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How to Stress Succulents (And Why You Should)

If there’s a good thing about our too-hot Southern California summers, it’s that heat makes certain succulents stunning. Give aloes and crassulas a bit more heat, sun or cold and less water and richer soil than they really want, and they’ll turn brilliant shades of orange, red and yellow. This doesn’t harm the plants, which I deem “well-stressed” when they show the brilliant colors they’re capable of. A case in point is Aloe nobilis, which in my garden grows in nutrient-poor decomposed granite with minimal water.

Aloe nobilis. Left: winter (cool temps, bright shade). Right: summer (full, hot sun).

In winter, the same plant reverts to green.

Such “stressed” succulents—which seal moisture in their leaves as effectively as Glad-Wrap—are fine. They perk up and send out new growth when the weather cools and the rains return.

Not all succulents turn shades of red, pink or orange when stressed, in fact, the majority don’t. But many common aloes and crassulas do, plus certain kalanchoes, euphorbias, sempervivums, sedums, aeoniums and echeverias. Agaves normally don’t; the one above is an exception. The reason is it’s post-bloom and dying, which has revealed the anthocyanin in its tissues. In the same way deciduous trees turn color in autumn, sunset hues become visible. The pigment also is found in berries and fruits—and is considered a powerful antioxidant. Anthocyanins, according to Wikipedia, “are not synthesized until the plant has begun breaking down chlorophyll, it is presumed for photoprotection…” i.e. protection from excess sunlight, much the same way melanin tans skin. Wikipedia also wisely states that “plants with abnormally high anthocyanin quantities are popular as ornamental plants.”

After seeing my YouTube video, “How to Stress Your Succulents…and Why You Should,” a non-gardening friend observed, “I’d probably stress them so much, they’d croak.” Good point. How do you give a succulent the right amount of stress, but not too much? And how do you know which are worth stressing, and which aren’t?

Basically, observe the plant. If it’s leaves are margined or tipped in red, it’s a likely prospect. But if excess heat, sun or cold makes its tips shrivel and turn beigey-gray, it’s suffering. Move it to a kinder location, keep the soil moist (but not soggy), and/or repot it. Also check its roots. The problem may be that roots can’t access moisture and nutrients, as in the case of a cutting that’s sitting atop the soil instead of snugly planted.

This specimen of Crassula ovata is beautifully stressed (how’s that for an oxymoron?). Its leaves have reddened due to less water than the plant would like plus more cold than jade prefers (frost will turn the leaves to mush, but temperatures near but above freezing reddens them).

Most succulents—especially those with fat, fleshy leaves—can last weeks and sometimes months without water, even in hot sun, nipped by frost, and/or rooted solely in gravel. But eventually they need a respite, lest stress become life-threatening.

A few common succulents that redden when stressed:

Kalanchoe luciae

 

Aeonium canariense

 

Aloe dorotheae

 

Learn more in my book, Succulents Simplified“The Well-Stressed Succulent,” pp. 54-55.

Also on my YouTube channel:

Most succulents are sun lovers, but how much do they really need? And what happens if they get too much or too little light? (Filmed at the Succulent Extravaganza.)
How to Stress Succulents and Why You Should, my first video now with 80,000 views, gives additional examples and includes before-and-after photos.

 

 

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Summer Care for Succulents: Heat and Sun Concerns

Don’t let summer sun and heat harm your succulents! Heat, unlike frost (temps 32 degrees F and lower), usually isn’t a concern for succulents. Although some tend not to thrive in temps above 80 or 90 degrees F, the majority can handle more than you’re personally comfortable with…as evidenced by greenhouse temperatures that soar into the triple digits on summer days. However, heat plus sun can be deadly to succulents. Unless they’re desert cacti or agaves, most smooth-leaved succulents need sun protection in summer, especially above 80 degrees.

