Angie Rolly of Lynnwood pots a succulent at the Edmonds Farmers Market. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Angie Rolly of Lynnwood pots a succulent at the Edmonds Farmers Market. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Lynnwood woman plants success with water-storing succulents

Angie Rolly turned her thrift shop hobby into a mini-garden business at local farmers markets.

Angie Rolly doesn’t grow succulents — she maximizes them.

Rolly, of Lynnwood, runs Angie’s Unique Gardens at farmers markets and holiday bazaars. She takes succulents such as jade and echeveria, and creates whimsical mini-landscapes she calls gardens, potted in mostly thrift store or estate sale finds.

On a recent Saturday at the Edmonds Farmers Market, I stopped at her booth. There were jade, hen and chicks, Christmas cactus, echeveria, thimble cactus and ox tongue plants to choose from.

I picked out a jade garden for $10. (I already had a Christmas cactus and some hen and chicks at home.) The jade I chose was planted in a sake cup. In the tiny cup, sharing the soil, were hedgehog and mushroom miniatures. It looked like a fairy garden and was too cute to pass up.

While I found her booth at the Edmonds Farmers Market, Rolly also sets up shop at the Everett Farmers Market from April to October. In November and December, you can find her gardens at Chick N’ Coop Crafts in Bothell, Pickering Farm in Issaquah and Vaka Park Resort in Bellevue.

Angie Rolly creates whimsical mini-gardens and pots them in thrift-store finds. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Angie Rolly creates whimsical mini-gardens and pots them in thrift-store finds. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Succulents are fleshy plants that store water in their leaves and stems. Examples include aloe, haworthia, sempervivum, sedum and, yes, cacti. But what sets cacti apart from other succulents is the presence of areoles from which spines, leaves, hair and flowers grow. Therefore, not all succulents are cacti, but all cacti are succulents.

“They’re like a camel,” Rolly said. “They have a water reserve so they don’t dry out.”

Rolly’s business had a rough start — mostly because she hadn’t settled on succulents.

But she soon realized caring for about a hundred houseplants at a time was too complicated. Each kind of plant had different needs. “With so many plants in the house, I couldn’t tell which ones were watered or not,” Rolly said. So she simplified by switching to solely selling succulents.

“I have a sun room now, but when I started this I just had plants all over my house,” she said. “It was crazy. I was tripping, the dog would trip on them. We’re lucky we got a house that has a back room on it.”

Angie Rolly warns that overwatering will be the death of your succulents. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Angie Rolly warns that overwatering will be the death of your succulents. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Rolly, 42, whose day job is with Community Health Plan of Washington, likes to collect pottery, glassware and tea sets from Deseret Industries and the Salvation Army for her gardens. Sometimes, she’ll also buy an assortment of porcelain sake cups and clay bonsai dishes.

As far as the plants go, Rolly picks out succulents that don’t need a lot of space, water or light. She explained that her gardens are great if you’ve just downsized into an apartment. Or you’d like to keep a plant at work, but your desk isn’t by a window. Or you killed all your houseplants, but you’d like to give it another try.

If you’re not sure your succulent needs water, try the toothpick test. If the toothpick comes out with dirt on it, the plant is fine. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

If you’re not sure your succulent needs water, try the toothpick test. If the toothpick comes out with dirt on it, the plant is fine. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Here are some of Rolly’s tips, learned through trial and error, on caring for a succulent.

Don’t overwater. Water your succulent every four to six weeks. If you’re not sure it needs water, stick a toothpick into the soil. If it comes out with dirt on it, that means the soil is wet and your plant isn’t thirsty. When the soil is dry, that means it’s OK to water.

Watch the leaves. If you’re still worried about overwatering your succulent, just wait for the leaves to wither. If the leaves appear thin and wrinkled, the root system is pulling water from its reserves. That’s a sign it’s time to water. The leaves will plump back up once the reserves are restored.

Get the right soil. Succulents grow best when planted in potting mix that is gritty and fast-draining. It is made with bark, sand and perlite to help prevent soil compaction and improve drainage. Rolly swears by Miracle-Gro’s Cactus, Palm & Citrus Potting Mix.

No drain hole? No problem. If the pot you want for your succulent doesn’t have a drain hole, simply fill the bottom of the container with river rocks. If you can’t find them in your own back yard, they’re available at dollar stores. Fill the bottom quarter of the pot. If you happen to overwater your succulent, the water pools in the rocks.

Succulents creations by Angie Rolly during the Edmonds Farmers Market on Aug. 10. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Succulents creations by Angie Rolly during the Edmonds Farmers Market on Aug. 10. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Rolly’s longtime friend Jerry Johnson, 58, helps her with the business.

He’s the manpower, carrying crates of succulents to and from the car. But he’s also quite the salesman and can recite Rolly’s succulent care tips by heart. He calls Rolly’s toothpick trick “the cake batter test.”

“I don’t have the eye that she does,” Johnson said. “I just lift things.”

He likes to tell boys and girls who pick out their own plant that the miniature hedgehog in their pot has a name: It’s Steve.

“We’ve had a lot of kids,” Johnson said. “They like to come back and give me progress reports.”

Right now, my jade is on my boyfriend’s living room window sill, hanging out with his houseplants. He also has a succulent: We picked out an echeveria for him that same weekend at the Garden Center at The Home Depot in Bothell.

I’ve been instructed to give my succulent a tablespoon of water in a month.

Sara Bruestle: 425-339-3046; sbruestle@heraldnet.com; @sarabruestle.

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