Monday, April 18, 2011

Make planters with flowers, herbs & succulents

Learn how to create a living carpet from sedums
in a class at Duke Gardens

Photo by Jason Holmes

By Lauren Sims
One of the perks of the spring gardening season is having fresh cut flowers in your home – a small gathering of blooms on the coffee table, a fragrant mix of flowers and blooming branches in the entryway. Such arrangements bring the outdoor garden indoors. But no matter how diligently you tend them, within a week or so that perfect arrangement will have wilted and died.

Floral arrangements need not have such a short life, says florist and gardener Jay Stolz, who will lead several courses on living designs this spring at Sarah P. Duke Gardens. Instead of relying solely on cut flowers this season, consider a more natural design strategy, Stolz says. His living flower baskets combine differently shaped plants and flowers with blooming branches, sticks, stones and even live grass.

“I hope to be able to create something like a natural setting outdoors and move it into the home in the form of this arrangement,” he says.

The key to creating an appealing live display is to pay close attention to the patterns and boundaries of nature, Stolz says. Look for how a plant grows out in the garden and notice what it requires of the environment in order to thrive. If your arrangement does not reflect the needs of and relationships between your plants in nature, then whatever you will create will look false or unbalanced. Respect the information that the natural world provides, and your plants will be more likely to survive and flourish.

Such live indoor designs are not restricted to flowers and grasses. Indoor herb planters are another way to bring the outdoors in, and they have the added benefit of being useful in the kitchen. Again, Stolz cautions us to be mindful of the needs of these plants. For one, it is a mistake to crowd a bunch of herbs into a small space. The fullness of your planter may look nice, but your plants’ health will suffer. Each plant needs about 6 inches of unimpeded space in a deep planter. Herb roots grow down, not horizontally, so a shallow or crowded container will hold them back significantly.

In the end, planting live arrangements is a matter of aesthetics and attending to nature. When you’re designing, combine and rearrange plants until you like what you see. Then ask yourself, will these plants grow well together? Are they useful to me in such a way that I will be invested in helping them to thrive?

Learn how:
To work with Stolz’ guidance on your own planters, consider taking his spring Duke Gardens classes: “Spring Flower Basket,” April 21, 3-5 p.m.; “Herb Planter,” May 5, 3-5 p.m.; “Create a Living Carpet: Sedums and Succulents,” May 19, 3-5 p.m. To register or for more information, please email registrar Sara Smith at or call 668-1707. Please also see our full class and events schedule (PDF) online (or a brief roundup on our blog).

Sarah P. Duke Gardens creates and nurtures an environment in the heart of Duke University for learning, inspiration and enjoyment through excellence in horticulture. The Gardens is at 420 Anderson St.

Lauren Sims is a graduate student at Duke Divinity School and a work-study assistant at Duke Gardens. This column first appeared in the Durham Herald-Sun on April 16.

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