Summer-stressed Aloe bainseii tree

If you live in an arid climate like Southern CA’s and grow succulents in the open garden (as I do) ~

— Know your property’s orientation to the sun. In North America, plants growing on your home’s north side will get the least amount of sun exposure; those on the south, the most. East-facing gardens like mine get morning sun and afternoon shade. Gardens facing west have afternoon sun and morning shade.

— “Bright shade” (no direct sun but not deep shade) is ideal for non-desert succulents in mid-afternoon when temperatures peak. Bright shade is essential for low-light succulents such as haworthias, gasterias, euphorbias, faucarias, sansevierias, echeverias, and anything light-colored or variegated. (Of course there are exceptions; for the requirements of specific plants, see the “Succulents A to Z” chapter of Designing with Succulents.)

— Whenever you buy a new plant, notice where it was located in the nursery. Was it out in the open or beneath shade cloth? Even if it’s a “full sun” succulent—like an agave—if it was growing in a sheltered area, it’ll need to be “hardened off” (shaded, especially in the afternoon) until it acclimates. Such exposure is similar to tanning: Start with half an hour of sun and increase it by an hour or so each day.

— Give aloes and crassulas enough sun to turn hues of red and orange but not so much that leaf tips shrivel or burn—at least half a day, ideally morning. (See “How to Stress Succulents and Why You Should.”)

— Because sunburned stems are less able to transmit moisture from roots to leaves, cover exposed, horizontal stems of trailing succulents (aloes, senecios, othonna and the like) with dry leaves or mulch.

— Protect newly installed plants and in-ground succulents susceptible to sun-scorch with temporary shade structures. I use old window screens secured with bricks, but you can buy shade cloth at any home improvement store. Leafy branches trimmed from trees works, too; insert branches in the ground next to the plant you want to protect, making sure it’s shaded on the side that gets the most sun.

— Plant trees and shrubs that will provide shade where needed during long, hot summer afternoons. (For low-water varieties good in succulent gardens, see the Companion Plants chapter of Designing with Succulents, 2nd ed.).

When it’s too late (what sunburn looks like)

Beige patches on succulents indicate sunburn. Cells have been irrevocably damaged, which turns them white or putty-colored. This looks similar to frost damage, but instead of leaf tips, you’ll see patches on leaves. An otherwise healthy plant will outgrow the damage. If marred areas are on outer leaves, so much the better; new growth from the center of the rosette will conceal sunburned areas over time. In any case, lower leaves, damaged or not, naturally wither and fall off. Depending on the succulent and the season, recovery from sunburn may take several months to a year.

More Info on this Site:

How to Water Succulents in Summer.  OK, we all know that succulents are low-water plants. But they’re not “no-water” plants. Although they may survive without irrigation during the heat of summer, they’re unlikely to be lush and healthy. Be sure you… [continue reading]

How to Stress Succulents (and Why You Should). If there’s a good thing about our too-hot Southern California summers, it’s that heat makes certain succulents turn color. A case in point is… [continue reading]

On my YouTube channel:


Succulents, Sun and Summer. On an 89-degree day in my garden, I show you what’s in bloom and lookin’ good (or sadly dreadful), and explain how to evaluate the health of your in-ground succulents, small and large.

Twelve Low-Water Trees for Succulent Landscapes.  I help you evaluate garden areas in need of shade and select trees to plant when the weather cools in the fall.

Sun and Your Succulents. Most succulents are sun lovers, but how much do they really need? And what happens if they get too much or too little light? (Filmed at the Succulent Extravaganza.)

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Where and How to Order Succulents Online

Wondering where and how to order succulents online?

The succulents in my YouTube videos and design projects mostly come from the largest grower of cacti and succulents in the US: Altman Plants—specifically their retail nursery north of San Diego, Oasis Water Efficient Gardens. Recently Altman became an Amazon vendor offering multi-succulent packs.*

Although I get a tiny commission from Amazon for orders that originate from links on my site, I’ve hesitated to recommend any of their succulent vendors…until now. It’s a win-win: No one grows succulents better than Altman, and no one does packaging and delivery better than Amazon.

