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DIY Halloween Project: Spooky Plant Garden

by Megan Andersen
craft & maker

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This is by far my favorite time of year. Leaves change color (yes, a few leaves change color here in Los Angeles) and the temperatures begin to drop (out of the high nineties, to the brisk mid-eighties, but it’s something!) I’m a pretty enthusiastic gardener, and around early October I usually give my porch a spooky makeover, not by adding plastic orange pumpkins or inflatable lawn decorations (not judging- just not my style), but by rotating the creepiest of my creepy plants to the front porch. Welcoming visitors to our house with plants in inky blacks and purples, have ominous names like “blood sorrel” and ‘Schnell’s Ghost’ or plants that “eat” insects is a subtle way to give your neighbors a case of the herbaceous heebie-jeebies.

What are your botanical oddity options when it comes to “green” Halloween decorating? Here are a few categories to break it down based on your personal preferences in:

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Creepy Colors:
Purple isn’t necessarily a strange color for flowering plants, but grouped en masse, they can look very spooky indeed! My personal favorites include, pansies, mums, celosia (pictured below), and a variety of succulents (look for the Aeonium arboreum ‘Zwartkop’ which can range from a deep purple/dark black color)

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There are black varieties of nearly every popular flower from orchids, to lilies, to dahlias but if flowers are not your thing, try the all-black ornamental pepper known as the ‘Black Pearl’, which will re-seed itself in many cases (ours included). Hollyhocks are a bit large for porches, but the all-black variety can also be used as a DIY, dye!

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For an unexpected, but tasty twist, try potting up purple cabbage or the delicious black tomatoes, ‘Indigo Rose’. There is a beautifully black ornamental sweet potato called ‘Illusion Midnight’ which has pretty purple blossoms, and roots easily from cuttings, but despite being a tater, isn’t really suitable for tasting.

Keep an eye out for your favorite black beauties in local plant shops and home improvement garden centers.

Freaky Growers:
These are the stubborn teenagers of the plant world. You can almost hear them slamming the door on Mother Nature yelling, “I do what I want, leave me alone!” If leafy rebellion is your thing, look for (my personal favorites) the carnivorous plants.

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You can find a wide variety of these bug eaters in plant stores and home improvement centers. For specialty carnivorous plants, there are LOTS of passionate growers online. While they all grow well outdoors, most are showy in summertime. For an October display, look for Sarracenia leucophylla (pictured below, and a green variation, ‘Schnell’s Ghost’ is pictured in the first image)) and Drosera capensis (pictured above). They, along with Dionaea muscipula (the Venus’ Flytrap) will still have freak appeal in the later seasons.

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If you are willing to commit to a terrarium in the window for Halloween, the Nepenthes bicalcarata is a fanged carnivore that looks as if it will clamp its jaws down on prey! It’s a menacing beauty that loves warm temps and high humidity.

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My favorite non-carnivorous oddity is the Mimosa pudica (pictured below), or the Sensitive Plant. This delicate plant looks benign enough, with its pink, pompom flowers and feathery leaves. But brush against it and watch in amazement as it collapses before your eyes to “play dead.” After a few moments of rest, the Sensitive Plant will restore itself to its original state. It’s a bizarre and fascinating addition to the garden, and impossible not to test.

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Real Stinkers:
If you would rather shut off the lights and watch Twilight Zone reruns in your bedroom than deal with trick-or-treaters, consider these odoriferous options to keep the neighbors at bay:

The Scardy Cat Plant (Coleus canina) which looks like any other lovely green succulent, save for the bizarre, purple flowers which happen to smell exactly like a skunk.

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Or try the Squid Orchid (Prosthechea cochleata) which smells very strong and pungent. As one friend of mine said, “It smells like cat pee.” Perfect for people who LOVE the smell of cat pee in their homes, but can’t be bothered by the pesky cuddles and purrs from real cats! (So annoying.)

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What’s in a Name?
For REAL commitment to a haunted holiday, round up the following plants and label them proudly in your yard: Blood Sorrel (edible, veiny looking and pictured below),

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Blood Grass (an easy grower with blood red tips), Devils Claws (find yourself the spiky, spooky seeds, not the plant) Witch Hazel (if you have space for this large shrub/small tree you can end up making your own astringent! ) and a Dracula Orchid (my favorite to grow is the Dracula Diana (pictured below)because it’s a good grower in a bright bathroom, lots of the other Dracula orchids are pretty particular about humidity and heat.

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Whether you select one or two plants from this list, or transform your front steps into a mini jungle, I wish you very ghoulish gardening and a happy Halloween!

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Megan Andersen

Known in craft circles as “Radmegan,” Megan O. Andersen has been crafting, baking, cooking, drawing, sculpting and gardening since she could hold a crayon. Follow along with her crafty adventures at www.radmegan.com.