During a decade of scouting and writing for Sunset magazine, Debra acquired what she calls “the Sunset aesthetic,” which she applies to everything in her books, photos, newsletters, presentations and YouTube videos (now at more than two million views). Debra’s own half-acre garden near San Diego has been featured in Better Homes & Gardens, Sunset, San Diego Home/Garden magazine, and other publications.
About Debra Lee Baldwin’s Brand
Updated March., 2017
Mission: To enhance others’ enjoyment and awareness of waterwise plants and gardening by showcasing the beauty and design potential of succulents via books, articles, photos, videos, social media, and more.
Books: Debra’s three bestsellers launched and continue to fuel the popularity of succulents. The first mainstream books about designing with succulents in landscapes, gardens and containers, they’ve make her brand synonymous with succulents and succulent design.
Stats from publisher Timber Press: “Debra Lee Baldwin’s three books have more than 100,000 combined copies in print and are among Timber’s bestselling titles of all time. Succulents Simplified has been on Bookscan’s Gardening Bestseller list since publication.” (Bookscan reports sales at Amazon, bookstores and national chains across the country.)
Google hits: Debra’s website, blog posts, or YouTube videos appear on the first page of searches for “succulent” followed by “plants,” “design,” “news,” “info,” “expert,” “video,” “care,” “garden,” and more.
Media recognition: Selected Debra Lee Baldwin interviews, profiles and reviews:
— Huffington Post review of Succulents Simplified: “All Hail the Succulent.”
— Debra quoted in Bloomberg News about succulents adding value to real estate.
— KPBS TV and Radio News interview with Debra in her garden about the growing popularity of succulents: “San Diego’s North County is ‘Epicenter’ of Succulent Boom”
— San Diego Union-Tribune profile of Debra: “Succulent Satisfaction: North County gardening author promotes low water plants.”
—Debra quoted in The New Republic about the rising popularity of succulents.
Speaking engagements include Epcot Center; the Cactus and Succulent Society of America biennial convention; flower-and-garden shows in Philadelphia, Seattle and San Francisco; and botanical gardens, horticultural societies, arboreta, nurseries, universities and garden clubs from Florida to Hawaii. Interested in Debra giving a presentation to your group? Go to “For Event Organizers.”
Magazine articles: As a garden photojournalist and succulent expert, Debra’s work has regularly appeared in major gardening publications, notably Garden Design, Sunset and Better Homes & Gardens’ special interest publications. Her articles have won 19 first-place awards from the Garden Writers Association of America, the Society of Professional Journalists and Authors, and the San Diego Press Club.
Consulting: As a garden design consultant, Debra evaluates clients’ gardens and advises what succulents might be best, aesthetically and practically, based on their tastes, lifestyles and locales. As a marketing consultant, she advises nurseries, garden boutiques and designers how to better define, serve and attract their target clientele. And as a destination consultant, she expedites VIP visits to succulent gardens and specialty nurseries in the San Diego area.
“We appreciate your thoroughness and artistic attention to details. Your input was invaluable and has sparked our creative juices. You’ve given us a renewed excitement for what can be…and that will help shape the development of our property for years to come.” — George Clerie, Escondido, CA.
Debra Lee Baldwin website analytics: Monthly sessions average 8,500, with 7,400 users and 13,700 page views.
Online classes. With Craftsy, the leading online purveyor of how-to videos in the US, Debra created a 7-lesson class on using succulents. Released Nov., 2014; 2,555 enrolled students to date.
Debra’s E-newsletter: 9,000 subscribers worldwide.
Blogs: Her posts appear on Debra’s website and Gardening Gone Wild, a blog shared with CBS garden radio correspondent Fran Sorin of Philadelphia and professional garden photographer Saxon Holt of San Francisco. Average views per post (when released): 1,500. Posts stay online indefinitely. Debra has authored more than 60 about succulents.
