Atomic Style Planters for Fellow MCM Geeks

For the MCM geeks - Atomic Style Planters!

I’m just going to say it – I’m a complete geek for all things MCM, especially the Atomic style patterns of the day. Fortunately for me, so are Joe and Angie of Ambient Wares and Joe created two amazing patterns you can download for free >here<!

I have so many ideas for these patterns, but the first thing I did with them was make some darling planters for my growing collection of succulents.

Clay pots with an amazing Atomic graphic

Initially, I painted two pots white and another two turquoise. I decoupaged Joe’s pattern to the rims of my pots. Unfortunately, when I sprayed them with sealer, the color of the clay bled through the white paint, making it appear dirty next to the bright white patterned rims. So I masked off the decorative rim and hit them all with the spray paint – Rustoleum Chalked in Serenity Blue – which turned out to be a perfect MCM color.

Planting a Dish Garden with Succulents

Choose a pleasing arrangement for your plants

Once everything was dry and sealed time for the fun! The thriller, filler, spiller rule applies to dish gardens as well as outdoor planters. I created a pleasing arrangement, then I used my favorite planting trick.

Place empty pots in planter as space holders

Gently remove the plants from their pots and then place the empty pots as space holders.

add soile and tamp down

Add soil and tamp in place around the empty pots.

Remove the pot leaving a planting hole

Take out one of the pots and there’s your planting space.

pop a plant in

Pop a plant in and move to the next ‘space’.

Continue until it's all planted

Here you can see the finished arrangement with a few more plants added in.

Small planter

One of the smaller pots, still using the formula of thriller, filler, spiller. I love the way this little pot came together with the delicate blue trailer, the fuzzy leaves of the filler and the spiky dark green height behind.

Another small planter

Here is another small pot. Check out Jaws in there!

Some of my collection

This little table used to be my play table as a kid. Now it sits beside my desk under a window.

the smaller pots in my wicker shelf

This little wicker thrift store shelf hangs above.

with the mini turtle

It’s also home to my mini turtle topiary.

All together now

these little pots make me happy

These little pots with their ‘Atomic’ patterned rims make me happy.



Owl Topiary


I was pretty excited to get started on this owl topiary but now that it’s finished I don’t like it. It doesn’t help either that for some reason getting the photos to my computer and then uploaded to here did not go as usual.

When I’m working with pictures, I usually change all of my file names to more descriptive titles before uploading. I may even include their order in the file name. Unfortunately each time I attempt to do any of that, my computer freezes up, so here we are. I’ll attempt to make the best of it but this won’t be a proper tutorial.

Circle of wire and beginning of body

For the base of the owl, I made a circle of wire about 7″ across. From there I attached two somewhat egg-shaped pieces of wire, crossed at the center. You can see I twisted them together and then wrapped it with finer wire to secure them. These are then attached to the base with all wire ends facing into the body of the owl.

Forming owl beak and ear tufts

This next piece of wire forms the beak and ear tufts.

completed frame for owl topiary

Before wrapping the frame in mesh, I added a third wire to support the center of the beak. I’m not sure it was necessary, but I do know it made planting in that area tricky.

attaching mesh to base of owl topiary form

The chicken wire is formed into a tube again, and the bottom edge securely attached to the base of the owl form.

Wire mesh over owl form

I’ve mentioned shaping the chicken wire in other posts. It’s surprisingly easy. If you compress the hexagons of the mesh one way, they get longer the other way. So when I want the ‘belly’ of the owl larger than the base, I shorten the hexagons and it gets wider. At the top of the owl’s head the mesh gets overlapped and wired close.

squeeze extra water from moss and fill frame

From there I started stuffing the owl. Squeeze out the moss as much as possible, and fill the owl topiary. The ear tufts took special attention to make sure they were completely filled. The entire owl took a surprising amount of moss to fill – it needs to be firmly packed in because it seems to shrink as it dries.

Planting the Owl Topiary

Until this point, I was pleased with my owl. It looked like an owl and more important, it looked like the picture in my head. Then I started planting it.

two large rosette shaped succulents for eyes

I’ve had these two rosettes set aside for a while. All along I knew they were going to be my owls eyes.

Tufts added and belly planted

I used florist wire to secure the plants, they can be taken out once everything roots into the moss.

planted owl topiary take one

At this point, I left the owl over night. Sometimes ideas need to simmer.

planted owl topiary take two

Eventually I added more Sempervivum (hens & chicks), thinking that would improve the look of the owl.

It did not.

I’m going to set him in a sunny window for now, we’ll see if time and plants growing improves him a bit but I honestly prefer the look of the mini turtle from last week.

What do you think? Which is your favorite?



Topiary Bunny Tutorial

Despite the nice weather we’ve had lately, it’s still to early for gardening. So to satisfy my urge to play in the dirt, I made a topiary bunny. And yes, there are succulents. He’s smaller than Fred so he can stay indoors in the winter.

Topiary Bunny supplies:

  • A bunch of succulents. Even this little bunny took a lot of succulents. Choose mostly the flatter rosette forms.
  • You can also use English Ivy. It’s a more traditional choice for topiary and tolerant of shady conditions. Choose smaller leaved varieties and if you place your topiary outdoors, make sure it doesn’t trail down far enough to touch soil or it will make a run for it.

