A Succulent Pumpkin Centerpiece

A couple of weeks ago, photographer (and regular Northern Gardener contributor) Michelle Mero Riedel posted some photos on Facebook of a pumpkin decorating class she attended, where the students used succulents to create a funky, fun centerpiece.

The finished product
The finished product

I just loved the idea, which is generally credited to designer Laura Eubanks, and after watching a couple of youtube videos discovered that it is a fairly easy fall decorating project. This could be a very expensive project, but with a little scavenging, I was able to create my succulent pumpkin centerpiece for under $20, plus I have a whole bunch of cold-hardy succulents left over that I can plant in my garden. If you have a large collection of succulents at home already, you could do it for less.

Here’s what you will need for the project:

  • A pumpkin with a flat top. I found a pretty cheese pumpkin (yes, that’s what they are called!) at eco gardens in Northfield.
  • Some moss. I bought a couple of bags of this from EcoGardens as well. Keep it dry.
  • A bunch of succulents! I had a gift certificate from Knecht’s Nursery and bought their last succulent bowl for half price. (With the gift certificate, this cost me only $7.) I also cut some tops off of succulents from a bowl that my mom gave me a couple of years ago. The bowl goes outside during the summer and comes back in healthy and lush. I also had a cactus that was on its last legs, which I cut the top off of. Life is cruel.
  • Spray adhesive and glue. I had both of these on hand.
  • A scissors or floral snip or some other cutting thing.

Process

Spray adhesive on the top of the pumpkin and press moss on it.
Spray adhesive on the top of the pumpkin and press moss on it.

This is not usually part of the process, but I decided coat the pumpkin with a sealant to help it keep longer. I’m a big fan of Mod-Podge, so the pumpkin got three thick coats of it, which then dried over night. Do not seal the pumpkin! It will ooze from the inside and stink. Take my word for it!!!

The next day, I sprayed the top of the pumpkin with Elmer’s Spray Adhesive and pushed the moss onto it to create a soft medium in which to stick the succulents. Some of the succulents may actually root in the moss, helping the display to last longer.

A little tail helps you to snuggle the succulents into the moss. Put craft glue on the end of the plant.
A little tail helps you to snuggle the succulents into the moss. Put craft glue on the end of the plant.

Then, the fun started! Time to add the succulents.  I added a little craft glue to the bottom of each succulent piece then pushed it into the moss.

I started by adding the cut-off cactus, which was the biggest and trickiest piece.  Most guides suggest putting the biggest piece a little to one side of the center of the pumpkin. Then, I added more succulents, working around the pumpkin, filling the spaces as full as possible. The succulents I had included crassula, hens and chicks, echeveria and a couple of things that I think are sedum. For texture, I also added seedpods from Baptisia and some rosehips from the garden.

Basic container principles, such as thriller, filler, spiller, apply to the pumpkin centerpiece.
Basic container principles, such as thriller, filler, spiller, apply to the pumpkin centerpiece.

The whole process only took about an hour and it was creative and fun. For care, it’s recommended that you spritz your succulents with water about once a week to prolong their life. I’m hoping this little centerpiece will last from now through Thanksgiving.

What are your favorite fall decorating projects?

Sneak Peak at Spring Garden Trends

Citrus green, bright pink and clean white make for a pretty spring table.
Citrus green, bright pink and clean white make for a pretty spring table.

Yesterday I attended an event for bloggers at Bachman’s Spring Idea House in Minneapolis and got a sneak peak at what will be in stores this spring. It was great fun to meet several fashion, lifestyle and photography bloggers, as well as seeing the colors and ideas for home and garden decor in action.

In a word: think “fresh.” Also, “pink.”

Karen Bachman Thull led us through the house, a 1920s beauty that was built by Arthur Bachman Sr., a son of one of Bachman’s founders.  Three times a year, Bachman’s re-designs the rooms in the house — furniture, paint, the whole she-bang — and opens the house to the public. This year, the house is open every day until April 19. It’s $5 to tour the house and, if you are someone who enjoys decor or is just hungry for spring, it’s well-worth a visit.

Lots of the decor was done in a fresh, bright combination of citrus green, bright pink and white. The combination works great in containers, in table decorations and in the furniture in the airy sunroom and living room of the house. Karen noted that this combination is dynamite as long as you do not add another color. If you put in a blue, a purple, an orange — it falls apart. The look goes from fresh to garish in a minute. I have a pair of bright green containers and plan to try this combination in them this summer.

This self-watering planter holds herbs in pots.
This self-watering planter holds herbs in pots.

Another garden trend worth noting is the improved vertical gardening trend. I’ve been a bit cool on most vertical gardening systems because they require so much watering — some of them are basically gutters mounted on a frame. Bachman’s is selling a couple of self-watering systems now. A sweet window box containing herbs was on display in the idea house kitchen and a massive, multi-part living wall of foliage was in the yoga room upstairs. The wall you see in the photo below contains six of the wall garden systems. Fully loaded with plants and water, each system weighs about 60 pounds. The way the systems work is that each plant is in a pot. A wicking device inside the system pulls water from the troughs to the plants.

