I was inspired to write this weeks Recipe for Success because of my girlfriend who had just obtained a position with the ever coveted "Corner Office" just before the COVID-19 shut down at her work. She was so excited about this new promotion, but was dismayed by the fact that her low-light loving cubical plants shrivelled in the hot sun of the west facing windows. It was then discussing which plants she should add to her office window sill when I came up with this idea. She needed plants that A: Loved hot sun, B: Could withstand a long-weekend without watering and C: Didn't mind the low humidity of a climate controlled building.
To create this stunning arrangement I first had to pick the right container, and I immediately knew I wanted to use the low bowls from this Santa Fe inspired terracotta collection. Their rough ceramic sides remind me of adobe buildings throughout New Mexico and beyond. Another important feature of this pot is that it has drainage holes which is essential for not over watering your plants
As for plants Cactus and Succulents are something we carry year-round at Amsterdam. We pride ourselves on the extensive selection and variety. Be creative when choosing your plants, so don't take our plant selections here as gospel. You are going to see a large variety of plants to choose from, so go wild! As a general rule, Cactus and Succulents are slow growing plants and therefore you can afford to place them closer together than you would typically with tropical plants. I went for 5 plants in total, 3 Succulents and 2 Cactus. When choosing your plants you may opt for an assortment of Cactus and Succulents like I did here, or you could choose just one or the other. It is up to you!
Here is a full list of supplies you will need:
A good pair of gloves (leather is best) to protect you from cactus spines.
Teaspoon (plastic or metal)
16"-20" bowl style planter (4-6" deep)
5 plants (1 - 4" Echeveria 'Purple Pearl', 1 - 2" Echeveria 'Red Tip', 1 - 4" Echeveria 'Hookerii', 1 - 4" Cactus Mammillaria elongata ‘Cristata’ aka Brain Cactus, 1 - 2" cactus (unsure of the variety, perhaps a 'Balloon Cactus') * Again, these are just suggestions, be creative!
1 - 5L bag of ProMix Cactus & Succulent soil
1 bag of white decorative rocks
5 large decorative stones (we have them for sale in our Fairy Garden section)
First organize your supplies in one open workspace. Once you are holding a spiney cactus, you're not going to want to be fiddling with anything.
Glove Up! This step you don't want to skip.
Lay a thin layer of soil down at the bottom of your planter, about 1" thick.
With your plants still in their pots, mock up and play with the layout of your plants. Things to consider: will your planter only be viewed from one side? If so you may want to put the taller plants at the back of the pot. You may choose to group like plants or disperse them like I did.
Once you have a layout that you like, choose the two largest plants and plant those first.Gently squeeze the pot to loosen the soil, hold the plant in the other hand and pull it from the pot. Cactus do not have large root systems, so just place it on top of the soil without loosening the roots.
Next repeat the above process with your next largest and then the smallest plants.
Once everything is un-potted and placed in their spots, begin taking handfuls of soil and filling the gaps between plants. Watch your wrists around the cactus. If there are hard to reach spots between plants, simply use your teaspoon to insert and tamp down the soil. You want your soil to fill the gaps, but do not let it lay above the existing soil line.
Next take your large decorative rocks and place them around the planter to mimic the feel of a desert landscape.
Next wipe off your gloves as much as possible. Take handfuls of the white decorative rock and spread it over the exposed soil areas to make it look like a rocky desert surface.
The last step is cleaning up. Succulents and Cactus are lobed and it is likely you got dirt in some of the nooks and crannies . If you have a small paint brush, or even a old (no longer used!) toothbrush you can use this to brush the soil off the plants without hurting yourself.
Step 1: Prepare your workspace with the plants, soil and container.
Step 4: With the plants in their pots, play with the layout.
Step 7: Fill empty gaps with soil. Use your teaspoon for hard to reach areas.
Step 8: Place large decorative rocks.
Step 9: Spread white decorative rock on exposed soil areas.
And there you have it! All done! If you would like to accessorize or add to the desert feel check out our large cactus in stock such as a Barrel Cactus, 'Golden Candelabra' Euphorbia ammak variegata, and 'Quadricolor Century Plant' Agave univittata. Plant them up in these rustic terracotta pots used in this tutorial and add a fun wooden cactus ornament for a complete look!
Cheers - Heather Youl, Digital Media Manager & Gardening Enthusiast