11 October 2013

Grow Forth and Multiply, Vertically.

I believe in regeneration, in regrowth, in the power of healing. Metamorphosis. Reincarnation. Wait. Don't get all theological on me, now. I'm talking about plants. (You should have gone with your first instinct and known better.)

A few months ago when my mom was visiting, we went to the infamous floating Bloemenmarkt on the Singel Canal, in search of succulents, which are scarce at best in Holland. I've had little luck finding them in physical shops, and ordering plants on the internet feels funny, in the bad way. I get all touchy feely when it comes to things like plants. Fortunately, at the market resides van Zoomeren, boasting an impressive selection of carnivorous plants, cacti, and succulents, an odd duck in the sea of tulips. I walked away from the market with 24 plants and big plans. And a week later, I stumbled across a random rack of huge Sempervivum clusters at the neighborhood flower shop; thus, my flora stock grew considerably.
Over the next three months, I performed careful amputations and propagated new plants according to this super handy (and super pretty!) tutorial over on Succulents and Sunshine, until I had enough plants and plant-lets to fill a large-ish vertical planter. Our back porch got a little nutty for a while; what started as a tidy little project on the gardening table spilled over into egg cartons and takeaway containers and little cups and trays and plastic pots, all full of clippings in various stages of root production. One might have theoretically called me a hoarder at this point. But it's just so damn addicting. Succulents range from majestic to elegant to tumor-ish, and all I want is more. Call me God, call me Prometheus; just give. me. more.  As far as vices go, this one's pretty tame.
After doing an extensive tutorial search, I felt that none of them fit exactly what I wanted to do or had the technical means to do. We have very minimal tools, so cutting lumber to build a frame wasn't going to happen. I couldn't find a picture frame deep enough, big enough, and priced within reason. Then I saw a vintage letterpress tray for sale from Old Amsterdam, an Etsy shop located outside Amsterdam. Bingo. It was the perfect size (24 " x 18" x 1 1/4" or 61 cm x 46cm x 3cm), and simple in design. Double bonus - that inner divider part can be lifted out and displayed separately (see our display below).
photo c/o Old Amsterdam Vintage

gather these:
  • A letterpress drawer (using another type of frame will require a slightly different method)
  • Electric drill
  • Hammer
  • Roofing staples
  • Enough 1cm/.5in chicken wire to cover the opening of your chosen letterpress drawer, plus 2cm on all four sides
  • Silicone glue
  • Enough cactus potting soil to fill your frame
  • Loads of succulents and cuttings

do this:

one. I removed the divider insert (it easily lifted out), and put it aside for another project. Right now it's just sitting on a living room shelf, looking pretty and garnering compliments as is.

two. I drilled holes in the bottom of the tray, (mostly) evenly spaced and large enough to release excess moisture but small enough to keep soil in.

three. I waterproofed the inside of the box with a double coat of clear varnish, making sure to varnish the exposed wood inside the drilled holes, leaving 24 hours in between each coat.

four. I secured a sheet of 1cm/.5in chicken wire with hammered-in roofing staples, so that it was taut and level with the opening of the frame, to keep the rooted succulents and dirt in. For added security, I liberally applied silicone glue around the bottom edges of the chicken wire where it met the floor of the tray.

five. I poured cactus potting soil (regular soil holds in too much moisture and can rot out your succulents' roots) in through the wire until the frame was full, and the wire was tight against the dirt. It ended up being about twelve liters.

six. The fun part. Before actually planting, I laid out the bigger plants to plot out where they'd look best. Then, I poked a hole in the soil, and helped the roots through the chicken wire, sometimes having to clip a piece of wire to make a bigger opening. Then I did the same with plants the next size smaller, and repeated until almost every space was taken up. I wanted a full frame right away, even if it means I'll have to transplant in the nearer future than if I'd planted more sparsely in the beginning. Succulents don't root deeply, so it shouldn't be a problem.

seven. The boring part. Now I have to wait 3-8 weeks for the roots to build a dense enough network to hold the soil in place, before tipping vertically. I'm not planning on hanging the frame; instead, it will lean against the wall on a shelf. I'll post an update with either a photo of that scenario, or of a pile of dirt and mangled plants on the floor.

keep them alive: Instead of spend time typing something you can find in a gazillion places online, I'll direct you to these concise instructions from Geneva over at A Pair and a Spare. Succulents and Sunshine also has a nice care page. One thing, above all, though... do not overwater.

Happy planting, people. Embrace succulence. (Sorry, couldn't help myself.)

vertical succulent planter
DIY vertical succulent planter