Gardening can be hard work, and there’s no shame in taking a break now and then. Besides, why pour plenty of time and love into your garden if you aren’t spending time in it, whether reading, visiting with friends and family or simply enjoying the view.
Yesterday, I visited some gorgeous private gardens in the Atlanta area where the owners get it; I kept spotting cozy and elegant sitting areas. We’re adding a few spots with chairs and benches around our property, so maybe I was more alert to these features of the gardens I toured. Or maybe the areas for relaxation were just too good to pass up.
And although Atlanta’s landscape differs markedly from ours in the Southwest, we all can take a few ideas from these pleasant garden rest stops. Enjoy the pictorial tour!
New gardeners and homeowners or office dwellers with little time can enjoy live plantings with easy-care succulents and air plants. And who knows? Once bitten with the bug, it’s so easy to move on to flowers, herbs or vegetables.
There are so many attractive succulents and cacti to choose among, and their colors vary. Many also flower. But they typically come in tiny plastic containers or expensive arrangements. We’ve spent some of our winter “down time” playing with these low-water lovers. Tim has propagated new plants from cuttings, but they eventually need attractive containers as well.
We’ve bought some containers and repurposed others. In fact, I might not have enough for patio herbs this spring; I think they’ve been swiped. But we’ve also had a lot of fun making and finding containers. If you have a creative streak, you can have a lot of fun with cacti, succulents and air plants because the plants are so low maintenance.
Here are a few inexpensive container ideas:
Hypertufa. The trend in making hypertufa pots is popular for a reason. They’re relatively inexpensive to make, and although they can look like stone or concrete, the containers are much lighter. Hypertufa is a mix of Portland cement, sphagnum peat moss and perlite. There are lots of recipes online, and we often save plastic containers or other objects to use as molds.
Thrift stores. It’s much more fun to browse a thrift store when you have an idea or purpose in mind. We purchase inexpensive baskets for hypertufa molds (the baskets can’t really be used again) and containers for air plants or cacti. It’s fun to find rustic or unusual items in particular.
Reuse and repurpose. You can buy empty air plant terrariums fairly inexpensively online, or come up with found objects. I’ve used old coffeemaker pots, small mason jars and other objects from our kitchen or closets. Tim has used an old jelly jar layered with sand and moss to create a tiny succulent planter. And fence posts, drift wood, rocks, shells, pinecones and other natural items found in your yard or on walks can work well as planters or decorative items. Air plants can even be glued to wood or other items; you’ll just have to spritz them with water a few times a week instead of soaking the “roots.”
Although some succulents need fairly regular watering, the biggest mistake we’ve seen people make with cacti and succulents is overwatering. That takes only a little practice to get right for each plants. The other helpful tip from Tim is the growing medium.
You might think that cacti in particular grow in sand, especially if you’re ever been to Arizona. A little sand helps containers drain, but you need some other growing medium to give the plant some nutrients and retain just enough moisture for the roots to seek and find. You can buy commercial cactus mixes, but most include peat moss. Tim believes his plants do better with less moss. He mixes his own medium of about half cactus potting soil, with some vermiculite and sandy soil from areas of our yard. This seems to support the plant while also providing drainage.
It can help to drill a drainage hole in any container you make or find, but it’s not always necessary with cacti and succulents, especially if you have a large or deep container and good potting mix. The real satisfaction is in coming up with a unique container or arrangement, matching the cactus to the container or the container to a plant you really like.
Since there’s not much we can do outside until after the first of the year, weather permitting, I’m playing with plants indoors. And it’s been fun, because we’ve made a few gifts from plants we’ve grown or by combining plants with other found objects. It’s way more fun than shopping and I won’t even get into how I feel about Christmas and commercialism this year.
I hope recipients enjoy the handmade gifts as much as I enjoy making them, because that’s what the holidays should be about. And maybe my attempts at being crafty with plant materials will inspire ideas in others.
Air Plant Arrangements
My daughter expressed the desire for some easy-care plants and showed me examples she really liked while we were catalog browsing over Thanksgiving. Never one to disappoint, I ordered a pack of three air plants from Juicy Kits and had fun making a few terrarium arrangements to give Rebecca and Dave for Christmas. I’m counting on her being way too busy to check my blog before I see her.
We already had a few mini-terrariums left over from another project; they seemed perfect for this one. We lined them with some decorative rock and then added objects we’ve saved or found out in our rock garden, including black rock, a shiny red stone, dried wood and a piece of shed deer antler Tim found in the yard. We added sphagnum moss, and I even colored some with green food coloring.
We placed one air plant in an old coffee pot. It didn’t look as good as I’d hoped, but I love how the top pops up, and it’s a bit of a private joke because our guests used to go through the tiny coffee pot on their first cup in the morning. If anyone knows how to get the writing off of the side, I would love advice! We tried combinations of a razor blade, Goo Gone and CLR. I ran out of patience, so I hope they get the joke. But we liked the arrangements enough that we decided they only need two and we’ll keep one (sorry, kid). We’ll enclose Juicy Kit’s care instructions in the gift bag.
