A garden oasis and cultural center overlooking the Hudson River

From Wood Pallets to Plant Palettes

Raised outside Philadelphia, Wave Hill gardener Jen Cimino earned her BS in Wildlife Management and Natural Resources from the University of New Hampshire, where she got her first taste of horticulture. After graduating, she spent seven years at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden earning her horticulture certificate and botany certificate. After two years in upstate New York as the Garden Manager for a residential program offering horticultural therapy for adults and children, she returned to New York City to pursue a gardening career at Wave Hill. In the last five years, her responsibilities have included the Tropical House in the Marco Polo Stufano Conservatory, the Pergola, the Kate French Terrace, The Rossbach Monocot Border and the Aquatic Garden. In early June, Cimino will offer a gardening workshop on planting recycled wood pallets. Registration for the workshop will open in mid-May.

My plans are to reuse the plant pallets that I built last year. Last year I concentrated on tropical plants, since I had placed the pallets in the shade under the Pergola. This year, I am moving the pallets to the bottom of the Pergola steps, which is a hot, dry, sunny site. My focus will be on hardy, sun-loving, creeping succulents, with a few annuals mixed in for dimension and quick ease of filling in, as some succulents tend to be a bit slower to grow.

Since this past November, I have been in the planning stages. First, I measured the pallets and the spaces in between each slat to get an idea of how many succulents I would actually need. For last year’s pallets, I took cuttings from our Tropical House collection and rooted them into plug trays—a process that began during February and March. This year, we are purchasing the plants as plugs, which are small starter plants.  The first set of plants have arrived from Creek Hill Nursery today, and then the rest at the end of the month. This morning I am unpacking them and putting them in our greenhouse, where they will continue to grow until ready for planting.

Hoop-House

Some gardeners prefer to design their gardens on paper first, and then locate and buy the appropriate seeds and plants for their design. I work a bit differently.

First, I figure out the size of the garden spaces on graph paper in order to determine how many plants I would need. Then I make a list of plant combinations I really like, for color, texture, bloom time or height. If I see an overall color pattern, I go with that color scheme.

planningFor the pallets, I figured out the number of succulents I would need, then ordered according to color, texture, height and hardiness. Below are pictures ofthe plants I ordered. The pallets will be a mixture of Sempervivums and Sedums that I really like for all reasons I mentioned above, as well as for hardiness—so we can keep the pallets outside year-round.

The first group of four plants, clockwise from the top left, are Sempervivum tectorum ‘Forest Frost,” Sempervivum ‘Jade Rose,” Sedum spurium ‘Bronze Beauty’ and Sedum foresterianum ssp. elegans ‘Silver Stone.’first plant pair

Second pairThe second group of four, clockwise from the top left: Sedum ‘Sunsparkler Lime Zinger,’ Sedum hispanicum, Sedum repestre ‘Angelina’ and Sedum middendorffianum ‘Striatum.’third pair

fourth pairNow that the plants have been ordered, the design phase begins. This is when I cut and paste and draw and color. My first idea is for the large pallets to be miniature landscapes, and the smaller pallets to be more of a mixed textural composition. But the end-effect I hope will be the same—a living wall-collage of plants. Of course, with pallets this size, the landscape will be on a very small scale. For contrast, look at the first photo from my inspiration board: Eighth-inspirationIn 2012, London’s National Gallery and GE selected Van Gogh’s painting A Wheatfield, with Cypresses for a team of designers to recreate as a living mural. Seventh-inspirationThis is a living wall on a massive scale. I have also included other, less dramatic, samples from my inspiration board—including other living wall art, followed by more modest plant palettes.Fourth-inspiration

Sixth-inspirationFifth-inspirationThird-inspirationfirst-inspirationSecond-inspirationFor this season, I expect I will have to do some initial cleaning and touch-up staining of the pallets. When all the plants have arrived I hope to begin planting the pallets in early April, weather depending. Stay tuned!

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