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100 ways to create living arrangements in 'The Plant Recipe Book'

Designer Baylor Chapman to offer hands-on demonstration at Potted on Tuesday

When book publisher Artisan released “The Flower Recipe Book” last year, Studio Choo designers Alethea Harampolis and Jill Rizzo offered a glimpse of how to create striking seasonal arrangements at home.

Next up in the series is San Francisco floral designer Baylor Chapman, who offers hands-on advice for crafting accessible living centerpieces in “The Plant Recipe Book: 100 Living Arrangements for Any Home in Any Season” (Artisan, $24.95).

How accessible are her designs? “Don’t worry about going to the nursery,” Chapman said recently. “You don’t have to get a pot with a hole in it. Find a salad bowl or a pitcher and go dig something up out of your yard. Or get something at your local hardware store or grocery store.”

Chapman said she is trying to simplify garden design by offering step-by-step instructions for planting succulents, hydrangeas and other botanicals in whatever you have lying around the house: copper pots, lanterns, buckets and pitchers.

Chapman took a break from her studio work at Lila B. Design last week to talk about her new book and container gardening. Look for more tips on Tuesday when Chapman makes an appearance at the garden store Potted in Atwater Village for a book signing. She will also do a few hands-on demonstrations from the book beginning at 6:30 p.m.

And for fans of the Recipe series, Artisan will release “The Wreath Recipe Book” from Studio Choo designers Alethea Harampolis and Jill Rizzo this fall.

In your new book you cover soil, amendments, plant selection and other basic details. In your opinion, what is it that people don’t understand about planting container gardens?

I think that people are surprised by how much you can fit into one bowl. They are leery about adding too much to it. You can jam stuff in there like a floral arrangement. Succulents don’t mind being crowded. People tend to give them a lot of space. It’s not like a garden outside. The plants are not going to grow that much.

What do you do with the plants when an arrangement is done?

Sometimes you can take succulents out of an arrangement and plant them outside. Or separate them and plant one in a single container. An asparagus fern looks lovely by itself. Often you can make another arrangement from the plants.

Since this is a DIY book, can you make some recommendations on arrangements people can make using existing plants from their garden?

Definitely. The point of this book is to make it accessible to people. Say you’re having people over for dinner. What can you create quickly? Grab some succulents. Put some hoyas in a ceramic pitcher. Herbs such as thyme make a great centerpiece. Coral bells and hoyas do really well inside.

How do you suggest people go shopping for plants?

My strategy is to try and find the plant that is a little more unique. Something I haven’t seen before. I like things that have curiosity about them. A plant where people might ask, “Is that really a plant? How does that work? How does that grow?” I like it when people are fascinated by the plants I have chosen.

Any suggestions on drought-tolerant choices for container centerpieces?

Try an aeonium with a fern. Tillandsias are really cool. And you can stick them anywhere you don’t have a pot.

For those of us who have killed a lot of potted plants: How do you water the container you created? 

I have some tricks. Sometimes I place a container within a container to help with watering.  If it doesn’t have a drainage hole, I water it full and then tip the container in the sink to pour out any extra water. Even with the little succulents in Jell-o molds, I make sure no water is sitting in the bottom. I often use my finger and see how moist or dry the plants are.  

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