Budding Beauty

Succulent cigar box
Courtesy Julia Roth

“I kill everything,” says Julia Roth as she relays her botanical horror stories to me.

“I bought a money tree. It’s dying. It’s supposed to be the best plant to buy and not kill. But give it to me, and it will die tomorrow,” continues the Greenwood Village resident, who locals also know through her fitness business, DTC Pilates. “I was the woman who bought a fiddle-leaf fig plant because it was ‘cool’ and ‘in’ and ‘everybody had one.’ It started dying, so I read more about it. It needs sun, but not too much. It also needs water, but not too much. Do you have a humidifier? Place it next to the plant. I thought, are you kidding me?”

And that was it: After this final desperate attempt more than four years ago to grow a green thumb, Roth’s helpless digits reached their horticultural breaking point.

But then, soon after: “I was in the cigar shop in my husband’s bar [The Robusto Room, now closed] looking at all the cigar boxes thinking, ‘some of these are really pretty,’” she says. Roth took home a few boxes unsure of what exactly she would do with them.

Her daughter had a school craft project due around the same time, and a trip to Michaels for supplies lit a creative spark. “I saw the succulents and thought some of them looked plastic, but others I couldn’t tell if they were real or fake,” Roth remembers. “They were beautiful.” So, she took some home and arranged them in those empty cigar boxes.

A friend saw the end result and asked to use them to stage her home, which was up for sale. When Roth asked for the arrangements back, the friend politely refused. “No, I really like them, and people really liked them when they came to my house,” her friend said. It was then Roth realized her unlikely craft could become a budding business. (Pun intended.)

It’s been almost two years since she officially started selling her custom designs—ranging from 10-inch square works of art to two-frame installations measuring 29 inches high, 25.5 inches wide and 4.5 inches thick. The exciting splays of succulents, moss and even thinly sliced tree bark are enclosed in custom wood frames forged by Roth and her husband, Peter, in the professional woodworking shop Peter built in their home.

Much of Roth’s process has stayed the same since day one: Roth makes the décor sustainable by continuing to incorporate cigar boxes and repurposes fine woods, such as African redwood, walnut and zebrawood, into those frames. And after extensive personal testing, she overcame her original killer instincts and even creates many of her designs with live, preserved, nonvascular plants like reindeer and sheet moss: “The moss won’t lose its color, it’s vibrant and green and I love the fact that it can’t die. If I can’t kill it, it’s not going to die.”

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