companies that offer more variety. Some companies have a large assortment of plants and cuttings to try. This can give you an instant succulent garden.
Simply Succulents, an online company, offers lots of plant options but also kits. It has a baby turtle form that you can plant succulents on. The turtle comes to life with the colors that you select to grow on its mossy shell. They also have mushroom, wreath and terrarium kits.
With these horticultural delights, think big, think nostalgic and go bold and inventive when it comes to planting your succulents.
Gaurdado Garden Center
3228 Alta Mere Drive, Fort Worth
2651 S. Hulen St., Fort Worth
1424 N. Center St., Arlington
Find other Arlington and Mansfield locations at www.calloways.com
The Greenhouse 817
411 S. Main St., Fort Worth
Offers floral design and ready-made succulent arrangements.
The Home Depot, Lowe's and Ace Hardware: check websites for locations.
Fort Worth Botanic Garden Cactus Garden:www.fwbg.org/cactus-garden
Fort Worth Cactus and Succulent Society: fwcss.org; www.facebook.com/fortworthcactus
Simply Succulents: simplysucculents.com
Fort Worth Cactus and Succulent Society’s list of places to find unique succulents:
The Succulent Source (bridal bouquets, crowns, boutonnieres and more): thesucculentsource.com