Hi apricots, and happy Monday. Welcome back to the Good to Grow blog, and thanks for being here.

I had no idea what a big fan of themed weeks I was until I unveiled the first one, Succulent Week!, a few weeks ago. It was fun – succulents are great plants. They’re soft and squishy, they grow really fast and they’re gorgeous. As I said during Succulent Week!, if you can introduce your kids to succulents, you can inspire a lifetime love of nature.

It’s been a few weeks, so I thought I’d create another theme week – this one I’m calling Living Art Week! Which you probably figured out from the title. Yeah, anyway.

This week, I’ll show you how to use succulents and other plants to create living pieces of art. Step-by-step instructions so you and your kids can create pieces together, and give you plenty of ideas for personalizing your piece. I’ll show you my latest projects and show you how the earlier pieces are growing. I’ll also show you some great vertical gardens and works of art that others have done – people are being so creative, it’ll set your imagination on fire!

And if that’s not enough, I’m also going to show you what I made for Mom for her birthday, which is Friday (I’ll show it to you Thursday or Saturday, as Friday is our Ask the Experts panel). It’s my best work yet.

This is what I mean when I say living art. Granted, it looks a lot more beautiful than this photograph conveys. This is a birthday present for a friend of mine. Those are Hens and Chicks and an adorable mini Sedum I found at Corrales Road Greenhouse. They will grow in to completely cover the burlap – this is merely the beginning.

I saw a piece about making living art over at Sunset Magazine’s website – I loooooove those guys. They featured these knockout pieces that used a lot more succulents than mine. Here’s a photo from that article:

Gorgeous, right? Works of art.

But they’re instant works of art. That’s ok – they’ll still grow and evolve. But that’s not exactly my style. Or my budget. Plus, I think watching them grow is the best part. The friends that will get these as gifts are the kind of people who would think so, too. Those Hens and Chicks will spread quickly, as will the Sedum – the piece above will look completely different six months from now. And different one year after that. It’ll be fun for me, as the gift giver, to get to check on the progress when I visit.

So, how did I make that? Here’s how.

Liza’s Step by Step Guide to Creating Living Art

Step 1. Find the right container. Now, I’m definitely on a budget, so I like to go to thrift stores and find interesting looking containers. For the artwork that I want to hang on the wall, I look for containers with the following traits: They need to be able to withstand watering, they can’t be too be heavy because wet soil is only going to add to that. They also need to be relatively flat, but still deep enough to hold at least a little soil. Succulents can live in moss alone, technically they don’t need dirt, but they really, really like it when you give it to them. I keep looking at picture frames I find at the stores, but none of them are quite deep enough.

If you want to make a piece of living art, it doesn’t have to hang on the wall. For example, you could make cool towers or posts in your backyard using chicken wire filled with soil. I would encourage you to let your imagination run wild if you’re poking around a thrift store.

I found what are called “shadow boxes” at the craft store. I never knew they existed, but they’re great. Deep frames – perfect!

Here are the containers I ended up with (lots of May birthdays!):

Virtually anything can be a container. Even completely flat things. I found this flowery thingie for cheap, made a mound of soil held in place by mesh, and turned it into this:

Step Two: Attach a hanger. The trays I found obviously weren’t meant to hang on a wall so I had to attach hangers. Easy enough.

The shadow boxes didn’t work as exactly perfectly as I hoped. When I took the backs off, I realized I couldn’t get the glass out. I could’ve broken it out, but that seemed, well, violent. So I left the glass and made that the bottom, meaning now the hangers they already came with were on the front. I had to add new ones to the back.

Step Three: Add the potting soil. Be sure to pack it down firmly so you can squeeze as much in there as possible. And use high quality soil – not that crap they leave out in the elements at Home Depot¹ and Lowe’s. The problem with those soils is they are always infected with fungus gnats – you open the bag at home and boom, next thing you know, there are annoying bugs flying around your house. As someone who puts plants in people’s offices for a living, you can imagine how thrilled my clients are when their office gets infected. I make sure to buy good soil, like FoxFarm, from one of the local nurseries in order to avoid the problem altogether.

That’s not wet soil – that’s just two different types. I had read on someone’s blog that you should get the soil wet, so you can pack down even more. I did that in my first round of pieces, which I made outside on a beautiful sunny day. As I worked on this round over the weekend, it was snowing outside. So to minimize the mess indoors, I kept the soil dry until after I added the plants.

Also, to keep the soil from falling out of those handles, I put tape over them on the inside.

Step Four. Cover the soil with mesh. This is to hold the soil in place. For my purposes, I was making pieces that would spend the summer and fall hanging in the garden or on the patio enjoying New Mexico’s sun, but then coming inside during our harsh winters. I don’t want them to be infected with gnats or spilling dirt all over the floor. The mesh also serves to hold the plants.

The mesh I use I found at the crafts store in the floral department. They offer rolls of florists mesh and burlap. You can also use a cloth with slits cut into it for the plants. The possibilities are endless. I used a staple gun to secure the mesh, which, if you look really closely, you can see that I’m not very good at using it. So, don’t look closely, k?

Step Five: Insert the plants. This is the fun part. You can make whatever design you like, using any kind of plant. If you wanted, you could grow basil instead of using succulents.

For this project, I started with Sedum. Besides themed weeks, I’m also a big fan of diagonal things. Apparently anyway.

Then I added Hens and Chicks to add a completely different texture. I can’t wait to see how this evolves over time!

Step Six: Water. I took these to the kitchen sink and used the sprayer to saturate the soil.

Step Seven: Keep them horizontal for two weeks. You want the roots to take hold before you turn it vertical.

That’s it. It’s takes a little while to put one of these all together, but it’s worth it in the end. How many gifts can also help clean the air? Not many.

I hope you get creative with your family and make pieces of your own. For fellow gardening bloggers, I hope you post your own creations so I can see what you’re doing.

That does it for today’s Good to Grow blog. Thanks again for being here. I’ll be back tomorrow with more living art. Until then, happy gardening everyone.


¹ If you’re new to the site, you can read my rant about Home Depot’s miserable houseplant department by clicking here. I wish they would stop with the plant genocide already.