America has rediscovered the open architecture, streamlined furnishings, pop art and bright colors that defined the postwar era. This midcentury modern movement has been clipped to "mid-mod," and it’s hipper than ever before.
It’s inevitable, because the costs of Victorian, Craftsman and even tiny bungalow homes have skyrocketed beyond most people’s means. Ditto new construction. But neighborhoods filled with postwar homes bearing the open beams and sweeping lines of modern design are still affordable. Designed for the baby boom, they’re again perfectly suited to young couples with growing families.
Outdoors, we want to create the same sense of colorful whimsy that is palpable with this architecture. The simple spaces want items of interest that offer exotic forms and colors without excessive maintenance.
The coolest new trend that has evolved out of the mid-mod movement is succulents. They bear distinct forms that are bold and graphic, standing out against the walls and surfaces of these simplified homes. Even in colder climates, succulents are a great choice because the plants can come indoors for the winter, thriving in the bright light of these open homes.
Because they hold so much moisture in their leaves, succulents thrive in small pots with a limited root zone, so they’re easy to move around. They’re also carefree, making perfect low-maintenance, high-profile accents.
Southern California is a hotbed of new succulent designs. Specialty garden centers are wonderlands of ideas. They show this enormous clan in unique ways that get your creative juices flowing.
Potted-succulent artists have evolved distinctly different approaches well-suited to modern homes.
The first style is modern minimal and quite masculine in look and feel. Forms are rectilinear, using square or rectangular pots to create bold geometry. Into these pots go a series of plants spaced perfectly to create grids and staccato effects. Small, colored mosaic tiles can be used to create square fields that offer design options for arranging plants.
The second approach is far more free-form and really sexy. It depends on the plants themselves to create a bold form. Upright cacti and other succulents can produce some truly spectacular poles, rosettes or balls that are geometric in their own right. The trick is to combine them with an interesting pot, and then to select a stone or glass mulch to create a beautiful surface within the pot.
A third style has its roots in Japan, where many elements of modern design were born. Some succulents — which have fleshy leaves to retain water, plus a thickened stem called a caudex — are outstanding bonsai specimens. When planted in bonsai-style pots, they make a superior focal point for any room, whether indoors or out. Creative shaping of the plants, plus the use of naturalistic stones, makes them fabulous for a mid-mod apartment patio or in a winter kitchen.
Ready-made, mid-mod succulent compositions aren’t cheap. Fortunately, they’re easy to make yourself. The trick is to use fast-draining potting soil in containers with large drainage holes.
Above all, keep it simple. Take your time to match the right plant to the perfect pot. Only then will you discover the character of these forms in many types of light. Whether the succulent is bathed in the morning sun of a windowsill or cast in afternoon shadows or night spotlights, no other plant projects the essence of modern so well.
Maureen Gilmer is a horticulturist and host of "Weekend Gardening" on DIY Network. Contact her at her Web site www.moplants.com or visit www.diynetwork.com.