Things are getting fat in the Ripley Garden!
Fat in a succulent sort of way, that is!
Two years ago, I started playing around with growing plants vertically using a system of trays specifically designed for such use (Going Vertical in the Mary Livingston Ripley Garden). During that first year, I planted the trays with creeping thymes, and other low-growing selections in an effort to create a mosaic of colors and form. This was successful, but I knew it could be better.
The next year I used all sun-loving succulents in an awe-inspiring range of colors, textures, and forms which allowed me to have fun creating a living tapestry that would thrive with low-water usage.
The response to my succulent experiment was so positive that I knew it had to come back. So before deadly frosts arrived, I dismantled the wall and sent it back to the care of our wonderful growers, Joe Curley and Jill Gonzales, to overwinter in the Smithsonian Gardens Greenhouse Facility. The plants flourished under their care and the wall is back this year, bigger and better than before!
But what else can be done with succulents? Could I create succulent topiary-like balls? Why not try?! Again with the help and support of our greenhouse staff, this past winter, I purchased some pre-made metal frame spheres that were stuffed with sphagnum moss and secured with fishing line.
I got various sizes of these spheres and plugs (small rooted plants) of assorted succulents. The first thing I did was submerge the dry spheres in a bucket of water to soak the moss thoroughly. Then I started playing with the little plugs and began creating artistic designs of color and form all over the spheres. I added holes in each moss ball and placed starter plants in, securing them with florist pins when necessary.
After creating the spheres, they were once again in the hands of our great growers who cared for and nurtured them until they were established enough to put on display in the garden.
They are now scattered throughout the Ripley Garden, hanging from various structures and lamp posts. Come on by and check them out—I think they turned out pretty well and am excited to see them completely filled in.
I check them frequently to see if they need watering since the sphagnum moss dries out quickly, but succulents are engineered to handle times of drought, so they should continue to thrive in the absence of much water, though I am not sure just how much!
So, once again, I am experimenting and learning new things all the time. I have no idea how the succulent spheres will do this summer, but that is part of the fun of gardening, isn’t it?
– Janet Draper, Mary Livingston Ripley Garden Horticulturist