Since we decided to plant more lavender – the perfect xeric plant – I’ve been trying out ways to use the aromatic herb. This year, women in our family get a lavender sachet filled with dried buds and leaves from our garden. Drying and harvesting the lavender was the easy part of the project, and it was a great use of the stalks I wanted to leave on the plant longer so we could enjoy them in our garden. If you harvest lavender for wands or arrangements, you have to cut it earlier, before the buds fully flower.
For sachets or potpourris, you can simply run the flower stalks back and forth between your fingers, catching the buds in a large container. I did most of this outside on a sunny fall day. Then I stored the buds in an airtight container until I could fill the sachet bags.
I ordered the muslin bags and stamp set online. It was an easy project to complete, but the muslin didn’t take the fabric ink as well as I’d hoped. Next year, I’ll try a soft cotton. The lavender smells magnificent! I’m having to keep the sachets packaged in zipped bags until gifting them or the scent might mix with some manly beef jerky or white work socks in our gift pile. Can’t have that.
The redtwig dogwood (Cornus sericea) is my favorite winter plant. In fact, it’s arguably more colorful and striking in winter than in summer, at least here. After shedding all leaves, the shrub’s red and grayish-brown branches make an eye-catching statement, especially when the ground is covered in snow. Each spring, I have to shape the shrub and thin it by cutting out the dead, gray wood. I keep most of the trimmings.
At Thanksgiving, I used a few dogwood branches in our table centerpiece, and I’ve added them to a few other projects. My favorite is the small dry arrangement of branches in our home’s entryway that I made our first summer here. So simple, with nothing but a clear vase, decorative rock and dogwood cuttings.
My goal this year is to find a few more uses for dogwood branches. Watch out, friends and family!
I’ll use rosemary, one of my favorite low-water herbs, tomorrow when cooking our Thanksgiving turkey. I also wanted to incorporate it into our table arrangement. Earlier this month, I pinned some napkin holders made with rosemary sprigs. These were shaped into small circles and tied with floral wire, but I’m baking pies today and working a little bit, and they seemed beyond my skill (or patience) level.
Besides, I wanted to match the easy Thanksgiving centerpiece I made last week using lots of natural items from our yard, and I had pretty French-themed ribbon left over. So I sat down while the pecan pie was baking and made these in just a few minutes using rings we already had on hand, some napkins I bought recently, my leftover centerpiece ribbon and rosemary from our xeric garden.
First, I folded the napkin into a triangle, leaving just enough border on the underside to keep it from overlapping. If you have a large ring and a big table to set, you can fold it up less and make the napkin longer in the ring, adding proportionately longer ribbon and rosemary stalks.
Next, I put the napkin in the ring and then cut my ribbon to a length I liked, angling the cuts.
Finally, I added the rosemary stalks, also cutting them to a length that works, and playing with the “arrangement” a little to keep it from looking like lined-up soldiers. So easy!
I’ll put the fresh, unwashed rosemary in an open plastic bag and store it in a door of my refrigerator to keep it fresh until ready to set the table tomorrow. I guess I should go cut some more for the turkey in case it’s dark when I start cooking. Happy Thanksgiving!
I’m excited about Thanksgiving! Any holiday that celebrates harvesting food from a garden, and includes pie and stuffing, is a great holiday. But mostly, I can’t wait to celebrate with family. This year, I decided to make a simple centerpiece for our table from mostly found objects in our garden and yard.
Since the objects would be dried and natural, I wanted to display them in something with the same effect, and have seen lots of photos online using natural boxes. I purchased a platter at a craft show in Albuquerque years ago that we often use for serving, but that works perfect for this year’s centerpiece. It’s a subtle, soft green with herbs etched around the sides. The main color comes from mini-pumpkins.
I’ll admit that I didn’t grow these cute mini-pumpkins, but I really want to try them next year if we have room in our garden. Since they’re smaller, we might be able to get them to ripen in our shorter season; I really would like to try.
I bought the natural stone and brass-looking candle holders last year from CB2, and my daughter and I found the candles at Cost Plus a few weeks ago. We loved the way they look like tree bark. So I had a theme going here; now I could add some truly natural elements from our garden.
I’d been hanging onto branches from our red twig dogwood in the shed for a couple of years now, and needed to use them in another project before Tim makes me throw them out. I love how they add texture and lines to the centerpiece. And as for the plant – it’s gorgeous in winter!
The red berries look like the cranberries or holly berries I’ve seen used in several arrangements online. We can’t grow either of those here, but Tim and I worked hard harvesting rose hips a year ago, and I still had some left after making tea and jelly. The dried hips give a warm red color without looking too much like Christmas – please, I’m not ready for that yet!
The arrangement needed some leaves, but ours all fell fast and hard, and we don’t have giant maples around here. But our creeping mahonia, or Oregon grape holly, has shiny, colorful leaves all year long. I cut a few bunches to add some life to the arrangement.
Finally, I added some ribbon to make it pretty. A little gold dresses up the candle holder and ties it into the gold tablecloth we’ll use for dinner this year. But instead of a big, in-your-face Thanksgiving ribbon, I went with a subtle French theme with a hint of gold, red and the softer green of the plate. It also ties in the new table runner I bought recently. I just wove the ribbon loosely in, around and under the other items.
It might not be the most gorgeous arrangement out there, but it was really satisfying and inexpensive. The only items I bought just for the centerpiece were the two rolls of ribbon. We had or grew everything else! And that makes it something to be thankful for…