When I moved into my first apartment, I bought an aloe vera plant. A friend had told me that aloe vera plants were one of the few species of plants that biologists consider to be evolutionary indestructible, meaning that they have designed to adapt to whatever environment that they are found and flourish, hence why they are perfect housewarming gifts. I killed mine in three weeks. Darwin would have had a field day with my ability to kill plants. Over the years I have amassed a large variety of pots and containers that could serve as tombstones for all the flora I have killed. I am positive that gardening centers and nurseries have my picture on a “Do Not Sell To List” and in their own way plants speak of the mysterious man who kills the hardiest of their brethren.
I am the “Typhoid Harry” of the plant world.
Fast forward 10 years later and I now own a home with my partner. Fortunately, much of the landscaping was done prior to us moving in using drought tolerant plantings and native grasses. Drip irrigation was set up and a gardener was already on rotation taking care of the landscape. Hearing all of this made me feel better that my track record of plant death would not be extended to my new outdoor area. I was content for two years to sit and watch our little “dry garden” grow and flourish. However, with a dry garden, you get beautiful texture and shape, but not flowers and tons of vibrant color.
It also doesn’t help that our next door neighbor is a retired Brit who has a green thumb to rival Martha Stewart. Her front yard is a tribute to the Victorian garden, full of wild flowers, beautiful shrubs and fruit trees, all done in that formal yet haphazard way that I could never duplicate. Knowing that (1) we have about a tenth of her space and (2) at heart I still love clean lines, I ventured to see how I could get some color via plants into my life (and not kill them in the process).
Knowing that I did not want to invest heavily into a project that could lead to disappointment, I figured I would venture small and create a centerpiece of our dining set:
The project was easy, quick and inexpensive……all things I love when it comes to projects. I used $20 apothecary jars from Sears.com as my terrarium container. They were the perfect size and should my project run afoul, I could reuse the jars in another part of the house. I went to my Orchard Hardware & Supply and bought several beautiful ferns around 4in in size. Big mistake. I HIGHLY recommend that you go with 2in or smaller plants especially if you are working with containers with small mouths/openings. My 4in plants were HUGE and extremely difficult to manuever into the jars. So I took a step back and did some internet research. I stumbled up on various web sites that detailed how to assemble terrariums and each had a list of recommended plantings. The one plant that was one every list was the “Jellybean” plant:
Photo credit: http://www.collectorscorner.com.au
It is a member of the cactus family that actually can stand a bit of water and when placed in direct sunlight, it turns a beautiful shade of red. However, it also thrives in minimal light and has a bright kelly green color. It can withstand sever pruning and will seed itself by dropping the little “jelly beans” that will root and grow a new plant. All these things make it an excellent terrarium plant — essentially short of throwing it off a cliff or running over it with your car, you won’t kill it.
Confident now that I couldn’t kill the flora equivalent of a cockroach, I moved on to creating another centerpiece using cacti for my outdoor patio area. I turned to Ikea for the whole project, including the plantings for a project under $30. A little spray paint and some faux painting resulted in a stoneware bowl filled with cactus that garner the most compliments of any of my outdoor projects to date:
I tried to mimic the planters I had seen at our local outdoor mall. They reminded me of living sculpture in a way and I wanted to replicate that in my own small way with the centerpiece. I am glad to say that the cactus are growing and thriving at the moment. They are starting to hang over the edge of the bowl and fill in the open spaces. It is one of my favorite planting projects to date.
Now fully emboldened by two straight successes in a row that did not require a plant funeral, I was going to take on doing large-scale planters for our front door. I found the planters on sale (albeit not cheaply) at a local small pottery shop. Our roommate “J” had given me and the partner a gift certificate to the East Bay Nursery for Christmas. This seemed like the perfect time to use it. So I started doing some research and found two resources that proved invaluable when I was doing my plant selections:
1) Sunset Magazine: They have a fantastic blog and plant section on their website. I highly recommend you check them out as I find their selections to be beautiful but also “user-friendly”. Matter of fact, they have a great article online about how to select colorful plants for a shade garden. I know for myself, finding plants that grew well on window sills or on balconies was a challenge and in the article they give recs on 21 color-punching (and shade loving) plants.
2) Fine Gardening Magazine: The magazine has a Container Gardening supplement that they do on an annual basis that is simply wonderful. They have a variety of container gardens on various budgets and in each picture the editors have detailed the plant selections and why it works for that container. I still have my rolled and wrinkled copy in my magazine basket. It totally rocks.
I bought big, beautiful and impactful plants with plenty of WOW.
But…….I think I got cocky and my “killer instincts” soon returned. Shortly after planting the medium and large containers, I got into a bit of an issue with two of the plants. The plants were not happy campers in their new homes…matter of fact, I think one of them tried to escape as I found it half hanging out of the pot one day. Flash forward a month after planting them, and I had to have a double “plant funeral”. Fortunately, their loss was my compost heap’s gain. I have replaced the plants and am waiting on them to grow in a little before I do a new photo shoot. I will say that the other plants are doing really well after a somewhat rocky start. They are growing and taking up way too much of my free time with feedings, watering and pruning….it’s sorta like having a child that is quiet. Hmmmm……maybe this isn’t so bad after all!
I capped off my “Green Streak” with replacing the orchid that once graced my living room. The orchid I had kept alive from January through June. It was a major achievement for me since all orchids entering my house eventually end up as compost. They are beautiful and graceful plants but boy are they temperamental pains! Rather than spend major money on a new replacement, I decided to visit my favorite store, Ikea, to get some new orchids. Yes, Ikea for orchids. I know that you are probably looking at my like I am a fool and saying “Courtney, you know you get what you pay for. Lest I remind you of the countless pieces of Ikea furniture that you see on the curb side EVERY day?” Let me say in my defense that the last set of plants (the cactus for outside) are doing really well. And that the orchids were $9.99 so if they die, I won’t be heartbroken. So I took a bowl, I already owned and some left over moss from the terrarium project and got to work. I channeled my inner “zen master” (yeah right!) to create what I think is a beautiful planting that I have been enjoying for over a month.
I have some other plant projects I am stewing over for the new guest room and music room. If all goes well, I will have reveals for you all shortly. Additionally, I would love to hear about your gardening adventures!