Debra Prinzing

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My sedum-planted wicker chair

Sunday, May 23rd, 2010

Take a seat. A succulent seat, that is.

Voila! My sedum-planted wicker chair as garden art

If you’ve ever admired the charm and whimsy of a planted chair, you’re not alone. I’ve always liked plants combined as a design element with furniture. When my mom passed along Grandma’s 1940s wicker porch set, I knew that the slightly unraveled rocking chair was destined for a new role in my garden. So two weekends ago, on Mother’s Day, I started creating a sedum seat for the cherished rocker.

After giving Grandma’s wicker chair a fresh coat of herbal green paint, I was ready to turn the family hand-me-down into an ornamental garden feature. Here’s Part Two of my Mother’s Day gardening project, which illustrates how to prepare and plant the chair. 

Step One

Step One: Using a sheet of 1/4-inch wire mesh and a pair of wire clippers, I cut out a seat-sized section to fit into the chair’s base. A staple gun came in handy to secure the mesh to the piece of wood bracing.

Step Two: I layered sections of dry Angel Moss over the mesh. A highly-absorbent variety of sphagnum moss, Angel moss is a nifty product that I discovered last month while teaching four container and hanging basket design classes for Gardening How-To magazine. The moss hails from the bogs of New Zealand and, because of the way it is farmed and harvested, is considered a renewable resource. You can purchase pre-formed liners to fit into wire hanging baskets or flat sheets to use for projects such as mine.

Step Two

As dry as a piece of brittle cardboard, Angel moss changes its character dramatically when exposed to water. It’s a fabulous medium for baskets, window boxes and the mesh seat of my wicker chair because the moss proves itself to be an excellent material for holding soil and plants. It doesn’t dry out as quickly as the kind of coco-fibre or woodland moss we’re used to here in North America.

Step Three: On top of the Angel moss I spread approximately 3 inches of my planting medium. I’ve learned that the best environment for growing succulents (especially in containers) is to mix equal parts organic potting soil with cactus mix. Erin Taylor, owner of Botanik, a great garden emporium in Summerland (near Santa Barbara) taught me this recipe soon after I moved to Southern California. One look at her shop’s awesome succulent containers and I knew she was speaking from experience.

Step Four: My friend Jean Zaputil, who I call my garden muse for the 25 years of design, horticulture and landscaping knowledge she’s shared with me, was visiting from Seattle last weekend (along with our mutual friend Jan Hendrickson).

We had a little free time on Sunday morning so Jean offered to do the planting layout for my chair. She worked with about 14-16 small succulent plants of varying colors (ranging from silvery-white to lime green to red-burgundy).

Step Four

Before planting the “seat,” we tackled the tricky gap in one of the chair’s rolled arms.

Plants in the "arm"

A total negative from my mother’s point of view (the shredded wicker arm reminded her that a childhood dog had gnawed on the arm and practically ruined it for comfortable use), I decided to use the gaping void as a spot for more succulents.

Jean fashioned a shallow tray with the 1/4-inch wire mesh sheeting. We fit it under the arm and wired it into place. Just as with the seat, we inserted some pieces of Angel moss and poured in some soil. The chewed-away openings now hold three succulents, including the very pretty Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’. Its chartreuse-color and fluffy form will drape over the arm and soon obscure the mesh tray.

Jean Zaputil, as always, my garden muse

Jean arranged the sedums, sempervivums and other succulents to create the planted seat.

Even though the root space appears shallow, these plants will do just fine. They are ideally suited for my project – able to withstand extended periods of drought.  A quick “shower” every week or so will give the plants enough moisture to take root in the soil/Angel moss and begin to spread, eventually filling in the seat.

And pretty soon, I’ll have a lush, succulent “cushion” for my grandmother’s wicker chair.

Now I’m looking at a modern wicker chair – a Pier One version with leg bent from too many teenagers leaning back in it while playing X-box games – and thinking about giving that chaise a new life in the garden. It’s currently natural colored, but maybe a coat of paint and a new planting theme will give it the necessary style to move outside.

Wonder what plants belong in that chair? Maybe I’ll paint it peacock blue and do an all-white flowering scheme! Stay tuned.