YouTube. Debra has produced 100+ YouTube videos about succulents, with 30 playlists that guide viewers through care and cultivation, and design projects for gardens and containers. Her YouTube channel has had more than two million views.
Calendars and gifts. Debra designs and sells hundreds of succulent-themed items via her Zazzle store, Succulent Chic. Most popular are her watercolor calendars.
Debra’s own 1/2-acre garden north of San Diego is a showplace of succulents and intriguing design ideas, as well as an occasional venue for events, tours, photo and video shoots, and workshops. See it in Sunset magazine’s blog. Read her account of its re-do.
Debra’s long-term goal is a foundation that encourages children’s interest in horticulture and provides education on the care and tending of succulents. One step in that direction is her 10-episode YouTube series featuring succulent prodigy Matthew Wong, 12.
On a personal note: Debra and husband Jeff live in the foothills north of San Diego. Debra speaks conversational Spanish, grew up in Southern California on an avocado ranch, and at age 18 graduated magna cum laude with a degree in English Literature from USIU. Her hobbies are gardening, thrifting, birding, and watercolor painting.
“Debra has made succulents more accessible and more exciting to people. She shows how easy succulents are to grow and to combine to stunning effect in the landscape. Debra’s work has helped to elevate the plants to rock-star status in Western gardens.” ~Kathleen Brenzel, garden editor, Sunset magazine.
“The growing interest in succulents among the gardening public in the US can be attributed primarily to one person: Debra Lee Baldwin.”~ Australian nurseryman and author Attila Kapitany, addressing the Cactus & Succulent Society of America.
“Debra is the expert who has made cactus and succulents exciting. Whenever I’m asked about them I mention her and her books.” ~ John Bagnasco, co-host of Garden America national garden talk radio show.
“Debra Lee Baldwin and her books have lit up the gardening world.”~ Ron Vanderhoff, nursery manager, Roger’s Gardens
“…Designing with Succulents spent 19 weeks as the bestselling gardening book on Amazon. From there, powered by the internet, succu-mania spread across the country.” ~ Gwyneth Kelly, columnist, The New Republic.
Below is Debra’s Q&A with the San Diego Union-Tribune for the article, “Succulent Satisfaction: North county gardening author promotes low water plants.”
Q: In which part of San Diego do you live (specific please i.e. Carlsbad vs. North County)?
A: North Escondido.
Q: What do you love most about your neighborhood?
A: It’s set-apart feeling and sense of community.
Q: When/why did you move to San Diego? If native, please list your high school.
A: I grew up on an avocado ranch in south Escondido on a hilltop overlooking San Pasqual Valley. My high school was San Luis Rey Academy.
Q: Please describe what you do.
A: I’m a garden photojournalist and author specializing in succulent plants and their design uses in gardens, landscapes and containers.
Q: How did you become interested in gardening?
A: As a child, I helped my father tend the hillside garden surrounding our home. Whenever I smell ripe plums or wet cement, I’m back in that garden. He explained fascinating things, like why nasturtium leaves repel water, what black-and-orange tarantula wasps are up to, and how to grow long-stemmed roses. When my husband and I moved to Hidden Meadows in 1989, my father helped plant the bank under the oaks with cuttings of Crassula multicava from his garden. It’s a shade-loving, no-maintenance succulent ground cover that spreads, and it’s still going strong. My father also grew common succulents, such as Crassula ovata (jade), Aloe arborescens, Drosanthemum floribundum (rosea iceplant) and Aeonium haworthii, because they don’t require much water or work. I sometimes wonder what he’d think of the exotic varieties now available.
Q: Please tell us about your own garden.
