Notes from a Flower Farm: Decorating With Succulents
Inspired by a family trip to Palm Springs, our floral columnist creates fresh arrangements using succulents. Mixed with seasonal flowers and displayed in old silver containers, this is a whole new take on a trendy group of plants.
Every spring my family and I trot down to Palm Springs for a weekend of sun and ease, an attempt to wring the winter wet out of our Seattle systems. My kids won’t tolerate a whole lot of mid-century furniture and garden accessories browsing while we are there, which I would love to spend days doing, but what they will do happily is tromp around the cacti. They look for rabbits and lizards while I stalk desert flowers with my camera.
Marigold and Mint is an organic farm, a retail shop, and a studio. The farm is situated along the Snoqualmie River, about 30 miles east of Seattle and the shop is located in the Melrose Market on Capitol Hill in Seattle, Washington. Founded in 2008 by owner Katherine Anderson, Marigold and Mint reflects her lifetime love of flowers and landscapes. Trained as a landscape architect, she brings her affection for both clean and clear design and intricate patterns to Marigold and Mint.
We stay at Smoke Tree Ranch, an old school community of homes and guest cottages that’s neither flashy nor hip, but there is a great big pool, croquet to play, bikes to ride, and a ranch house where we eat all of our buffet-style meals. There are a lot of regulars here and much of what keeps me coming back to Smoke Tree is the landscape.
Homeowners are required to use desert plantings (golf-green lawns are definitely not allowed) and the in-between spaces, such as medians, are also filled with catci and succulents. Staying in Palm Springs feels like you are tucked into a desert wonderland, where soft and silvery greens are set off by golden yellow thorns and dusty rose blooms.
In the spirit of my Palm Springs escape, I am making arrangements with desert plants in the shop. I have to admit that when a bride comes in asking for a bouquet with succulents I internally roll my eyes a little—they were so popular in 2010.
And yet I realize why succulents are appealing, somehow soft and spiky at the same time, exotic yet muted—unlike the overt flamboyance of tropical flowers.
For this project, the quiet shine of old silver feels right for setting off the succulents. I gathered all of my own and my mother’s silver vessels. If you don’t have any on hand, I often find lovely dented silver pieces at the flea market or silver-looking things at Goodwill. Silver mercury glass works well here, too.
I purchased a few trays of what I think are mostly Echeveria and Jovibarba heuffelii from my local floral wholesaler (but to be honest they are simply labelled “succulent in 4-inch pot” so I can’t be sure of the names).
There is also a specialty succulent grower in the Northwest, called Fleetfoot and Foulweater, whose specimens are amazing and I picked up a dozen or so plants from them, including Senecio mandraliscae and Kalanchoe bracteata.
In fact, I find all of these succulents gorgeous as single specimens; nevertheless, for a gift or a special event it’s worth making some more complicated arrangements that enhance the structure and color of the plants.
For flowers I thought of lily-of-the-valley, pale purple and cream roses, as well as dark red spray roses. Into the mix went leucadendron, citrus bush, orange tulips, brownish ranunculus, and some privet berry, keeping the palette mostly muted with a few bright exclamation points.
To use succulents in arrangements, carefully remove each plant from its container, shake off the dirt and gently wash the roots. I thought the Echeveria and other low and wide succulents would be beautiful alone in a silver bowl (be sure to fill the bowl with water first) and grouped together.
I created a few miniature arrangements, in silver mint julep cups and a silver baby cup, as well as in some mercury glass. It felt right to have two or three elements per arrangement. Start by filling the cup with the succulents you want to use and fill in the flowers around it, playing with height and form so that you create a little sculpture of texture and color.
The small arrangements would be perfect for a baby shower, or next to your bathroom sink, but sometimes a grander arrangement is in order. Using a pair of my mother’s silver vases (filled with cool water of course), I started one with roses—an odd number of roses is always good, and then I added privet, letting the berries hang down the vase.
I had already identified a few succulents that I wanted to show off and put those in, mindful of the directions they were facing, and how they were or were not obscured by the roses. For the finishing touch, I added the flowers with the most fragile stem (ranunculus in this case) and let them dance above and out from the rest of the arrangement.
I couldn’t resist creating more arrangements, using the same method, and simply playing with different combinations of flowers to go with the succulents. For all of them though, I wasn’t making pavé-style arrangements but rather put the plants and flowers together in such a way as to allow for the expression of the individual plants.
So much of what we do in the flower shop is driven by what is in season locally (though we make exceptions and stretch that definition, especially in the winter, to include California and West Coast greenhouse plants). From spring through fall I primarily use material that is in bloom at my farm or other local farms. It may seem then that succulents don’t belong, but I think they do.