Category Archives: Slow Flowers

Pumpkin Succulent Arrangements

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A confession here. I am obsessed with pumpkins and gourds, and can’t drive by a farm stand without stopping and selecting a bushel full to add to my collection. To me they are sculpture in an amazing array of forms, sizes, shapes, and textures. Those of you who have followed this blog or have visited Avant Gardens know another obsession of mine is succulents. I wasn’t the first arranger to think of combining the two, but clearly gourds and succulents pair well.

Timing couldn’t be better. With frost imminent, I had just dug dozens of succulents out of pots in the garden and will soon run out of space in the greenhouse. As an advocate of the Slow Flower movement, extolled in Debra Prinzing ‘s book by the same name, I’m always looking for ways to use local sourced plant materials in arrangements.  Thinking that you might also want to create your own succulent arrangement, I’m passing on this quick tutorial.

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Materials needed: a pumpkin or gourd, dry long-fiber sphagnum moss, floral pins, spray adhesive, and tacky glue, plus an assortment of succulents in an array of shapes and sizes in coordinating colors (that’s not hard…most coordinate so well with each other.)

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First, use spray adhesive on the top of the pumpkin so that the sphagnum moss can cling to it, and loosely extend the moss over the crown. (Note: I didn’t do this here, but would recommend removing the pumpkin stem). The moss acts as the “planting medium”, and will later be misted with water to hold moisture. Next, secure any trailing succulents onto the moss using tacky glue and floral pins as necessary.

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Begin to add the larger succulent cuttings, like the rosette forming Graptoveria shown here. Apply a little bit of the tacky glue to the base of the stem and carefully arrange in the moss, using a floral pin, if it helps, to secure in place. Apply gentle pressure to make sure the glue and base make contact. Continue with the smaller succulents to fill in the bare spots. It will take at least 24 hrs. for the tacky glue to set. Check the next day to see if the cuttings seem well attached. If a few stems are loose reapply glue. and add a few more if needed.  Carefully transfer your pumpkin to a spot where all can admire it.

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Your arrangement will look terrific for weeks (months?). The succulents will hold up well for a while without water, but you can mist the arrangement if they shrivel. The sphagnum moss  holds just enough moisture to keep the arrangement fresh. Since you are not hollowing out the pumpkin, the fruit will not quickly decay (as hollowed-out pumpkins tend to do).  The little pinpricks from the floral pins do minimal damage. Keep the arrangement in a bright cool spot (too much warmth and darkness will encourage decay).

When your pumpkin begins  to  decay, you may discover the succulent cuttings doing well and have even set roots. Remove them from the arrangement and pot them up using a succulent soil mix.  Keep these babies in a sunny window and you now have a collection of plants for next year’s garden.

Forcing Winter Branches

The witch hazel, Hamamelis ‘Jelena’, is already in bloom

You wouldn’t know it by looking out my window today, but this past Sunday afternoon it hit 50 degrees. I walked about the garden taking inventory, and just as I had hoped, buds were beginning to swell on spring flowering trees and shrubs. To my delight, the Hamamelis (witch hazel) blossoms were beginning to open. It was a perfect time to cut some branches for forcing indoors.

Forcing is not difficult, but it helps to understand a few basics. Many woody plants (trees and shrubs) set their flowering buds during the previous growing season. They must undergo a dormant period (about 6 weeks) of cold temperatures. A sustained warm moist spell following this dormant period will break dormancy. You need to mimic this warm moist spell to trick your cut branches into thinking it is spring.

1. Walk about your garden in search of subjects, observe, and prune.

You can actually tackle some pruning as you search for stems for forcing. As you select branches, remember to consider the shape you want your tree or shrub to grow. Prune on a mild day, preferably in the afternoon. The day’s warmth will aid the plant in taking up water and sugars from the roots. Branches force more easily if they are less than 1/2 inch in diameter.

One of the easiest plants to break dormancy is Forsythia. Other plants to consider are Willows (Salix), Witch hazel (Hamamelis), Winter hazel (Corylopsis), Quince (Chaenomeles), Viburnum, Dogwood (Cornus), Flowering Cherry (Prunus).  I thought I would experiment a bit while I was taking inventory , so I also cut branches of Spirea, Magnolia and Birch (Betula).

2. Hydrate your stems

After you have gathered your array, fill a deep bucket or large pan with warm water, (for really big branches a bathtub works quite well). Submerge your cut branches in the warm water and leave them in a warm spot overnight.  You can add a small amount of lemon-lime soda or even Listerine (approx. 1T per quart of water) which will act as a preservative. The next day, under very warm running water, make fresh cuts to your branches. If you have thick branches (1/2? or more), you can split  and splay the stems an inch or so for better water absorption. Begin to arrange, or keep these stems in a cool space (45-50 degrees) for a week or so, until you are ready to use them.