Succulents in 2.5-inch diameter nursery pots are your best deal; expect to pay double for bigger specimens in 3.5-inch pots. The difference is six months to a year’s growth.

1. Flowering Succulent Collection – 2.5″ – 12 Pack

This is Altman’s larger of two echeveria assortments. Use it to make a Gift Basket of Echeverias. Be sure to see my article: All About Echeverias: Succulent Roses That Last.

2. Flowering Succulent Collection – 3.5″ – 6 Pack

For container gardening tips and ideas for echeverias, see my post: Perfect Succulent Art-Pot Pairings and my book, Succulent Container Gardens.

3. Kids Succulent Collection

Succulents are perfect for getting kids into gardening, and you have to love the names: kitten paws, Shreck’s ears, panda plant, ‘Chocolate Soldier’, cobweb houseleek and zebra plant. Enjoy my posts: Succulents + Kids = Great Summer Memories and LA’s Kids Day Features Succulents. 

4. Windowsill and Indoor Succulent Collection, 8 Pack, 2.5″

Haworthias and dwarf aloes prefer low-light conditions. Jade will tolerate them, but will lose red on its leaf tips. See my posts, How to Keep Succulents Happy Indoors and How to Grow Tender Succulents in Northerly Climates as well as my book, Succulents Simplified pp. 138-143 and the corresponding video Make a Low-Light Succulent Dish Garden.

5. Desk Buddy Succulent Collection – 2.5″ – 4 Pack

The description says, “product mix may contain Aloe ‘Minibelle’, Aloe nobilis, Aloe zanzibarica, Gasteria varieties, Haworthia fasciata (zebra plant), Rhipsalis capilliformis, Rhipsalis cassutha, or Rhipsalis salicornioides.” Rhipsalis (top right and lower left) makes a good filler, trailer and hanging-basket plant.

6. Texture Succulent Collection – 2.5″ – 4 Pack 

“Depending on availability, product mix may contain Echeveria ‘FO-42’, Gasteria sp., Haworthia fasciata (zebra plant), Kalanchoe beharensis ‘Fang’, and Kalanchoe tomentosa (panda plant).” Good with collectible pots. For design ideas, see my post: “Perfect Succulent Art-Pot Pairings.”

7. Assorted Succulent Tray – 2.5″ – 32 Pack

Use assorted succulent collections to make succulent bouquets, fill vintage and repurposed containers, for a succulent color wheel centerpiece, my online Stunning Succulent Arrangements class, and designs and projects in my books, Succulent Container Gardens and Succulents Simplifed.

8. Assorted Succulent Tray – 3.5″ – 18 Pack

“Depending on availability, product mix may include a selection of Aeonium, Aloe, Crassula, Echeveria, Kalanchoe, and Sedum varieties.”

9. Assorted Cacti Tray – 2.5″ – 32 Pack

See my posts: Is Cactus the New Black?, Create a Cactus Curio Box, and I Come Out as a Cactus Lover.

10. Assorted Cacti Tray – 18 Pack, 3.5″

Be sure to see the cactus section of Designing with Succulents, 2nd ed., pp. 192-201.

 

*If you’re looking for solos or specific kinds, order through a specialty nursery near you, shop at CSSA shows, or Google the plant’s name to get mail-order sources. If you specifically want succulents grown by Altman, check the garden sections of big box stores or Altman’s online shop.


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Succulents + Kids = Great Summer Memories

Here’s how to make wonderful memories: This summer, introduce a child to collecting and growing succulents. The people I’ve interviewed as a garden photojournalist often credit a parent, grandparent, neighbor or friend for igniting their interest in plants and gardening.

