Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably seen the latest gardening craze- vertical green walls. The concept was perfected and popularized on a large scale by French designer Patrick LeBlanc. You can also see green walls on a smaller-but-still interesting scale in the Conservation Garden Park Education Center or the Orangerie at Red Butte Gardens. However, if you’d like to see several interesting green wall concepts all in one place, then you simply MUST attend the Salt Lake Tribune Spring Home & Garden Festival at the South Towne Expo Center March 8-10 where, among the lovely temporary gardens, several different green wall concepts will be on display for you to view up close and personal! After you’ve experienced some much needed green at the Festival, you can create a little vertical green all your own!
Today we’re learning how to create a succulent picture frame. This is an inexpensive project that anyone can create.
- 1- 1 x 6 x 8 Cedar or Redwood board.
- 12 inch square piece of wire mesh (I bought the wire mesh on a small roll at the Home Improvement Store).
- 12 inch (approx.) square piece of plastic for the back. (I used polycarbonate for the backing which is the material campaign signs are printed on, hint, hint!)
- Wood glue
- Succulent soil mix
- Sphagnum Moss (I bought this in a big bag at the craft store).
- Clippings of Hens and Chicks (sempervivum) or Sedums from your yard (or a neighbor’s yard with permission!)
- Optional: hanging hardware (rated for 25-50 lbs. to be safe) and rubber feet to create a small air space behind the frame and prevent water damage.
- Pneumatic staple and nail gun OR hand-held staple gun and finish nails.
- Miter saw (basic) or table saw (for lapped joint construction version).
In it’s simplest form, you can create a 2″ deep box from cedar or redwood that does not exceed 12″ in height and 18″ in width- we find that larger boxes get too heavy (remember that the dry weight of the frame is significantly less than the “wet” weight) and have too many issues with the soil settling. Staple “hardware cloth” wire mesh to the front and staple a plastic or polycarbonate backing on the frame and you have the makings of your own “Picture Frame” which can be planted with hardy succulents such as Hens and chicks. This type of simple frame should hold up just fine- especially if you stick with the smaller size. You don’t need to feel obligated to do the lapped joints shown below but my Dad is a Master Craftsman and it’s just not in him to simply nail a few boards together so we’ll show you the over-achiever way to do it below for those who wish to get an A+ in class.
Let’s start by building a frame. While you can just nail some boards together (use wood glue on all joints no matter how you build this), if you have basic table saw skills you can create a lapped joint that will be a bit stronger over time. We’re going to build a box that is roughly 12 inches x 12 inches. The first thing we did was rip a piece that was 1 1/2″ wide from the 1 x 6 board (which really measures 5 1/2″ wide, go figure) creating an 8 foot strip that is 1 1/2″ wide and one that is 4″ wide. The 4″ wide piece will be used for the sides (though you can get away with sides that are as little as 2 inches deep). The 1 1/2″ piece will be used to create the frame on top of the box.
However you build the frame, once the frame is finished, we’ll need to add the wire mesh (found at home improvement stores) to the front of the frame. This mesh typically comes on a roll and you’ll just snip off the size you need with tin snips. Save the rest of the roll and any leftover cedar wood because I’ve got another great garden project coming soon that will use up those leftovers! Make sure you don’t leave any prickly wires hanging over the outside edge. Although the wire mesh will be covered by the frame on the front, it will still be possible to nick a finger on wire sticking out the side so pay careful attention to the trimming.
Once the wire mesh is secured, we can fit the frame on top. If you’re much better at measuring than I am, you can just measure and cut the boards. We opted to cut the long sides (adding 1 1/2″ to the 12″ to account for the overhang over the sides of the frame so the long pieces were 13 1/2″ wide). You can then measure the length needed for your shorter pieces. Nail the face frame to the box.
Now we’re ready to fill the frame with planting medium. I want my picture frames to look good from the get go so I will pack an inch of sphagnum moss into the bottom (which is really the TOP of the frame when right side up) first. I then fill it with succulent soil mix (I make my own mix but you can simply go with the commercial blend from home improvement stores or nurseries). Water the soil well then pack it down as much as you can. Yes, you will lose a little soil out of the face frame but if you use the moss, the loss will be minimal. I find the moss helps keep the soil from eroding out of the frame over time. The key is to really pack the frame full of as much soil as you can squish in. Otherwise, the soil settling which occurs in a vertical frame will leave the top portion of your frame with no soil media in it. Once you’ve packed down the soil, add more then water again. When you’re sure you have all the soil in it that it can hold, secure the plastic to the back. Now pick it up and notice how much HEAVIER it is than it was when dry. Make sure whatever hanging hardware you purchase for the frame is rated to hold the WET weight of the frame! If you will use this on an interior wall, purchase some rubber feet from the home improvement store to hold the frame slightly away from the wall and prevent potential water damage to drywall.
The next step is to gather some clippings from your yard. In a pinch, you can purchase a few if needed. I am writing this post at the end of February so, as you can imagine, plant materials are limited this time of year. Luckily, I had some Hens and Chicks growing in a pot on my patio so I brought the pot inside and waited for the snow to melt off before clipping the little “Chicks” free from the “Hens” on my Sempervivums. Leave the hen- you just want the babies as the hens are too big to plant in the mesh screen.
If you are Type “A”, you can thread the little stems through the wire mesh, into the moss. IF you are Type “B”, you can just throw a whole mess of cuttings on top of the frame and they will root in all on their own over time. No matter which way you do it, within a couple of months they’ll look pretty much the same. Succulents require about 6-8 weeks to root. I would leave the box laying flat for the first couple of months then turn it vertical when the plants are firmly rooted and have spread nicely across the top. Once mounted on a wall, turn the box a quarter turn every so often, if you like, to ensure the plants grow evenly across the surface. If the frame gets “overgrown”, take some cuttings and start a new succulent project!
Water by removing the frame from the wall and completely soaking it for 20 minutes. Allow to drain then re-hang. If you’re placing it on an interior wall, make sure it’s drained well and slightly dry before replacing it on the wall. Outdoors on a sunny wall the frame will require watering at least once per week, probably twice when temperatures are high. Indoors you may only need to water it once per month! At the end of the season, I would recommend that you lay it flat for the winter months but you can leave it outside- the Sedums and Hens and Chicks are drought tolerant and Utah- hardy!