This dramatic wall of foliage includes six self-watering systems and a whole lot of plants!
This dramatic wall of foliage includes six self-watering systems and a whole lot of plants!

Karen told me that the kitchen system would only need to be refilled about once a month. If you want to try vertical gardening, self watering is the way to go.

The house also features several forced branches of spring blooms. I think more northern gardeners should try forcing branches in the spring — it’s a great way to bring color into the house. Other garden trends noted in the house are increased interest in terrariums and air plants.

I also really loved this arrangement of snow boots outside the house. Everything is a container this spring!

These boots were made for planting.
These boots were made for planting.

 

A Sea of Poinsettias

It was a great Thanksgiving weekend, with visits from family, Black Friday shopping with my daughter and her friend and lots of food, including a pie made with cranberries and the last of my homegrown cherries. It was topped off with a visit to the Bachman’s greenhouses in Lakeville Sunday afternoon, courtesy of my friend Gwen and her husband, John, who works there.

 

My camera fogged up a bit when we first got to the greenhouses. They felt so warm, compared to the cold outside.
My camera fogged up a bit when we first got to the greenhouses. They felt so warm, compared to the cold outside.

Bachman’s grows about 65,000 poinsettias each year. Many are sold at the Bachman’s stores and the rest are grown for organizations that sell them as holiday fundraisers. The greenhouses (I think we were in three different ones during our walk through) are enormous and two weeks ago, they were completely full, John said. Now, many of the poinsettias have been shipped, but the ones remaining look like a sea of red, pink and white.

These tall poinsettias were striking at about 4 feet tall.
These tall poinsettias were striking at about 4 feet tall.

Poinsettias are native to Mexico and the English name came from the first U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Joel Roberts Poinsett. In Mexico, the plant will grow to 10 to 15 feet tall. (Bachman’s grows some poinsettias taller than the usual 1-foot or so size and they are stunning.) The Aztecs used poinsettia leaves as a dye and used the sap to reduce fevers. While poinsettias are not poisonous to humans, they can cause vomiting and other stomach upsets in animals. (They also taste terrible, according to this great poinsettia website.) A member of the spurge family, poinsettias have the botanical name, Euphorbia pulcherrima. The brightly colored tops of the poinsettias are not actually flowers. They are brachts (modified leaves) and the tiny yellow bits inside the brachts are the flowers.

These small poinsettias would be attractive in the office.
These small poinsettias would be attractive in the office.

With the right situation, poinsettias can survive the winter. Here are some tips for keeping your holiday poinsettia healthy.

  • Try to give it 6 hours of indirect sunlight a day. (That may be tricky in Minnesota in December, but choose the poinsettia’s spot with light in mind.) Many sites recommend a south, east or west window, but the plant should not touch the cold glass.
  • Check the soil in the pot daily and give it a good drink whenever it feels dry to the touch. You should make sure the pot has a drainage hole (poke some holes in the foil wrapping, too). When you water, give the plant enough that the water runs out the hole in the bottom. If the plant is on a plate to catch the drips, be sure to empty the water so the plant’s roots don’t get too soggy.
  • If you want to keep your poinsettia as a houseplant, give it a dose of all-purpose houseplant food after the blooming season and once a month through winter.

Will you be getting a poinsettia this holiday season?

flower closeup
The yellow bits in the center are the flowers of the poinsettia.
These pinkish white poinsettias would be a showy addition to your holiday decor.
These pinkish white poinsettias would be a showy addition to your holiday decor.
And more poinsettias
And more poisettias

 

Fall Container Idea

Fall container completed in less than 20 minutes.
Fall container completed in less than 20 minutes.

A week or so ago, while I visiting my daughter in Chicago, I happened upon a fun idea for a simple fall container. The container (shown below) was on display at the Morton Arboretum in suburban Chicago. The container itself was large, wide and made of terracotta. It was filled with an assortment of gourds and squashes. Simple, and very pretty.

The inspiration for my fall container
The inspiration for my fall container

I knew that was an idea I could easily replicate at home, and I had just the container to do it with. A couple of years ago, I bought a small, metal horse trough to use as a planter. I ended up making it into a small water feature this year, which I had emptied out a few weeks ago.

At the Northfield Farmers’ Market last Friday, I found an assortment of squashes. One of the sellers was also selling bouquets made of ornamental cabbage and kale. Cute! I bought one and decided to use it as an accent in the container. The kale and ornamental cabbages are basically cut flowers, so I needed to keep them in water. To set up the container and keep the squashes elevated, I flipped a couple of pots over and set them in the trough. Then I filled a couple of tall canning jars with water and placed one in the back of the container and one in the front.