So, who was it for you, that savvy grown-up you won’t forget? For me, it was my father, who reveled in the natural world. I assumed all dads could identify constellations, understood bugs and seeds, knew what kind of a snake we’d found, and could de-tick a dog. His knowledge of Southern California’s flora, fauna, ecology and geology significantly enriched my life. (So when my 9-year-old grandson comes this summer, Grandma’s going off the grid!)

Succulents—the closest things to plastic in the plant kingdom—are perfect for kids, and no organization understands this better than the Los Angeles Cactus and Succulent Society. The LACSS hosts “Kids Day” every year as part of their Drought Tolerant Plant Festival (the second weekend in June at the Sepulveda Garden Center, a park in Encino). To see how fun, educational and entertaining Kids Day is, enjoy this video I made one year…or better yet, experience it yourself. Succulent-related activities include a potting bar at which children select plants, and with the help of LACSS volunteers, pot them up. “They’re so proud of what they make,” organizer Kathleen Misko told me. “They take care of their succulents all year and bring them back to show us.”

Ten ideas, projects and destinations for your kids’ succulent summer ~

— Plant a toy truck with succulents. This one, by Tom Jesch of Waterwise Botanicals nursery, suggests a four-wheeler found in the desert.

— Attend a C&SS show. Kids love goofy-looking plants, and cactus-and-succulent shows typically have hundreds on display. Here’s a cheerful example.

Also at shows, vendors sell collectible succulents and art pots to pair them with. (You may recall that, in my opinion, shopping for pots is half the fun.)

— Create a windowsill succulent garden. These small pots by Keith Kitoi Taylor of the Sacramento C&SS contain gasteraloes and Peperomia graveolens.

— Find containers with personality at second-hand shops, then head to a succulent specialty nursery to pair them with plants. For design ideas, see my book Succulent Container Gardens and watch my video, “Tips for Perfect Succulent Art-Pot Pairings.”

— Visit the Children’s Garden at the Huntington Botanical Gardens near Pasadena. There are so many clever ideas here designed to interest kids in plants and gardening, it deserves its own post. Hm. Should we make a day trip?

— Create an album of wacky (but staged) interactions with succulents. Better yet, make a YouTube video starring your child. (It can be for private viewing if you like.) Send the link to family and friends, and re-watch the video over the years. You might even start a tradition of making a succulent video every summer! Below: Matthew Wong, star of my video series, “Succulent Matters with Matthew,” pretends to sit on a colony-forming deuterocohnia with prickly leaves.

Ages 10 and older:

— Design a dish garden of rocks and succulents that suggests a hiking trail. See my video:

— Craft a bouquet of wired succulent rosettes, and secure the faux stems in layers of colored sand in a glass jar. (No worries, it’s easier than it sounds!) This makes a great gift for Mom, Grandma or a special aunt, friend or neighbor. Watch my video, “How to Wire (Prep) Succulents for Bouquets.” Also see my earlier posts: “Use Colored Sand for Succulent Bouquets”,  “12 Succulent Bouquets to Inspire You,” and “DIY Succulent Bouquet.”

— Do a Succulent Treasure Hunt. Seal dollar bills in zip-lock bags (or use coins) and tuck beneath or near your potted succulents. Hand the child a copy of my book, Succulents Simplified, with Post-its indicating the same plants (find them in the section, “100 Easy-Care Succulents”). For plant suggestions, see the list of “Best succulents for encouraging a child’s interest in gardening” on page 186. Offer an extra dollar for each one the child remembers and can name after the treasure hunt.

Fashion succulents from Sculpey oven-bake clay. Glue dime-sized rosettes to hair clips or use them to make earrings. Watch my video: “DIY Sculpey Succulent: Striped Agave.”


