Utter De-porchery part 3: repotting, arranging and the reveal.

My porch had gone from this:

Porch before

To this:

Furniture done!

After revamping the furniture

To this:

Planters painted

Still not happy, I painted some other planters with Ace Hot Tamale, in an attempt to zing things up a little. While buying paint, I also obtained some other cacti and succulents, along with another blue glazed ceramic pot:

Ready for repotting

Gotta love that Hot Tamale! Look at that color hum, it’s like chilly for your eyes! Makes me want to samba just looking at it.

I had also found the perfect front door mat at Crate and Barrel:

Savona Stripe Doormat from Crate and Barrel

Now I was ready to pot up the new plants.

When repotting cacti and succulents it is important to use a cacti-specific potting mix. This drains more quickly than regular potting mix, as cacti and succulents prefer less, rather than more, water. Which, if you are a plant belonging to me, is a very good thing. Cacti and succulents only need to be watered once a week. I can usually remember to do something once a week.

They also do not like frost, so having them outdoors under a porch in NorCal is ok, but not out in the open. Up a mountain, or further north than here, and you should take them inside for winter. I gathered my materials and began repotting:

1. Add enough potting mix in the base of the pot so the plant is the correct height when repotted. Not sitting so high the water runs off the sides, or too low so it looks like it is swamped by the pot.

2. Test the height of the plant is correct before removing it from the old pot

3. Take the plant out of the pot and gently loosen the root ball with your fingers.

4. Top up with soil around the sides and tamp down firmly. Water the plant to 'pot capacity' ie until water just starts to sit on the top of the soil. This helps the plant recover from the shock of replanting

Once you get into the rhythm of repotting things move along nicely.

Jade plant before

Jade plant after

Aloe Vera before

Aloe Vera after

I love how funky these succulents look in their new pots. I began to get that excited feeling again: when the end is close, and you know it is going to work.

I had, however, saved the hardest cactus for last. Outdoor furniture was not the only thing left behind at the Beige Palace. Sitting right next to the front gate was this cactus.

Tragic abandoned cactus desperately needs new home

In spite of its wickedly long and savage spines, I had painted a pot just for this plant. Because it called out to me to rescue it each time I walked past. Even though the thought of doing so made me blench and filled me with terror. How to do this and not get hurt? To repot this required some special equipment:

serious cacti replanting equipment: leather welding gauntlets, and a pair of tongs

Carefully wielding my tongs, and wearing long sleeves and leather gauntlets, I pruned the dead material off the cactus, and maneuvered it into its new pot. This was sufficiently tricky that I did not take any ‘in progress’ photos, but here it is finished:

Success! The super spiny cactus repotted without injury to me or it.

My daughter Elysia summed it up perfectly when she said ‘Wow! That cactus looks SOOO much happier now.’ And that is the joy of repotting plants: they look happy afterward. Gives you a warm inner glow, really. The satisfaction of knowing you made something’s life better. Even if it is an ultra spiny scary-assed cactus.

Now the plants were all repotted it was time for the best part: I was ready to start arranging. First I needed to analyze what I was working with.

I had the following pots:

Blue Green Hot tamale
1 large glazed 1 large glazed 1 large
1 small glazed 1 small glazed 2 small
2 painted

In them I had these plants:

Architectural habit Bushy habit
1 sensevieria (upright) 1 jade plant
1 aloe vera (upright) 1 unknown succulent
2 ball-shaped cacti (round) 1 peony
1 ultra spiny cactus (upright) 1 red pelagonium

As these charts show, even though I had a variety of plants and pots, there were common features among them. To have an arrangement where every single element is different is to create a mess. A skillful arrangement draws together disparate elements that have some commonality: repeated pots, repeated plants, plants with similar habits. And no, I did not make these charts before I started, I made them just now, so you could understand the rationale behind what I did, and potentially apply it yourself to your own home decor. If you think back to Matisse’s collage again:

Henri Matisse: 'La Gerbe' 1953

Yes the composition gets its verve and energy from a combination of analogous and complementary colors (for an explanation of this see here). What stops the work from becoming jarring and impossible to look at is his use of repetition. Repeated shapes give the work a rhythmic dancing feel. Each of the shapes is slightly different, but the forms are similar (like the similar growing habits of the plants).

The colors of the shapes range from blues and greens through to oranges and orange-reds. If there was one of each of these colors, it would be very hard to look at, but because he repeats each color, and includes analogous colors, the composition is calmed down enough for it to feel joyous, rather than jarring. He once again uses repetition to bring the composition under control, to make it communicate the joie de vivre he felt for his ‘second life’ (read about this here).

My blend of pots also uses repeated colors in order to bring a sense of unity to what might otherwise be a way-too-over-the-top arrangement. After all the idea of a porch is to welcome, not horrify. So the basic rule of arranging is: include some similarity as well as difference. There needs to be some commonality along with your points of interest. I began arranging the pots, swapping them here and there to see what worked best. Roxy and Treadwell joined me to offer advice and critique.

Roxy and Treadwell offer valuable assistance

I left the painted pots where they were, which left me with three sites for locating plants: on top of the painted plant stand, next to the painted plant stand, and next to the chair with the avocado cushion.

Personally, I prefer compositions that contain odd numbers of elements. As soon as you have even numbers things begin to feel contrived. Also, I needed to spread my similar elements over the groups, so while they were physically separated, there was a sense of unity and connection over the whole porch.

This sounds all very scientific and rational, but actually it involved lumping pots around the porch until it felt right. Unfortunately Roxy and Treadwell were no help with this part. Eventually it all came together. But before I show you how it turned out, here is a reminder of what it looked like when I started:

Porch before

After

What would I change: nothing really, I think it works pretty well. Ideally, it needs one more senseviera for the group around the plant stand, and the peony needs swapping out now it is losing its leaves for winter. But, for the moment, I am content to leave it as it is. And so is Treadwell:

The porch gets the Treadwell seal of approval

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