Succulents become works of art at the Botanical Gardens; exhibit starts Saturday

succulents reflecting Ensor Fireworks
The plants are still growing into this botanical reproduction of James Ensor’s “Fireworks.” Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko
Fireworks by James Ensor image courtesy Albright Knox
This is the work that the succulent planting above is replicating. James Ensor (Belgian, 1860-1949). Le feu d’artifice (Fireworks), 1887. Oil and encaustic on canvas; 40 1/4 x 44 1/4 inches (102.24 x 112.4 cm). Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York; George B. and Jenny R. Mathews Fund, 1970 (1970:9).

by Connie Oswald Stofko

You may have seen succulents displayed vertically on a wall– we showed you a framed arrangement with a mirror  that the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens used in its succulents show a few years ago.

This year the folks at the Botanical Gardens thought it would be cool to create arrangements that look like abstract art, said Kristin Pochopin, director of horticulture at the Botanical Gardens.

John Santomieri, horticulturist, suggested they take some of the pieces one step further: Make arrangements that imitate paintings done by famous artists.

You can see the creations during the succulent exhibit from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 3 through Sunday, Oct. 2 at the Botanical Gardens, 2655 South Park Ave., Buffalo.

The exhibit is included with admission to the Botanical Gardens: $9 for adults, $8 for seniors (ages 55 and older) and students (ages 13 and older with ID), $5 for children ages 3-12 and free for Botanical Gardens members and children 2 and under.

On display will also be three-dimensional creatures including a cobra made with succulents.

I got a peek behind the scenes last week.

layers of succulent container with frame
The front of the frame is on the left. Attached to the frame is chicken wire. 1- by 2-inch slats of wood help hold the chicken wire in place. Landscape fabric is stapled to those slats. Thin slats are nailed on top of the landscape fabric. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

A few of the pieces are already on display, while the succulents in other pieces were still rooting in. For the framed succulent artworks, the frames are kept flat on tables until the plants are securely rooted in place and won’t fall out.

I got a look at how the framed pieces are made. This is a project you can try at home. It doesn’t have to be an expensive project; they use wood recycled from old benches.

As you’re making this project, keep in mind where and how you will hang it. You may want to make your project small so that it won’t be too heavy to be supported by your fence or other structure.

First make a simple frame with four pieces of wood. On the back of the frame, staple chicken wire.

Put four 1- by 2-inch slats around the frame to help hold the chicken wire in place. (Don’t cover the whole back of the frame with wood. You need drainage and you don’t want the piece to be too heavy.)

Put landscape fabric over the entire back of the frame, stapling it to the slats. That will hold the sphagnum moss in place and allow for drainage. Then screw in thin slat across the back for support.

Bolts that stick out on both the front and back of the frame hold the wires from which the heavy artwork will be hung. Having the wire attached to both the front and back makes the frames hang more evenly, Pochopin noted.

Once you have your shallow container constructed, you can start preparing to plant. From the front of the frame, insert sphagnum moss– That’s your growing medium. Moisten the moss and pack it in. The moss is easier to work with when it’s wet, she said.

For the projects for this exhibit, Pochopin ordered more than 2,000 cuttings, but she also used cuttings from the Botanical Gardens’ own succulents because succulents are easy to propagate.

When you make cuttings of succulents, you have to allow them to callus over by allowing the cut end to dry, she said. Then you can stick your cutting in the sphagnum moss.

bolts on frame of vertical succulent container
To make sure the piece hangs evenly, attach wires to bolts on both the front and back of the vertical succulent container. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

“Be careful in the beginning,” Pochopin cautioned. “Don’t let it get too wet or the moss can get funky and your plants can rot.” Remember that until the plants are rooted, they’re not taking up much moisture.

But once the plants are rooted, make sure the sphagnum moss doesn’t dry out. This may seem odd to gardeners who are used to rarely watering succulents grown in soil. But the thing about sphagnum moss is that, unlike potting soil, if it dries out, it can shrink and harden, she explained.

“And we packed a lot of plants in here,” Pochopin said, pointing to one of the framed arrangements. “That’s a lot of plants to support.”

Stop in to the exhibit for inspiration for your own succulent artwork.

Volunteers Katherine Locke, Deb Pirson and Betsy Schneidermann worked on creating the succulent pieces and volunteers John Deppler and Rich Myers made the frames.

You can work on cool projects like these or help with other tasks by becoming a volunteer at the Botanical Gardens. A volunteer orientation will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 8 at the Botanical Gardens. You can register here.

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3 Comments on “Succulents become works of art at the Botanical Gardens; exhibit starts Saturday

  1. Need Help. Have a lovely lawn which this ur has Fairy ring ( Mushrooms) Been digging out deep and filling Then sewing grass seed. What can I spray to get rid. Need Advice badly Ena

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