Who among us has not have fallen in love with a cute-as-a-button baby succulent, only to have it grow into an awkward, leggy teenager with thick, gnarled stems? Luckily it's easy to transform it back into something glorious: a bouquet that needs no water.
I discovered the trick the other day when I wandered into a local floral shop called Green Door Design, where owner Susie Turner had brought in thick-stemmed echeveria succulents pruned from her garden. Tied in bunches, they were lying on tables around the shop.
"You can put them in a vase—with no water—and they'll be happy for a month or longer," Turner told me. "Then, stick them in dirt and they'll grow."
"Seriously?" I asked.
"They're $12.99 a bunch," she said.
Photographs by Michelle Slatalla.
Above: Better than fake flowers. Native to the mountains of Mexico, echeveria are happiest in the desert. What this translates to at home: no maintenance, no upkeep, and they'll last for weeks in a vase.
When choosing a vase, remember that succulents, plump from hoarding water in their leaves, look good juxtaposed against metal or rustic surfaces.
Above: There are a lot of different types of echeveria. The genus belongs to the Crassulaceae family of succulents, and was named after the 18th-century Spanish botanist Atanasio Echeverría (who collected plants and made drawings during an expedition to Mexico).
If you are like me and have a hard time keeping your succulent varieties straight, don't worry about getting "the right echeveria." All you need to make a similar bouquet is a few leggy succulents with a rosette-shaped flower at the end of each stem.
Above: As echeveria grow, their leaves fall off and reveal a thick, woody stem. After a few months, they start to look like a prehistoric plant you'd see in the background of a Jurassic Park sequel. It doesn't hurt the parent plant if you prune the woody stems. (If you don't want to make a bouquet, you can also prune the stem just below the flower and root it directly in soil.)
Above: To make a bouquet, step one was to prune woody bits off each stem. The idea was to make a tight clump of flowers (so the woody parts don't show); the straighter the stems, the tighter you can clump them.
Above: I tied twine around a "base bouquet" that consisted of several stems cut to a similar length.
Above: As you can see, the "base bouquet" still had lots of gaps in it—after it went into the vase, I could see a lot of woody stems. So the next step was to tuck in individual stems to fill out the arrangement.
Above: The result was a pillowy, sensuous ball of flowers.
Above: I kept the height of the bouquet low to create the effect of a plush pincushion above the lip of a painted iron vase from France (circa 1920). An urn shape with a wide mouth is a good shape to hold the stiff bouquet in place.
And a month from now? I'll plant the echeveria. Check back if you want to see step-by-step instructions.