The orderly nature of modern design appeals to our need for simplicity in a progressively complex world. The simple lines of both modern architecture and interiors offers respite from strip commercial, traffic and media where color and image change faster than ever.
There has been difficulty in understanding the relationship of plants to this style.
But one group of plants seems intrinsically suited to modern design. It is the cactus, but not all of them. Specific types of cacti are so remarkable in their symmetry that it is difficult to believe they are living things. Moreover, their uniformity of growth is so rigid that many individual plants can be used to create pattern and shape on a small scale.
Cacti best suited to modern design have round, symmetrical forms. These are often perfect globes that remain so throughout their lives. Only with time do they grow larger in size, but their surface details are static.
At Sunnylands, the former estate of the Annenberg family, an innovative modern garden was completed just over a year ago. Within its confines are examples of cactus in modern architecture on a grand scale, illustrating how to exploit uniformity of growth. However, the Achilles heel of such rigid uniform plantings is the reality that these are plants, and plants will die or sometimes be unpredictable. If one of 100 identical golden cacti is lost, only a replacement of the exact size and age can fill the void.
Cacti are perhaps even better suited to modern interiors. Whether an apartment in New York City or an expansive period restoration in Palm Springs, Calif., the role of cactus as interior decor remains paramount. So long as there is adequate light, and with most modern homes there is, these plants can become highly decorative elements. Here, too, the uniformity of growth allows multiplicity in design, with a series of identical plants emphasizing line or highlighting space.
To use cactus for decorative elements, it is essential to understand their primary needs to maintain perfect health and appearance over time.
Above all, cacti hail from areas of express drainage, which may be a ledge on a cliff face or a dry wash of nothing but sand and gravel. Any container selected to hold a cactus plant must be extremely well drained. Ensure this by choosing a pot with a very large drain hole in the bottom or with many perforations that enhance drainage potential throughout the soil mass.
Cactuses are watered so infrequently that a saucer is unnecessary. The key: The entire soil mass must be saturated, which can be done only if the pot is moved to a sink or bathtub for watering. There, it can either be set in water to wick moisture upward through the drain holes, or watered from the top by filling and allowing it to drain through a number of times consecutively.
Once saturated and entirely drained, the pot may be replaced to its original position. If you’re worried about damaging the underlying surface, you can set a simple glass disk or tile underneath without jeopardizing the simplicity of its appearance.
There are more species of cactus grown in volume today than ever before. Gold, purple, maroon and blue are all color options provided by this willing group. When set in the perfect pot, each becomes a living sculpture. Whether a single specimen or a number of identical candidates, they remain perfectly streamlined and tidy living things to bring nature into the all too spartan interiors of today’s modern homes and rooms.