Related info on this site:

LA’s Kids Day Features Succulents
One of the most popular areas of the annual Los Angeles Drought Tolerant Plant Festival is the “Kids Day” section, with fun…[Continue reading]

Make a Low-Light, “Scooped from the Garden” Succulent Arrangement
This succulent dish garden is perfect for a bright-shade location, such as indoors near a window…[Continue reading]

Perfect Succulent Art-Pot Pairings
A few simple design principles can take your potted succulents from ho-hum to WOW. Repeat and contrast colors, textures and forms—it’s as simple… [Continue reading]


 

Let me know what you think. I enjoy hearing from you! — Debra 

 


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Sunset’s Midcentury Succulent Cover Story

“Once in the ’90s and again in the late ’20s, gardeners have turned to succulents with an intensity amounting to a craze. Now they are coming back into favor again, and this time it looks like something more than a temporary infatuation.” — Sunset magazine, June, 1954*

Fifty years ago, each hefty, half-inch-thick issue of Sunset magazine cost 20 cents and brought days of useful, entertaining reading about gardening, food and travel. My parents subscribed, so they no doubt read the June, 1954 cover story about succulents.

I’ve always assumed they surrounded their Southern CA ranch home with succulents because cuttings were free for the asking, and my father didn’t want to water the garden more than absolutely necessary.

An ad for Fiberglas awnings shows an idealized midcentury patio

But was it possible that my parents were onto…a trend? Well, no. The six-page cover story is mostly about container gardens for “the outdoor living areas of the Western house: its patios, lanais, decks, and paved areas…And if ever a plant was made for a pot, it’s the succulent.” Containers didn’t appear on my folks’ patio until the ’70s. With geraniums.

The succulent article’s 25 photos are B&W except for those shown on the cover. In 4,000 words, Sunset editors give an overview of succulents and their care, design ideas, and a “beginner’s collection” of about 50 varieties. Most are still fairly common, but Euphorbia valida is now E. meloformisGasteria maculata is now G. bicolor; and Cotyledon hemisphaerica is Adromischus hemisphaericus.

Mentioned but nearly unknown today are Echeveria rosea grandis and Sedum amecamecanum. “Do you mean Sedum americanum?” asked Google. Uh, not unless Sunset made one whopping typo. I found out that this stutter-named sedum has “fragile leaves”—doubtless why it’s not much in demand.

Kalanchoe flammea” in the illustrations sure looks like Kalanchoe blossfeldiana, shown here. Don’t you wish it had kept its earlier, more descriptive name?

Aloe arborescens (left), Aeonium haworthii (right)

The jades, aeoniums, aloes, ice plants and cacti in my parents’ garden were not necessarily those in the article—they grew Aloe arborescens and  Aeonium haworthii, for example. Perhaps even back then these were so common, the few succulent specialty nurseries that existed didn’t bother to offer them. (Hence a reason not to mention them, lest readers write in and say they’d tried to find them but couldn’t.)

Although it’s shown in the article, perhaps Sunset shouldn’t have bothered. The defining characteristic of Drosanthemum floribundum is lost in black and white.

As a little girl, I was proud to pronounce the name of this searing pink ice plant: “mesembryanthemum.” And I would be still, except it’s since become drosanthemum.

Now about that astonishing statement, “Once in the ’90s and again in the late ’20s, gardeners have turned to succulents with an intensity amounting to a craze…” Aren’t you curious what happened in the 1890s and 1920s? I am. Hm. I’ll see what I can find out…

*Special thanks to friend, colleague, and retired Sunset Senior Garden Editor Kathy Brenzel for presenting me with the 54-year-old issue. In case you’re wondering, all its content is copyrighted, so apart from short excerpts, I’d need permission to share it.  There’s no link to it because it’s not online.

Related info on this site:

Certain low-water annuals and perennials are my “nostalgia plants” because they remind me of…[Continue reading]
As for ice plant, don’t plant just one variety. Combine several—not curbside, though, lest they cause an accident… [Read more]

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Eight Bold-Hued California Classics

Certain low-water annuals and perennials are “nostalgia plants,” because they remind me of my SoCA childhood. These California classics are as popular now as 40 years ago, for good reason: they’re easy-care, readily available, inexpensive, and add great texture and interest to Southwest gardens. The plants’ bold hues are reminiscent of a Mexican serape: purple, orange, yellow, red and white. All blend beautifully with large-leaved succulents, especially agaves, aloes and aeoniums. Look for more “Top Fifty Waterwise Companion Plants for Succulents” in my book, Designing with Succulents, 2nd ed., pp. 250-285.

