Tell us about yourself.
My name is Patti Smith, and I’m a creator of living succulent wreaths and topiaries. I live in Arizona in the Superstition Mountain foothills with my hubby Rusty and our two crazy dogs. Robin and Ryan are our amazing kids who are out of the nest, but they do visit us pretty regularly. I think home-cooked meals might have a little something do to with it.
I had a career in the public sector for 25 years, and although the money was great, it took a toll — not only on my health, but on my spirit. “Life is too short” may be a cliché, but the older you get, the more you realize how true it is. I decided to take a huge risk, forego the big paycheck and jump into Succulent Designs head first.
Apart from creating, what do you do?
Cooking for my family is something I love to do, whether it’s tacos and pizookies on Sundays or gathering together in December for our annual ravioli-making day.
We’re outdoor enthusiasts. Since we live so close to a wilderness area, we’re able to walk to hiking trails and camp. We also really enjoy watching birds and local wildlife. There’s a koi pond in our front yard, and we’re always receiving visits from coyotes, deer, and bobcats that stop by for a drink.
What would be the title of your memoir? Why?
Oh, Yes I Can! Despite some personal challenges over the years, perseverance and optimism have paid off. I learned that if you’re not willing to take risks and get out of your comfort zone, you’ll never know what you’re capable of.
Where does your inspiration come from?
My inspiration comes from nature. When I’m designing a piece, I think about all of the hundreds of outdoor experiences we’ve had. Whether I’m on top of a mountain looking into a canyon, or crouching down to marvel at lichens growing on a tree stump, the random beauty of nature constantly amazes me. Plants in the wild are not lined up in rows or perfect circles, so I don’t use formulas when designing. Even though I place everything carefully, the idea is to make it appear that it’s just naturally growing that way.
What does handmade mean to you?
Handmade is an act of intimate, heartfelt expression.
Who has been the most influential in your craft?
My husband of 30 years, hands down. He’s been my number one fan, coach, cheerleader and shoulder to cry on, not to mention weed-puller, carpenter, courier, and about a thousand other roles that help me every single day and keep me going. I couldn’t have made it to this place without him.
When did you know you were an artist/maker?
I’ve always felt the need to express myself in a creative way, and my love of flowers and plants has provided the artistic niche for that expression. My first recollection of playing in the dirt was in Chicago back in the ‘60s, helping grandma plant marigolds and Johnny-jump-ups in her garden beds every spring, and harvesting tomatoes from mom’s veggie patch. As time went on, every apartment and house I lived in would be packed with plants on tables, shelves and hanging in all the windows. Relocating to the southwest 35 years ago allowed me to discover the very different world of cactus and succulent plants, which was my path to creating succulent wreaths.
How would you describe your creative process?
It’s actually quite arbitrary. To begin, I just randomly choose a larger plant and place it. I’ll head to the sedum garden, looking for something that will look pleasing tucked around the leaves of that particular plant. The process continues while I’m working my way around the wreath, and a natural tapestry begins to appear. Part of the fun is knowing that many succulents will change color depending on season and environment, flower stalks will shoot out, and sedums will trail, so the wreath you’re seeing today will appear completely different in three months.
If you could peek inside the studio of any artist, designer or craftsman (dead or alive), who would it be?
The late, great Teddy Colbert was the pioneer and matriarch of the living wreath, and she’s been a major creative inspiration to me.
What handmade possession do you most cherish?
My most cherished handmade possessions are the box of Christmas ornaments that my children made when they were little. Every December we pull the boxes out of storage and decorate our hodgepodge tree with these precious trinkets, and it brings back memories for all of us. We always take a moment to mourn the loss of the pretzel ornaments that were eaten by one of the dogs back in the ’90s (culprit unknown to this day, although we have our suspicions).
How do you get out of your creative ruts?
I’ll just do some gardening tasks — pull weeds, prune, water, or repot. Sometimes I forget how many (and which) plants I have, so getting away from the potting bench and into the gardens will often give me fresh ideas. Debra Lee Baldwin is an amazing photojournalist with a specialty in succulent plants, so browsing through her books will often give me a jump start.
Where would you like to be in ten years?
Ten years ago, my life was very different than it is now. So if you’d asked me that question then, I would have said, “If I could live on a piece of land in a pretty spot with some room to roam, doing something I love to do, and my family was happy and healthy, that would be my dream come true.” Well, here I am — how could things possibly get any better?