Can a plant be a piece of art? Some might say no. I say, absolutely, yes! You might think “Of course a plant person would say that!” Perhaps it sounds like I’m elevating plants to an unreasonable status. Let me be clear. I don’t think that all plants are works of art, but Tillandsias, or Air Plants, are not your regular, run of the mill plant. Tillandsia Art, therefore, is something distinct and even extraordinary!
This marvellous, group of ancient plants (estimated at around 30 million years old) are members of the Bromeliad family and come in copious sizes, forms and colors. In fact there are at least 500 known varieties and can be as small as your thumb or as large as your head.
But the thing that I like most about them, what makes them unique, and frankly magnificent, is that they grow without soil!
What?! You are probably exclaiming. That’s right. No soil. No planting. None of it! You can stick it on a shelf or hang it on the wall; you can put it in a glass bowl or string them up on a wire. This is why Tillandsias are without a doubt, Living Art. Without the limiting nature of their soil-bound counterparts, they can go just about anywhere.
How to care for them
It’s tempting for me to dive into the care of these crazy little relics but I’ll resist the urge. My mission with this blog is about creating magnificent gardens through great design, proper tools and dynamic art. Caring for Air Plants properly is absolutely important, because while they are very low maintenance plants, they by no means are not NO maintenance. They need a very special kind of attention and if you don’t give it to them, you will most assuredly kill them. So instead I suggest you check out airplant.com to get the basics.
Now that we’ve got that cleared up! Let’s learn creative techniques on how to use them to create your own one-of-a-kind Tillandsia Art.
How to Create TILLANDSIA ART OF YOUR OWN
Creating your own piece of art with tillandsias is limited only by your imagination. Your piece can be simple, using only a single plant, or large and complex, using multiple varieties. Here are some examples of how I’ve used them in creating works of art for myself and my clients. I also have ideas I’ve been tossing around but haven’t executed yet.
Wall Art #1, GreenWall
Green walls are an amazing answer to small space design. Indoors or out, sometimes the only way to green up the space is by going up. There are a slew of products out there for this: wooly pockets are a favorite, and other cell based planters are common as well. Tillandsias, however, offer a fantastic alternative. But there is a right and wrong way to do it.
Learn from my mistake! I had a client who was looking for an 8’x2’ green wall. Attempt #1 was pretty beautiful. The client loved it. I loved it. Unfortunately the Air Plants did not love it. It was not successful.
- I used marine grade plywood as my framing board. This part was successful. Since the plants need to have water sprayed upon them regularly you need a moisture barrier which can hold water that won’t seep through to the wall. Marine grade plywood is great for that.
- I used nails as supports for each air plant. Not in and of itself a problem but ultimately was not a good solution for my design.
- I used a variety of Tillandsia called Ionantha Guat for the entire board. Turns out, these are very small and not very hardy. They are sensitive and short lived.
- I placed the Ionantha Guats too close together on the hard board. They began to die almost immediately. I replaced about 1/4 of the plants but they continued to die until I reworked the design.
Why did they die? Probably a combination of a few factors. Because they were placed so closely together but up against a hard board, the theory is that the 3 main saboteurs were 1. Not enough air flow, 2. They continuously dried out too quickly after being watered, 3. Their delicate nature was sensitive to the above two issues and so they could not get established.
Wall Art #2, GreenWall
I ended up revising the greenwall and started almost completely from scratch. I kept the board, removed the nails, did some research, and found a new technique and some new plants.
- Instead of nails, I used peat moss held to the board with 1” chicken wire. I then nested the Tillandsias with their wiry roots (and some fine gauged wire) in to the framing I had created.
- Instead of the tiny Ionantha Guat, I used a combination of Bronze Crown, Stricta Hugo, Aeranthos Purple Leather and several others to make a wall that varied in color and texture. It was far more dynamic and contained larger, more sturdy plants to withstand the rigors of the indoor conditions. The peat moss rather than just the board backing allowed the plants to hold moisture better, preventing them from drying out instantly but did not keep them soggy either. A beautiful result.
notes about greenwalls
When building an extensive green wall, the client should be made aware that, 1. Just because they are Air Plants, it does not mean that they require no maintenance and 2. Tillandsias die and need to be replaced just like any other plants. ALL green walls require ongoing maintenance and a replacement program (and budget). Tillandsias are no different.
Wall Art #3, Accent on Art
Some of the larger Air Plants are so primevally dramatic all by themselves. They yearn to shine in the spotlight all alone. I have created a mounting board with long nails to support them but the nails were insufficient—the plant would tip forward and fall off its perch. The solution was to use nylon wire and a hook and eye solution. The eye was screwed into the board and the nylon wire with a hook was wrapped around the base of the plant and affixed to the eye. Voila! The best part is that the nylon is practically invisible.
tillandsia art Curtain
Ok, I’ve never actually done this one but I totally want to give it a try. Air Plants can literally be strung up and survive the process. By that I mean that you can use a needle and nylon thread and basically sew through them to create an effect such as a curtain. Take the needle and nylon and pierce it through the base of the plant, tie knots if you want to prevent them from sliding down. This will not kill the plant (I know! Hard to believe, right?) I’ve seen it done but would love to try making a full doorway curtain with them. If any of you have done this, send pictures!
Tillandsia Art Planters
About a year ago I received one of my favorite requests from a client. Someone had gifted them an old steel wheelbarrow. My instructions were to transform it into a beautiful planter that…wait for it… would not require irrigation. The wheel barrow was alarmingly unstable and could not bear a great deal of weight. But the clients were adventurous and artists so I knew I could have some fun with it.
Using lava rocks (because they are extremely lightweight), some of the artists own pottery and a wide array of Tillandsias, strategically placed, I knew we could make something fantastic.
The moral of this art story is that ANYTHING can be turned into a fabulous piece of botanical art by incorporating Tillandsias into it. Hopefully you’ve gotten a few ideas to get you going and you’re ready to give it a try yourself. I think you’ll fall in love with them as I have. And if you’re not ready to make your own, we at Minanda Landscape Design offer custom, one of a kind garden art and would be happy to work with you to create a spectacular piece of Tillandsia art for your home, office or outdoor room! Just give us a call or send an email: firstname.lastname@example.org