http://paloaltoonline.com/print/story/print/2012/02/03/creating-a-wreath-that-lasts


Palo Alto Weekly

Real Estate - February 3, 2012

Creating a wreath that lasts

Linda Roark uses succulents, turning gardening into an art form

by Cristina Wong

When people think of art, they think of man-made mediums — paintings, prints and sculptures — but Linda Roark's art form is focused on water-retaining plants called succulents.

Much of Roark's career was spent as a molecular-biology assistant, but after her children left for college in 2009 she began seriously developing her interest in succulents. Ultimately, she started Artistic Succulents, a container garden business, out of her Los Altos home. Her business involves planting succulents in pots that can enhance a patio setting, a home garden or a front/backyard.

She also volunteers at Gamble Garden, taking succulents that are grown there and arranging them in containers that are distributed around the public garden, or creating arrangements that are sold during the annual spring tour.

And Roark teaches classes, including how to make a succulent wreath on Saturday, Feb. 4. In this hands-on class, she will talk about size and color, as well how to maintain the wreaths once at home. All materials are provided, and participants are asked to bring a small pair of tweezers.

Teaching at Gamble Garden is a way to support the horticultural foundation, she said, adding that she hopes more people will come to volunteer.

"I like to volunteer because it's really nice to express your art, but at the same time you're also helping your community," Roark said.

"Succulents are ideal to make wreaths because they do not require too much attention, and still can be nice, very textural and have a lot of colors," she said. They also last a long time, staying tidy and "nice," she added.

In the class, Roark will give step-by-step instructions on how to make the wreath, as well as show examples of previous succulent wreaths she has created.

"I hope people will appreciate it — you're going to learn how to do it, and you're going home with a wreath you can use at your own home, and it'll be something that will last you for quite a long time," she said.

The succulents Roark uses are "non-cactus" plants. When people think of succulents, they normally think of the prickly cactuses, but that isn't the case here. These succulents are soft and smooth, and grow in flower-like shapes on their own. Their colors are not the typical green of a cactus. Rather, succulents have vibrant hues of yellow, pink, red and purple. Though they are slow growers, they thrive outdoors, and are easy to maintain.

"I've always loved colors and textures," she said, adding that she likes those better than the actual flowers. "If you have color and texture with your succulents, it will last you much longer than if you only had flowers. ... With flowers of course you have colors, but they'll go away pretty soon."

Succulents are ideal for Roark's artistic creations because they last a long time. A type of plant that is meant for the outdoors, they prefer hot sun and dry soil. Though they are slow growers, the end result is satisfactory because their colors and textures remain intact for months.

"They take a lot of neglect," she said. "They don't like to be over-watered, need lots of light, and not so much water. ... (They're) very easy to grow." Much of Roark's inspiration to create a gardening-container business came from her parents, who were farmers and gardeners in Brazil where she was born. They exposed her to the gardening skills that she has perfected ever since.

"I have taken classes at Foothill College but most of what I know has come from teachings from my parents and my own experience in working with succulents," Roark said.

She used to think of gardening as just a hobby, and never thought it could be something more.

"I decided I really, really loved gardening and I wanted it to be something I could turn into a business. ... It's nice to be able to do what you love, and also make money doing it," she said.

She also got her artistic background from her parents, who are artists as well — her father a painter, and her mother, who practices Ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arranging.

"I think I got my artistic side from both of them," Roark said. "Someone pointed out to me that a lot of my containers that I make have an Ikebana style to it."

Roark said that anyone can make succulent wreaths and urged anyone interested to learn how.

"It doesn't require any special skills, maybe just a bit of patience."

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What: Make a Succulent Wreath with Linda Roark

When: Saturday, Feb. 4, 10 a.m. to noon

Where: Carriage House, Gamble Garden Center, 1431 Waverley St., Palo Alto

Cost: $70 for nonmembers, $60 for members

Info: 650-329-1356 or www.gamblegarden.org

Editorial Intern Cristina Wong can be emailed at cwong@paweekly.com.

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