  • A pot, preferably clay. Mine is an 8″ whitewashed clay bowl.
  • Chicken wire
  • Florist wire – used to ‘sew’ body parts together and to anchor newly planted succulents.
  • Heavier gauge wire – used to stabilize the topiary form where needed.
  • Side cutters. I scrubbed mine before taking this picture, I didn’t want you thinking I’m one of those jerks who might leave tools lying around outside.
  • Cactus Soil
  • Sphagnum Moss.
  • A bucket to soak the moss in.

Forming the topiary:

Soak your sphagnum in a bowl or bucket of water. Set aside.

For my 8″ bowl, I cut a piece of chicken wire about 24″ wide.

Twist the ends of the wires together to form a tube. Don’t go all the way up, just the first 6″ or so – about the height of the bunny’s chest plus the pot.

Set your chicken wire tube into the clay bowl and fill with cactus soil to about an inch below the rim. Tamp it down to secure the chicken wire tube.

Start shaping the bunny body. You finesse the chicken wire, stretching here, compressing there, and eventually its the shape of a bunny’s rump. Keep shaping the wire to make the slope of the back. If you need to, you can trim away some of the width of the chicken wire as you shrink your tube down to form the neck.

Once you start forming the neck, fill the body with the wet moss. Continue forming the neck and head.

Finish filling the bunny with moss and close up the chicken wire after trimming away your excess. My ‘seam’ runs along the top of his face.

Cut a piece of chicken wire about 4″ by 8″. Form it into a tube.

Use the florist wire to ‘sew’ the ears to the head. Flatten and shape the tubes as you fill them with moss. Had the moss been dyed, I might have left him just like this.

Thread a piece of the heavier gauge wire down each ear into the body to stabilize them. Curve the ears until you are happy with the shape.

Plant your topiary

Knock as much soil off the roots as you can. It makes it a little easier to push the roots into the topiary. Use your finger to make a hole in the moss and the work the roots in. A pencil is helpful for pushing the roots into the body of the topiary. For any plants that don’t seem secure, bend a piece of florist wire into a ‘u’ and use it to pin the plant in place.

My bunny topiary finished.

I used this cluster of frilly edged succulents as the tail.

A pink edged rosette for the nose.

Two similarly sized flat blue rosettes as eyes.

I’m not 100% happy with the cluster of hen’s and chicks on my bunny’s head. I’ll probably try to thin it out a bit so it’s less bulky looking. I also used some variegated English Ivy on my bunny, since I won’t put this one in the garden.

I highly recommend that just before closing up your bunny’s face, you form a ‘U’ shaped support as tall as your bunny from the heavier gauge wire and run it through the middle of your bunny. I did not do this and my bunny collapsed a bit with the plants.

This link – Make a Succulent Topiary – gives a more detailed tutorial on filling and planting your topiary form along with useful care tips.

So go make yourself a bunny!

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A Succulent Turtle Topiary

Succulent Turtle Topiary

Scrolling through Pinterest, I happened to see a pin featuring a topiary – it was a super cute Succulent Turtle! Unfortunately it was a dead-end pin, but it was so adorable that I felt like my garden really needed a turtle, I just wasn’t too sure about the succulents.

I’m probably one of the few people out there who hasn’t dived into the succulent craze. I’ve had access to them for decades through a local greenhouse and they just don’t do well for me. My yard is too shady so they get stretched and leggy. Then I either water them too much and they rot, or I water them too little and they shrivel up into succulent mummy’s.

But I can grow Sempervivum (Hens & Chicks) and Sedum. As a bonus, both are winter hardy here.

What I used to make my Succulent Turtle

Materials to Make A Topiary Turtle


Most items are available at the dollar store during the gardening season or you can use my affiliate links which help support this site at no extra cost to you.

  • 12″ wire hanging basket with coco liner
  • 4 – 4″ clay pots
  • Sphagnum moss
  • A small roll of chicken wire
  • Succulents. I used Sempervivum (Hens and Chicks) for my turtle.
  • Washers, wire and an old plastic pot (or a sheet of coir or landscape fabric big enough to cover the top of your wire basket)
  • Snips to cut the wire.

Make the Topiary for a Succulent Turtle:


Measure a square of chicken wire slightly larger than the basket. Then filled the basket with soil and water. Cover with landscape fabric or coir to keep the soil in. Next you fold and attach your mesh to the rim of the basket, use wire to ‘sew’ it together if you need to.

Use wire and a washer to attach each pot to the chicken wire. The ‘legs’ are not placed equally around the pot. Two are more together at the front and two at the back, just like they would be on a real turtle.

For the head I rolled a piece of chicken wire into a tube and then formed it into a turtle head or at least something vaguely resembling a turtle head. The tail is a flattened cone shape.

I stuffed them both with sphagnum moss before attaching them to the ‘shell’ with wire. The head at the front of the basket (looking up so he isn’t a moping turtle), and the tail to the underside.

Plant Your Succulent Turtle!

Then I slashed the coir (which sounds easier than it was) and stuffed the plants in.

You could paint the clay ‘legs’ or even glue sphagnum to them if you prefer, but I decided to leave mine natural.

I’m kind of pleased with my succulent turtle, even if his ‘shell’ is still a little bare. By the end of July, the Dragon Wing Begonia will be all around him and he’s going to look so cute nestled in there.

If you prefer a more natural look, line the basket with sphagnum moss instead of the liner it came with.

See how cute his little tail is?

I believe I shall name him Fred. I can hardly wait to see how Fred’s shell grows. He’ll be amazing.

For a smaller turtle that you can bring indoors, check out my Topiary Mini Turtle. You might also like my Bunny Topiary Tutorial.