A gathering of branches for forcing

3. Create your arrangement

In a fresh vase of water with a bit of preservative, create your arrangement. Some branches will burst open immediately, but others will need more coaxing. Remember your first attempts are about experimenting.  Branches which have an interesting shape or color will look fabulous even if they do not force (I’m thinking about the curly willow I used). Every week or two venture outside and select more branches. Take notes on what stems forced well in early February, and which ones might require more time outdoors as winter weather transitions into early spring.

Winter Wreath Making Tips

Hinoki Cypress Wreath with Elkhorn Cedar. Love the little cones on the Hinoki Cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa) and the undersides of Elkhorn Cedar  (Thujopsis dolobrata) are fabulous!

Mixed Greens Wreath. Dwarf Blue Spruce (Picea glauca ‘Montgomery’), Littleleaf Boxwood (Buxus sinica ‘Justin Brouwer’), plus several cultivars of Hinoki Cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa cvs. ‘Confucious’, ‘Crippsi’, and ‘Jade’)

Mixed Greens Wreath with Golden Berried Blue Holly (Ilex meserve ‘Golden Girl’), Littleleaf Boxwood (Buxus sinica ‘Justin Brouwer’), Various Hinoki Cypress

Littleleaf Boxwood  (Buxus sinica ‘Justin Brouwer’) with Blue Holly (Ilex meserve ‘Blue Princess’ ) plus wreath making supplies

After 25 years of planting unusual evergreens on our property, I feel our plants now have enough growth to afford plenty of interesting options for creating winter wreaths. This year’s crop provided me with lots of interesting material, and while I was taking cuttings I was also pruning at the same time.

I’d rather not make the same composition twice, so each wreath has a character of its own. I’ve used various wreath making forms in the past, but this year I went back to using wire forms which I covered with moistened long fiber sphagnum moss secured with a 22 gauge florist wire.

Here are a few tips:

  • You will need a lot of material for even a small form, especially if you want big fat full wreaths. The amount shown in the metal tub was just about enough to create a 16″ wreath.
  • If  your base is 12″ wide, expect the finish sized to be about 18″ or more in diameter, depending how far out your branches extend.
  • Broadleaf greens such as Boxwood, Holly and Rhododendron desiccate  quickly, especially if they are placed in a warm space or in a sunny spot. Using a base that has moistened sphagnum and tucking in the branch tips of the bunches helps keep them hydrated. Mist or soak your boxwood or holly wreath often. Also, applying an anti desiccant helps prevent the leaves from drying out.
  • Holly berries are often growing along the inner lower branches. Try to position the cuttings so you can see the berries, then trim back as necessary.
  • Repetition of your assorted bundles helps you create a balanced circle.
  • After you create your wreath, hang it and step back to see where it may need editing. You can always trim back or tuck in more cuttings.
  • Weather resistant ribbons add a touch of color to simple wreaths made from one or 2 plants, such as boxwood or holly. I prefer not to use ribbon when I have a lot of interesting leaves and cones to admire.

Succulent Wreath How-to

Our Succulent Wreath Workshops on Saturday June 16th were a great success. I promise we’ll do another one before the summer is over, but we need to get more growth on all of our stock plants because of the tremendous number of cuttings needed. In the meantime, for all those who asked, here’s a quick “how to” in case you have a supply of cuttings on hand from your own garden and containers.

First, gather lots of cuttings. Select a variety of sizes and shapes: rosettes from Sempervivum and Echeveria, filler plants such as cuttings from low growing hardy and tender Sedum. Remember that these plants will take root and begin to grow in the sphagnum wreath form, so you don’t want to select from plants that want to reach tall proportions. It seems all succulents mix and match well, but try to select light medium and dark tones so your wreath has dimension and contrast.

Begin by soaking a sphagnum moss wreath (we used a 9″ premade form) in water. Start by using the larger rosette forms if you have them, distributing them equally around the wreath. Use a pencil, bamboo skewer or other pointed utensil to poke a hole for the succulent stems. Remove any lower leaves off the stems if necessary to position your rosette in the hole. Use topiary pins to help secure your cutting in place, but try to make the pins discreet.

Continue adding material…filler plants like creeping Sedum album, sichotense and pachyphllum in between the larger rosettes. The creepers will take root faster and cover the moss quickly.

Be sure to tuck creepers on the inner and outer sides of the formso that they take root and hide the moss.

Continue to use up your cuttings. It’s really hard to screw up here. If you still see moss when you run out of cuttings, don’t worry, these babies will take root and spread. If the cuttings spread more than you like, snip them back (which you will have to do eventually).

Carefully move your wreath into a sunny warm spot where it can remain undisturbed until the cuttings root.  When the sphagnum form feels dry, you can soak the form in a basin or spray with water (in the morning or at the end of the day, so water spots don’t sunburn the leaves) . It will take approximately 4-6 weeks for the cuttings to root in. Do not over water. Wait until the cuttings are rooted before you fertilize. Do not over fertilize. We recommend using a Seaweed/Fish Emulsion. If you hang your wreath, you will want to rotate it occasionally so that the plantlets don’t all start reaching for the sky. You can also periodically lie the wreath flat in a sunny location to prevent “stretching” from occurring.  Enjoy!

Cuttings Available for Purchase