A: I call my garden an “inhospitable half acre” because it’s steep and the soil is decomposed granite and clay. Over the years, I’ve transformed it with terraces and climate-appropriate plants, including all sorts of succulents. Large agaves serve as sculptural focal points for garden beds. I showcase collectible succulents in one-of-a-kind, artist-designed pots; trailing succulents (like string-of-pearls and rosary vine) in hanging baskets; and variegated (striped or mottled) varieties in a shade garden. There’s a “dry lily pond” with cactus pads for lily pads and graptoveria rosettes for water lilies; a miniature landscape featuring small-scale succulents; a desert garden with several kinds of smooth (spineless) cactus; a “succulent sitting area” within a semicircular terrace; and two jewel-box gardens of echeverias and other rosette succulents.
Q: What are the unique features of succulents that make them suited for San Diego landscaping?
A: Succulents store moisture in fleshy leaves and stems, so they tend to survive significantly longer without water than typical garden plants. San Diego’s climate is similar to that of South Africa and Madagascar, where many desirable varieties come from. However, east of Interstate 15, Old World succulents may need protection from frost in winter and, in summer, shade during blazing afternoons. If you want tough succulents that need little or no water once established, grow in nutrient-poor soil, and don’t mind searing sun and frost, go with those native to Mexico and the desert Southwest—agaves, cacti, yuccas and dasylirions.
Q: What are the key qualities you look for in a plant palette?
A: The best plants are those that give the most beauty for the least hassle. I gravitate toward succulents with colorful leaves (like Coppertone stonecrop), interesting textures (like fuzzy kalanchoes) and appealing shapes (like stacked crassulas).
Q: Please tell us about the books you’ve authored on this subject.
A: “Designing with Succulents” (2007), “Succulent Container Gardens” (2010) and “Succulents Simplified” (2013) have been credited with popularizing succulents in California and beyond. The books, published by Timber Press, all are bestsellers with a combined total of more than 100,000 copies in print.
Q: What are some of the most unusual succulents available now?
A: There are many lovely new cultivars—crosses that exhibit the best qualities of both parents. On my YouTube channel are videos I made in which Kelly Griffin, an aloe and agave breeder on staff at Altman Plants in Vista (the largest grower of succulents and cacti in the world), shows unusual succulents in his own garden, including gorgeous striped hybrids of Agave attenuata (foxtail agave). If you’re interested in seeing and possibly obtaining unusual and collectible succulents, attend a Cactus & Succulent Society of America show and sale.
Q: What are the top tips and tricks to caring for succulents?
A: Grow them in a mix of one-third crushed volcanic rock (pumice), one-third organic matter (compost), and one-third decomposed granite. Water thoroughly when soil is nearly dry, and don’t let roots sit in water. Provide about six hours of full sun daily—ideally in the morning.
Q: What are your favorite plants to landscape with?
A: Noble aloe (Aloe nobilis) is a fairly common South African succulent about the size of a softball, with a hens-and-chicks growth habit (it eventually forms a mounded colony). Its rosettes consist of green, wedge-shaped leaves that turn shades of orange and red in summer. Noble aloes need little irrigation, do fine in all-day sun or partial shade, are frost-hardy to the mid-20s, and send up orange bloom spikes in summer. But that’s just one of many aloes that do well in San Diego gardens. I also like agaves because they’re easy-care; aeoniums because they resemble big green daisies; and yuccas because a sawed-off limb will root. (Presto: instant tree.)
A: Getting the infrastructure right—irrigation pipes and electrical conduit—and other things that can’t be changed easily, such as hardscape, structures and trees.
Q: What’s the best advice you ever received?
A: “You should do a book on succulents.” — Kathy Brenzel, Garden Editor, Sunset magazine
Q: What is one thing people would be surprised to find out about you?
A: I’m good at catching gophers.
Q: Please describe your ideal San Diego weekend.
A: I enjoy hunting bargains at estate sales and second-hand shops. I love entering a clean, well-tended thrift store like Goodwill and thinking, “I can have anything—anything!—here that I want.”
Q: If there’s anything I haven’t asked that you’d like to include, please do so here.
A: My “News from the World of Designing with Succulents” e-newsletter covers design trends, events, experts, plant introductions, destinations and more. To subscribe, go to http://debraleebaldwin.com/.