Succulent gardens and arrangements seem to be making a comeback these days, but Suzanne Fahey of Home & Garden Gallery is no bandwagoner. She grew up as a young girl in the Philippines, where her grandmother grew succulents, and has called Huntington Beach home since 2000. In 2005, she and her husband, Bill, purchased a home in Fullerton that they planned to flip. They knew exactly how they were going to re-plant the front yard.
"People looked at my kids and I working on it and thought we were the weirdest bunch," says Fahey of her family's landscaping project. She went on to explain that at the time, succulents weren't experiencing the resurgence that they are today. "They had never seen many of the plants before," Fahey says of her bewildered former neighbors, adding, "They would go, 'Succu-what?!'"
Fahey slowly started to learn more about succulents by talking to people and trying to convince them to use drought-tolerant plants in their landscaping. She joined the landscape committee at Surfcrest, the gated HB community where she lives, also urging them toward drought-tolerant plants in the association's displays. Slowly, she has convinced the community to start going this route.
Fast-forward to 2010, when Fahey's good friend needed small gifts for her real estate clients. Working within a specified budget, Fahey crafted succulent arrangements as presents. Word of mouth spread, and soon people were asking her to create arrangements for party favors or wedding centerpieces. Schools and other organizations hosting auctions requested arrangements as donations for fundraising purposes. This is when Fahey realized that it really could become a business.
To this day, she still sells by word of mouth, but has added e-commerce on her website, where she also welcomes custom orders, offers yard and patio makeovers and produces wall art. Additionally, she runs A+ Memories, a company that transfers children's artwork onto items and sells them at fundraisers to enhance or maintain schools' art programs. Although she's retired, Fahey says between both projects, she stays very busy. One example of her hard work took place about a month ago, when she featured over 20 arrangements at the Downtown Fullerton Art Walk.
Fahey's product line currently includes a small square container known as the "Square & Mighty," a midsize round container dubbed "Round & Perfect," and "Trough & Beautiful," a larger rectangular trough. She keeps her three best sellers affordably priced by eliminating the most costly part of creating the tabletop gardens: the pot.
She began selling her creations in pots she purchased. Just this year, she taught herself how to make her own containers out of hypertufa. Tufa was an ancient stone used many years ago by farmers out of which they would carve water troughs for their animals. Hypertufa, according to Fahey, means "fake tufa," and is a mixture resembling the real stone with similar properties. Hypertufa, like the product it imitates, is very lightweight and porous, making it perfect for planters.
Fahey explains that her hypertufa begins as a liquid mixture that at first resembles cottage cheese. She mixes cement, peat moss and pearlite together, creating a mix that can be poured into any mold. It takes three weeks or more to harden through air drying. When completely cured, the containers for Fahey's arrangements take on a modern, raw, concrete look.
We've covered the containers, but what about what goes into them? Fahey says she chooses "the healthiest and the nicest looking" plants. When she first started making arrangements, succulents were much harder to find in nurseries. Now that they're popular, she obtains them from various nurseries. When deciding which plants to combine together, Fahey says she uses "trial and error," likening the methodic process to decorating.
Arranging and planting the containers can take nearly an hour from start to finish. Fahey tries to combine plants of either matching or contrasting colors. Her most frequently used succulents are the Echeveria plant as well as the sedum. She pairs large plants along with smaller ones to draw the eye in various directions. The colors of the succulents range from light to dark green and even turquoise. Others have reddish or coral tones. Some feature small round leaves, others large and pointed. Still, some grow long and vine-like, spilling over the side of the container. The grey of the containers gives the plants themselves plenty of room to shine. Fahey finishes off the look by covering the soil with sand, beach glass or stones.
Fahey's future plans include "going gangbusters" with her arrangements, adding more products to her line, a possible collection of Christmas arrangements, and succulents displayed in hanging clear glass bulbs. She has planted a test bulb, and if it survives, these could become part of her regular offerings.