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Gardening box easy to build and will add instant flair

A vertical succulent garden in a gardening box, center, can be constructed in just a handful of steps. (Tyler Tjomsland)
A vertical succulent garden in a gardening box, center, can be constructed in just a handful of steps. (Tyler Tjomsland)

Attention, do-it- yourselfers: would you like to make an eye-catching project for your garden space? Vertical succulent gardens look fabulous on decks, patios and in the garden, and are not hard to create.

Just ask Maralee Karwoski, our go-to gardener for what’s cool, what’s hot, and what the best-dressed gardens are wearing these days.

“Vertical gardens have been around for a few years, but it took a while them to catch on in Spokane,” she said. “I got inspired at last year’s Pacific Northwest Flower & Garden Show. I went to a talk given by Robin Stockwell and decided to go home and make one of my own.”

So what is a vertical succulent garden? They are a stunning form of wall art or garden decor, in which you grow easy-care succulents in a box that is displayed vertically.

They are made with a picture frame that is attached to a soil-filled shadow box. The succulents are planted through a wire grid and can be arranged in interesting designs to showcase the colors and textures of the leaves.

What is a succulent, you ask? Succulents are low-maintenance plants with fleshy leaves and a shallow, fibrous root system. Examples are Hens-and-Chicks (Sempervivum), Crassula, Echeveria and the smaller Sedums. Hens-and-Chicks and Sedums are the hardiest of the lot so they can stay outdoors year-round. Crassula and Echeveria need to be brought indoors for the winter or grown as an annual.

“I like the quirkiness of succulents,” Karwoski said. “They are so varied, they have great texture and they seem to lend themselves to interesting, artsy containers. They’re so tough, you don’t have to worry about them dying off on you.”

Local garden centers sell a large variety of succulents and the Friends of Manito usually offer them at their plant sales as well.

To create your own vertical succulent garden, you’ll either need a store-bought shadow box – found at craft stores like Michael’s and Hobby Lobby – or you can build your own. The shadow box adds depth to the back of the picture frame, and provides space for the soil and the succulents’ roots.

“The container can be as wide or narrow, and as formal or rustic as you want,” Karwoski said. “The size of the project depends on where you want to use it. They do take a lot of cuttings and soil, plus the frame, which all adds weight, so it depends on whether or not you’re going to hang it.”

Let’s make the container first, using the items in the materials list:

1. Cut hardware cloth the size of the picture frame opening. Place the picture frame facedown on your work surface and staple or nail the wire over the opening.

2. If you make your own shadow box, construct it from 2-by-2s or 1-by-3s so the box will be the dimensions of the back of your picture frame.

3. Nail or screw the shadow box to the back of the frame. The wire will be between the frame and the shadow box.

4. Attach 1/4-inch plywood to the back of the shadow box and drill several drainage holes into it. Purchased shadow boxes will already have backs so just add drainage holes.

5. If you plan to hang the container, add hanging hardware to the back.

6. Paint the picture frame using outdoor paint, if desired.

7. Fill the shadow box from the front with cactus/succulent mix or potting soil containing perlite or pumice for good drainage by pushing it through the wire.

The next step is to gather your succulent cuttings.

“A couple of days before you’re ready to plant, take cuttings off the mother plant or trim off pieces, leaving an inch-long stem so it will easily fit into the mesh when you’re planting them,” Karwoski advised. “Store the cuttings in a cool, shaded place. This allows the cut area to scab over.”

Using a chopstick or pencil, poke holes into the soil in the box and insert the stem of each cutting through the wire mesh. Since the plants will grow over the season, it’s unnecessary to put a cutting into every opening. If desired, you can insert moss to hide the grid.

“Leave your frame lying flat in a cool, bright location while the plants take root,” Karwoski said. “Gently water it after 7 to 10 days. When the plants can take a gentle tug without coming loose, your succulent garden is ready to display vertically.”

During the growing season, she waters the succulents when the leaves begin to shrivel by laying the container flat. She recommends keeping vertical succulent gardens out of the hot sun.

Susan Mulvihill can be reached via email at For additional information and photos of vertical succulent gardens, visit her blog at susansinthe

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