Succulent topiaries by Pat Hammer

Succulent Topiary Tips, Care and How-To

UPDATE: Sadly, topiary specialist and artist Pat Hammer, featured here, passed away in August, '23. Her business is in transition.* When it gets going again, I'll add that info and announce it in my newsletter.

How Pat Hammer Did It---And You Can Too!

In my video, Pat Hammer demonstrates step-by-step how to plant a succulent topiary. Pat explains design, watering, pruning, and long-term care. She shows how easy it is to plant cuttings in a moss-filled form, and how to keep a planted topiary looking good for years.

Planting a dog topiary (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

Above: I'm working on a dog topiary at Samia Rose Topiary. Friend Sandi Dixon joined me. In the video and gallery below, you'll see her first-timer's teapot topiary. 

Thanks to Pat, I'm inspired to use succulent topiaries to add whimsy and appeal to my garden and outdoor living areas. I can attest that such Disneyesque plantings delight guests, make wonderful gifts, and are simple, rewarding projects to do with friends, garden clubs and grandkids.

Pat Hammer and Debra Lee Baldwin

Over tea at Samia Rose, I talk topiary with founder/designer Pat Hammer (from the video)

Tabletop Topiaries

Such topiaries are perfect for patios, outdoor sitting areas and entryways---any sheltered area where they can be seen up-close and get adequate light. With proper care, such sturdy, metal-frame topiaries last decades.

Succulent topiary dog

A dog topiary greets visitors to my home 

Create a Topiary

You'll need:

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Pinning succulent cutting to moss topiary form

Pat shows how to attach succulent cuttings (from the video)

Plant a topiary, step-by-step:

  1. Submerge the moss-filled form in water for at least an hour. Let drain. When it no longer drips, it's ready.
  2. Set up a work area and spread out your cuttings. If you have a lazy Susan, it's handy to rotate the form as you plant it.
  3. Secure cuttings to the moss with floral pins.* Optional: Poke  a hole in the moss for a cutting's stem before pinning it.
  4. Leave ears, tails, faces and lower legs unplanted so it's obvious at a glance what the figure is.

Bunny topiary kit

Pat's topiary kits came complete with floral pins, instructions and cuttings (if ordered). 

Topiary Care

Typical of most soft-leaved succulents, those in a topiary thrive in a location that gets several hours of sun (morning or afternoon) and bright shade the rest of the day.

Plants grow in the direction of greatest light, so for balanced growth, turn the topiary 180 degrees weekly.

How to prune a succulent topiary

In the video, Pat Hammer demonstrates how to prune and refresh an overgrown topiary

Keep moss moist but not soggy. If a topiary is heavy when you lift it, it's wet enough. If it's lightweight, it likely needs water. If it goes completely dry, soak it to rehydrate it (plants and all). A lot depends on where you live; In humid areas, moss doesn't dry out as quickly.

Most succulents need protection from frost, strong sun and extreme (desert) heat. If you need to seasonally shelter a topiary indoors, give it good air circulation and use grow lights to keep plants from stretching.

Should you add fertilizer when you water? It's not necessary, in fact it can make plants larger. It's best for the look of the topiary if they stay tight and compact.

Trouble shooting

No worries! If succulents rot from overwatering or shrivel beyond hope from under-watering, simply pull them out, discard, and start over with fresh. Remove as many of the old pins as possible. Be careful, because they'll have rusted. Btw, rust is a good thing aesthetically because it turns shiny pins brown, so they disappear. "Which," as Pat liked to say, "makes what you've created seem like magic."

About the Artist

Pat Hammer began her specialization at famed Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania. When we met several decades ago, Pat was renowned for large topiaries for destinations such as Universal Studios, the Dallas Arboretum and the San Diego Zoo.

Life-sized horse topiary

This life-sized horse was among Pat's large projects, early-on

Pat put Samia Rose on hold for 12 years to serve as Director of Operations at the San Diego Botanic Garden. She gave the garden nine life-sized topiary dancers and mariachis that she'd made earlier for the Philadelphia Flower Show. They continue to be the SDBG's most photographed displays.

Ivy topiary figures Rachel Cobb photo

Ivy topiary mariachis by Pat Hammer (Rachel Cobb photo)

Read Pat Hammer's obituary by Susi Torre-Bueno, past president of the San Diego Horticultural Society. 

*If you're interested in a creative, succulent-oriented business with great potential, contact Francisca, (760) 215-9540.

Succulent topiaries at Samia Rose 

Succulent Christmas Tree Holiday Centerpiece

[With Video] Make a succulent Christmas tree for your holiday tabletop centerpiece. This topiary cone with cuttings inserted into the moss needs less care than a floral arrangement and lasts much longer.

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Succulent Centerpieces

Learn About My Online Class! Succulent centerpieces last months and look good long after the occasion you made them for. Shown here are ideas for tabletops, floral-style arrangements, groupings and more. Follow the links for additional info and how-to help. Above: Jeanne Meadow of Fallbrook, CA, keeps this succulent centerpiece on her patio table. Jeanne’s…

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Make a Succulent Wreath, Step-By-Step

Make a Succulent Wreath, Step-by-Step UPDATE: SEE THE COMMENTS if you’re using small rooted succulents.  Succulent wreaths have been popular for decades. Follow these simple instructions to make a succulent wreath, and you’ll find out why. No soil needed! I recommend making a soil-less succulent wreath because soil is messy, heavy, dries out quickly, and—surprisingly—isn’t…

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  1. Deborah Morris on September 5, 2021 at 2:17 pm

    How do I buy the rabbit succulent kit ?

  2. Yvonne Lee on October 14, 2023 at 10:30 am

    Such a loss of a very creative and talented plant artist. Well, the video got me all excited and I would love to buy the bunny topiary kit. So I was disappointed to see that the business is on hold pending a new owner stepping up to take it over. After doing a Google search, I didnt see any other bunny topiaries for sale that are as cute as Pat’s. Pls let us know if there is a new owner and when we can begin to place orders. Thank you, Debra! Loved the video lesson!

    • Debra on October 14, 2023 at 12:25 pm

      Thank you, Yvonne, I will! Debra

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