Flowers Under $50: Modern Grassy Centerpieces

by Mary Kathryn Paynter

Photo by Jessica Pages

Today’s Under $50 post was inspired by one of my all-time favorite places in Austin: the Hotel San Jose. A palette of muted greens, browns, and grays gives the hotel the feel of an abstracted garden in all corners. The actual plant life is beautiful in and of itself: giant agaves, climbing vines, and wind-blown grasses dot the landscape. The outdoor bar, with its giant pine dining table and custom leather chairs, manages to be both restrained and interesting, modern while still being comfortable.  It is one of my favorite places to relax and take in a peaceful Austin night and the setting for today’s shoot.

After the jump I’ll show you how to make these easy and affordable centerpieces!

Above photos by Jessica Pages

When entertaining on a budget, potted plants are a great way to create centerpieces that don’t break the bank. In today’s post, we’ll riff on the idea of the cinderblock garden, and make potted grasses that inspired by the zen feel of the hotel. After the jump, I’ll show you how to choose the right grasses and pot them in cinderblock to be re-planted after use.

As evidenced by the its recent popularity in urban gardening, cinderblock is both extremely affordable and easy to find. Buy it at your local hardware or construction supply store for around a dollar per cinderblock, or do a bit of urban foraging and find it for free abandoned at a construction site. If, instead of potted plants, you wanted to fill it with fresh flowers, all it would take would be a glass vase (a mason jar would be an inexpensive option) slid into the center, filled with enough flowers to overflow from the top.

In this case, I chose grasses because of the color palette of golds, greens, and blues that play off of the gray of the cinderblock. Grasses are an extremely popular plant in the world of landscape architecture because of their ability to be striking, full, and to soften a space. Up close, the colors are dense and intricate, and can range from reds and purples to aqua blues.

To pot the grasses, first remove them from their container and softly massage the soil around the roots so that the roots are not entangled with each other. It’s common for plants that have been in plastic pots for a long time to grow their roots in a spiral at the bottom–this is a death sentence for the plant once planted as the roots begin to grow back into the root system instead of growing outward into the soil below. Any time you are planting a potted plant into soil, it is always a good idea to shake out, massage, and carefully untangle these roots so they can easily spread outward.

In order to keep the plants surrounded by soil but not leaking wet soil from the bottom of the cinderblock, create a nest of chicken wire to cradle the plant within the cinderblock. Cut a piece of chickenwire about six inches square and lay it flat over the opening of the cinderblock. Push the center towards the bottom of the cinderblock until the chickenwire is wedged in there completely, cupping the inside of the cinderblock. If it feels flimsy, keep adding layers of chickenwire until it is securely in place.

Next, dip the roots of the plant in a bucket of water and cake soil around them. Gently, place the plant and its roots into the chicken wire. Add soil around the base of the plant until it is firmly in place. Add water and let it drain. Your grasses should hold up like this for about 24 hours before needing to be re-planted in soil.

Suggested For You


  • This looks really neat! I love concrete planters. I would consider making a bottom for the block (with a hole for drainage). That way this could be a permanent planter.

  • Love this idea, easy and looks great :o) I think this could be a good start for decorating outside as well, as i need to start with next summer…

  • I think I would line the cinder block with the wire and line the wire with plastic with holes punched for drainage. I use old plastic grocery bags to line my coconut hanging baskets to retain moisture. It works great.