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Succulent gardens are a popular trend

Creating a succulent garden out of a broken water fountain can give it a new living effect. John Zvirovski / Forum News Service

Every year there seem to be new trends that come around for either a season or for longer periods of time. Sometimes it comes in the form of a plant variety such as the wave petunia and other times it comes in the form of a design style such as formal, informal, naturalized or container growing.

Some trends prove to be very noteworthy and lasting, such as hosta and astilbe blends to take the place of the thin grass that does not seem to thrive in shady areas. Some are less notable after a season such as the topsy-turvy containers for planting tomatoes suspended while hanging upside down. In areas such as our region, the winds do not act kindly on this idea, but many of us have to try them once in order to see what works well for us.

In the last decade, succulent gardens have seemed to take off using a more artistic approach. For years, they were grown in the garden in areas that were dry or had poor soils. Sometimes they were called rock gardens with the addition of the various varieties of succulents to produce a hardy, yet exotic type of arrangement that got notice.

More recently people have been designing succulents along with sedum varieties in container arrangements that take on a scene of their own. Some people like to put together low growing urns or dish gardens to create whimsical pieces known as fairy gardens. They contain small houses, pathways of pebbles, arbors, sitting areas and of course a mix of dainty fairies. Some are very small and delicate in scale and others can be quite large allowing the viewer to see all sorts of hidden surprises within the miniature landscape design. With the trend of fairy gardens, succulents have gotten a big boost in the plant market in recent years.

Dish gardens are a nice way to try some hardy and wonderful plant varieties. Usually a glass, clay, or plastic container that is about 4 to 6 inches deep works well and at least 15 inches wide or wider. Always plant your succulents in a well-drained soil mixture or cactus soil to allow the roots to dry and not sit in water for any period of time. Succulents such as the window cactus, agave, and the hardy hen and chicks varieties look really nice together with a variety of stem colors. With the addition of low-growing sedums you can add more texture and variety. Many selections come with small leaves of burgundy, deep green, variegated hues, lime greens and yellows to add depth and grace to the design. Angelina sedum is a great yellow needle variety and the Blue Spruce sedum with its delicate blue foliage adds a nice soft contrast.

Common succulents that are often used are aloe, agave, kalanchoe, sedeveria, euphorbia, haworthia, echeveria, crassula and aeonium. Some of these bloom but many of them are known for their diverse color availability. Keep in mind that the succulent types just listed are not hardy for our area, so would need to be brought in for the winter in a brightly lit area to stay healthy into the following season for re-use.

Another artistic expression is called a living picture. This is basically a box made of cedar to any size you desire. Typically the box is no more than 4 inches deep with sides ranging from 1 to 3 feet around. Of course, this frame resembles a shadow box appearance with a wood back and an open front. Laid down, this box is filled with soil, then a sheet of sphagnum moss is placed over the top. A screen is then secured over this medium to the frames edges. The screen’s squares should be a quarter to a half inch in size to allow you room to place in the rooted succulent stems. Once these stems have taken root (about six to eight weeks), it can be hung on a wall as a living piece of colorful artwork.

Weekly it should be taken down and watered well before hanging back up again to dry. Since these take a little while to root well, starting them earlier indoors in a bright location works best and then taking them outside to enjoy during the growing season. Succulent designs such as this should be hung in east locations where they are lightly shaded during the heat of the day and evening so they do not burn.

If you are looking for a real challenge, try creating a succulent wreath. Once again, these should be started indoors to get established so they can be hung outside during the growing season. There are many “wreath” kits that can be purchased online that are quite light weight. If you want to make your own, start with two firm wire rings that are spaced about 2 inches apart. Get a nude nylon stocking that you can fill with sphagnum moss to the thickness you desire. Place this sphagnum roll on top of the two wire rings and attach by wrapping fish line around the sock and wire rings. When finished, place two more wire rings on the top of the stuffed sock and wrap fish line around this again to make sure it is secure from movement. Saturate the nylon sock roll and then make small holes with a nail to insert each plant cutting and allow six to eight weeks for them to root well inside. At this time, you can hang it into a partial sunny area and care for it the same way as the living picture.

Both of these items can be taken indoors during the winter to carry from year to year. Be aware that some plants may die during the winter season and need to be replaced in the spring. Of course, proper care will minimize this replacement process.

As with any new design trend, there are numerous ways you can approach the process depending on your personal taste and desires. Succulent gardens are just another one of those great gardening elements that you can experiment with at your leisure. Try something new this gardening season and see what kind of challenges make your talents bloom!