Pots elevate the gourds and a jar of water keeps the kale fresh.
Pots elevate the gourds and a jar of water keeps the kale fresh.

I put the kale in the water jar in the back and three of the cabbage in the water jar in front. The squash were balanced on the upside down pots. It looked nice, but I had one more cabbage and a pumpkin left. I put the cabbage in another jar of water set inside a colorful container and set the pumpkin down in front of the trough. Voila! Instant fall container.

Once I had everything bought, putting the container together took less than 20 minutes.

I’ve tried a couple of fall container ideas before including planting a pumpkin here and here. What’s your favorite fall container idea?

Fall container in less than 20 minutes!
Love the texture in this arrangement.

Winter Garden Decor — The Fun Variety

Mannequins in corner garden, dressed for winter. They look like they are waiting for the bus.

I was driving back from taking photos of some winter containers for an upcoming article, when I noticed these garden denizens along West 46th Street in south Minneapolis. What a cute idea — though the gardeners may have been overdressed for yesterday’s sunny February afternoon. Today, they are just right as the wind has picked up and temps have dropped.

Judging from the plants left standing, this looks like it would be a beautiful garden at all seasons of the year. What are your favorite garden decor ideas for winter?

Holiday Bow How-To

This is my first attempt at a how-to video, but I wanted to show readers this really simple way to make a fluffy bow. I learned this from Diane Lee, who recently designed the wreaths for the Minnesota State Capitol and the Minnesota Governor’s Residence.

How to do a bow

Make A Holiday Wreath Like Governor Dayton’s

Today, folks from the Minnesota Nursery and Landscape Association are scheduled to hang two massive holiday wreaths at the Minnesota Governor’s Residence on Summit Avenue in St. Paul. I was fortunate yesterday to observe Diane Lee, who has made the governor’s wreaths the past six years, as she designed the wreaths in the back shop at Mickman Brothers in Ham Lake. (Mickman’s donates the wreaths, plus lots of evergreen roping for the holiday decorations.)

Diane has some great ideas for anyone who wants to make an original wreath for their home this holiday season.

For a more manly looking wreath, use elements that evoke the north woods.

Tip No. 1: Pick a Theme.  Because Gov. Mark Dayton is a single man known for his love of big dogs, Diane decided to choose masculine elements and colors for the wreaths. They each have a big red bow, but the rest of the elements are muted and north-woodsy: a pheasant, ferns, pinecones, large pears, cranberries and pheasant feathers in one and a tiny deer, ferns, pinecones and cranberries in the other.

Tip No. 2: Add Extra Greens at the Bottom of the Wreath.  To nestle her two focal points – the pheasant and deer figures – Diane put extra greens at the bottom of each wreath. This nest gives the wreath extra texture and draws the eye to the focal point. As I’ve noted in previous posts on holiday containers, beautiful wreaths tend to have lots of types of greenery. Diane used four kinds of greens in these wreaths.

Diane made these pears out of paper mache, then piled them on one side of the largest wreath for Gov. Dayton.

Tip No. 3: Don’t Make it Symmetrical. On the biggest of the two wreaths (60 inches in diameter), Diane loaded one side of the wreath with three over-sized imitation pears, a few pinecone clusters, as well as ferns and cranberries. The other side had only pinecones and cranberries.  But she also placed the bow slightly off center on that side to balance out the wreath. Also, the ends of your bows should always have a long and a short side.

Tip No. 4: Use Odd Numbers. Like plantings in your yard, odd numbers seem to work better on wreaths. Diane used three imitation pears and one focal point piece; she wired three pinecones together before placing them on the wreaths.

Tip No. 5: Mix Fake and Real. Diane used a mix of natural pieces with fake ones. The pinecones are real, but the cranberries are extra large fake ones. The fakes tend to hold up better in our tough weather, and from a distance, no one will know.

Diane uses 24-guage floral wire to tie down the bow on the wreath.

Tip No. 6: Wire it Down! Diane uses 24-gauge floral wire to lash the decorative pieces on the wreath. The wire is green, so it blends well with the greenery of the wreath and it’s thin enough that it can’t be seen. She also keeps a hot glue gun handy to secure wayward cranberries or cedar boughs.

Tip No. 7: Know When to Stop. Diane doesn’t have any specific suggestions about how many elements or how full a wreath should be. But, when you add something and it seems to detract from what else is there, then it’s time to stop.

The finished product: It will look even better hanging on a big red brick house.

You can see Diane’s wreaths hanging at the Governor’s mansion. She also designed two apple-themed wreaths that will hang at the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul. Diane teaches about floral design frequently. If you are interested in learning more from Diane, she will be making a presentation at the MSHS Open House, at 11 a.m., Saturday, Dec. 3 at the hort society store in Roseville.  Check out the MSHS website for more information on this and other holiday events.