Handi-hour Crafting: Plants

  • KATIE CROOKS: Hi, I’m Katie Crooks, Public Programs Coordinator for the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and today, for our Handi-hour crafts, I’m going to be showing you how to craft with plants and create different types of small garden crafts. I’ve invited with me today Cynthia Brown, Education and Collections Manager for Smithsonian Gardens. Welcome, Cynthia.

    CYNTHIA BROWN: Thank you, Katie, thank you for having me.

    KC: Wonderful. Today, I just, as you can see, a lot of stuff going on on the table. We will be talking about how to create an abstract, modern-art sculpture for a small potted plant, as well as creating a home for succulents that can rest right on your refrigerator with a magnet, and then some other decorative things. We have plant markers and decorative terra cotta pots. First off, though, I had specifically talked to Cynthia about different types of plants that we wanted to use, and I thought maybe she could tell us a little about the plants she brought today.

    CB: Sure. With the instructions that you gave me, Katie, you wanted something that was going to survive with very little water, so the plant that I thought, or the class of plants I thought of immediately, were succulents, and succulents are plants that are very adapted to grow in low light and low-water situations. Not always low light, mostly low water, so we brought a collection of those along, and then you wanted plants that were not going to outgrow a small pot, so we looked at some of those that are very easy to bonsai or keep small in the pot. Eventually you might want to move them out, but you don’t have to.

    KC: Fantastic. So, the first thing I want to talk about is kind of this little environment that we’ve created here. We went ahead and got a bunch of 4-inch terra cotta pots. Terra cotta pots come in a variety of sizes, available at hardware stores and craft stores. All over the place, very easy to obtain, and so what we’ve created is a modern art sculpture, and the idea that we’re playing with is the idea of a fairy garden, which is something Cynthia brought to my attention. Could you tell us a little about fairy gardens?

    CB: Sure. At Smithsonian Gardens, we hold a collection called, “Archives of American Gardens,” and we’re collecting slides from gardens all over the United States from the late 1800s, and so one of the things that came to mind is a fairy garden. A fairy garden is an old, stylized garden, got the beginnings in “penjing gardening,” which is really miniature landscapes. It’s where bonsai comes from, so a fairy garden is a great project to put together with friends, with children, with grandchildren, whoever, because you’re creating a miniature landscape to invite a fairy to come and visit you. Maybe even live in your pot.

    KC: That’s fantastic. It reminds me of the idea of going out to a sculpture garden. You could go visit nature anywhere, but it makes it a little more fun to have some art there.

    CB: Right there with you.

    KC: So, these are perfect for your coffee table, or your porch, whatever space you have available, so we’ll show you how we kind of constructed this little guy here. We’re using materials that are available just downstairs in our craft closet. You can use whatever you have at home. I decided to use a cork because I have quite a bit of it, and it’s really a very easy process to create one of these little sculptures. What I used, I have scissors, and I have a wire cutter, cork, some wire, and a variety, as you can see, my big ol’ glass here, full of beads, just lots of shiny different things that might be very attractive and fun to use. I cut my wire into two pieces, and that’s useful because you’re going to want to have a place to anchor it into the soil, so this one here has a nice anchor on it, and the flowers on the front are glued, and the rest of the beads are just strung onto the wire.

    CB: And it’s color-coordinated, too.

    KC: It is. It works very nicely, and you can just stick the wire right onto the cork, which is usually pretty easy to do, and then, whatever you have around for different types of beads. Maybe bend it down, so they don’t go anywhere. Place another, small piece of wire in the bottom, and you can just keep adding different decorations. I’m going to have Cynthia show us, though, the proper way to go ahead and put some of these succulents into a pot, though.

    CB: This is easy-peasy. So, just get some great, well-draining potting soil. Fill up the pot about halfway, then take whatever plugs, and these are called plugs. Doesn’t it kind of look like a plug that you plug in some place? And just start placing them how you would like them in the pot. I really like using a variety of textures, so we’ll use this little, this is “Putchalaka,” this is a little baby “Adjuga,” it’s one of the cutest little ground covers, and then maybe one of these “Sedums” as well. All color-coordinated. And then you want to fill it back up with more soil. And then, of course, when you get everything in place, put it in the sink and water it down. And, tada!

    KC: Fantastic! And once you’ve created a sculpture, this one being very minimalistic, you just go ahead and plug it right in there, and you have your decorative art for your fairy garden. Fantastic.

    CB: I would go to that garden.

    KC: Me too. Now, so let’s say, this is a little much garden for you, you want something a little bit smaller, we’ve come up with one more craft for that idea, and that’s the idea of a cork magnet craft, where you can go ahead and drill a hole in a cork, glue a magnet on it, and then Cynthia has chosen succulents for us that will work very well in this environment for a long time.

    CB: You’d be surprised how long these things last without any water. So, I just picked up a sprig of this Sedum, it has a little bit of a stem on it, you would just put that stem right down in the cork. You don’t want any leaves in there, just the stem.

    KC: Fantastic.

    CB: Then you could fill it with a little bit of tacky glue. Ideally, a little bit of soil would be good, but we thought tacky glue would hold it in for a while. It won’t last until, probably more than a year, but for a year, you’ll have something on your refrigerator.

    KC: But that’s a significant period of time. Especially if you don’t really have a green thumb, this is an excellent way to go about it. And we just used regular glue and a very basic ceramic disk magnet, which is available at hardware stores or office supply stores, and corks are very lightweight, so it’s very easy for you to use a basic tacky glue, and this will hold very well on your refrigerator or other metallic surfaces.

    CB: Hold up all those pictures of you on your vacation.

    KC: Exactly. And as far as drilling the holes in the cork, we just used a very basic hand-drill. If you don’t have one, you could even use a screwdriver and just twist the cork directly out, and a lot of times corks, these being wine corks, a corkscrew was used to pull them out of the bottle, and a lot of times they’ll have a little bit of a hole there. You can simply take a piece of wire, like the wire we were using before, and use that to kind of make a little bit more of a cave for your succulent to sit in.

    CB: I think that’s a great idea. We have so many corks sitting around at home, why not?

    KC: It’s a great, easy way to recycle them. They’re awesome and lightweight, and in addition, if you have a lot of corks, and say you have a variety of potted plants, we’ve also created these plant markers, here one for basil, which is super easy if you use a really sturdy straw, or perhaps a bamboo skewer that you would have had after making s’mores or kebabs or something on the grill.

    CB: Chopsticks.

    KC: Chopsticks work, too. Anything that would be tall and sharp, just go ahead and push it directly into a cork, with a little bit of force, and it’ll go ahead and stick, and then whatever type of plant you have, you can go ahead and write that on there. You could even stick it in your garden and write, “Fairies Welcome” on the top, and that would work well, too. In addition, we’ve also decorated some of our terra cotta pots here with designs. We just used permanent markers, and let our creativity run wild.

    CB: You could even glue some of your little do-dads on that.

    KC: Definitely. Terra cotta’s a nice, absorbent material, so it would hold well with your standard type of glue. Well, thank you, Cynthia.

    CB: Sure.

    KC: This is a variety of ideas. I think our viewers will have a good time.

    CB: Great. Thanks for coming.

    Public Programs Coordinator Katie Crooks is joined by Cynthia Brown, Manager of Collections Management and Education at the Smithsonian Gardens to demonstrate craft activities for the next Handi Hour program at the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

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