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Spice Up Your Surroundings with Succulents

Photo for: Spice Up Your Surroundings with Succulents

Kevin Eberhard (Photo by Glenn P. Knoblock)

If the “Frida Kahlo’s Garden” exhibit on display now through March 16 at Four Rivers Environmental Education Center in Channahon inspires you to enhance your own plant palette, succulents are a good way to add visual interest to your home landscape.

The water-hoarding plants are a smart choice for their ease of care and their ability to conjure up the tropical landscapes of Mexico that inspired Kahlo.

Kahlo (1907-1954) is considered one of the most significant artists of the 20th century. And she is known for including roots, leaves, branches and blossoms into her colorful artwork. She also created a beautiful garden at her home, Casa Azul in Mexico City, and adorned herself with flowers and items from nature. The traveling exhibit explores this aspect of Kahlo's life and contains some of the plants, including succulents, that inspired her.

Plants with character

If you view your home as a blank canvas, succulents can act as an element of interest, said Kevin Eberhard, who has worked as chief horticulturist for 21 years at Bird Haven Greenhouse in Joliet.

“They’re just so odd looking, they look like sculptures,” he said. "They're totally different than anything we would grow in the Midwest. They have a character about them. And they're so diverse in shape and size."

And if you decorate your home with succulents, you’ll be in fashion as well, he added.

“In the past 10 years, succulents have just taken off,” Eberhard said. “When they make it to the Dollar Store in artificial form, you know succulents have made it big time.”

Succulents are characterized by thicker leaves that can hold water, which is why they are native to warmer, tropical and subtropical climates, including Kahlo’s Mexico and the south and western United States. Succulents are tenacious plants that can be grown here easily if you keep a few rules in mind.

“They’re durable, but you have to keep them cool and dry. That is the key,” Eberhard said. “What happens is we baby them too much and think they need more water – but they don’t. If you are neglectful of your plants and don't water them for months at a time, they're going to be happy."

If your succulents aren’t surviving, “You’re either cooking them or you’re drowning them,” he said.

Succulents do well outside during the summer, from May through September, but they must be moved indoors before the first frost, Eberhard advised. And they should be kept cooler, dryer and in a well-lit area indoors during the winter.

Scoop on succulents

Eberhard will present, a program titled “The Scoop on Succulents,” from 11 a.m.-noon Saturday, February 16, at Four Rivers Environmental Education Center. However, the program is already mostly full, with just a few slots remaining. If you would like to peruse succulents and learn more about them, they are on display in the Joliet Park District's Bird Haven Greenhouse year-round.

If you're looking for some Frida-inspired plants that are native to the Midwest, there are many interesting options, said Ralph Schultz, the Forest Preserve District's chief operating officer.

"For instance, ferns, sunflowers, coreopsis, Eastern prickly pear, black-eyed Susan species and early wild rose would all be artistic, Frida-like additions to a Midwestern garden," he said.

All of these plant species, and more, will be available for purchase during the The Nature Foundation of Will County’s “Bringing Nature Home” Native Plant Sale from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, May 18, at Sugar Creek Administration Center.

Plants also will be available during a pre-sale fundraiser held from 4-8 p.m. Friday, May 17, at the same location. Tickets are $25 and attendees can enjoy music, food, beer and wine. For more information on the plant sale or the pre-sale, visit

Exhibit sponsors

"Frida Kahlo's Garden" is brought to the Forest Preserve through funding provided by The Nature Foundation of Will County. The exhibition is made possible by NEH on the Road, a special initiative of the National Endowment for the Humanities. “Frida Kahlo’s Garden” is adapted from the exhibition, “FRIDA KAHLO: ART, GARDEN, LIFE,” organized by guest curator Adriana Zavala at The New York Botanical Garden.

It was made possible with major funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, Karen Katen Foundation, The LuEsther T. Mertz Charitable Trust, MetLife Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, and Gillian and Robert Steel. It was adapted and toured for NEH on the Road by the Mid-America Arts Alliance.


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