In my garden, California poppies are annuals that return every spring. I love how their vivid orange contrasts with the silvery blue of Agave franzosinii. Surrounding the agave are fragrant white alyssum, which some people consider a weed because it reseeds so prolifically. I don’t know about you, but in my garden, that’s a plus.

Purple is the complement of yellow, and few combos are easier than euryops daisies and statice. The shrubs get leggy over time; keep them compact by cutting back in fall.

Also pretty in purple is pride of Madiera. Here it contrasts with orange-and-yellow African daisies, a red rose, and yellow-leaved euonymous. Once the flower show is over, the succulents at lower left (an aloe and an aeonium) become more prominent, because their sculptural shapes stand out against finer-texture foliage.

Rosea ice plant, a succulent from South Africa, has become as much of a California classic as the state’s flower. The poppies die back and the ice plant goes out of bloom, leaving a green mound for most of the year. But when they bloom together in spring…wow!

In my own garden, African daisies, rosea ice plant, red ivy geraniums (another classic) and euonymous surround several types of agaves.

Related Info on this Site:

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Make a Low-Light, “Scooped from the Garden” Succulent Arrangement

This succulent dish garden is perfect for a bright-shade location, such as indoors near a window. It makes a great gift, and all its components are readily available. Owner Jeanne Meadow displays it on her covered patio and waters it minimally (once a week in warm weather, once a month in cool).

Design by Megan Boone of Nature’s Containers, Temecula, CA, for Jeanne Meadow. 

You’ll need:

One rectangular 9×12 bonsai pot  (available at garden centers or online). A matte-finish, earth-toned container helps suggest that the composition came straight from the garden.

Cover the pot’s drain holes with pebbles or squares of screen so soil doesn’t fall out. Fill the pot nearly to the top with succulent potting soil and add:

Upper right corner: Aloe nobilis ‘Variegata’ rosette. Variegates like less sun and tend stay smaller than their solid-green cousins.

Lower right: A green sempervivum. This one’s fuzzy texture makes leaf edges look outlined with white.

Lower middle: Haworthia attenuata (zebra plant). It has intriguing raised white ridges and repeats the fountainlike shape of other plants.

Lower left: A  Sempervivum arachnoideum (cobweb houseleek) cluster fills the corner, repeats the solo sempervivum, and offers interesting texture accented with white.

Upper left: Gasteria bicolor. A little sun will bring out the red in its leaves. Its sculptural and its whitish dots serve as a subtle counterpoint to white on other plants.

Upper middle: A peperomia provides contrasting texture and serves as filler. Without it, the composition would be too regimented—less loose and natural. Any similarly sized and shaped succulent, such as Othonna capensis, will work as well.

Rocks: These three from Jeanne’s collection are varying sizes and shapes, are interesting in their own right, and are in scale with the plants. They also create planting pockets, making it possible to vary the elevation slightly.

Topdressing: By covering bare dirt, crushed rock gives a finished look and helps hold in soil moisture. And in keeping with the natural theme, this warm-toned gravel appears to have crumbled from the larger rocks.

Note that the gasteria is in bloom, but this isn’t about flowers. It showcases foliage, texture and form, as any good succulent container garden should!

Related Info:

See more of Megan Boone’s designs on my website.

Topdressings for succulent pots

YouTube: Learn more about Jeanne’s rocks and topdressings

Find additional succulent container ideas on my Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest pages.

Jeanne’s garden is also featured in my book, Designing with Succulents (2nd ed.).

Get Tips from a Top Succulent Container Garden Designer (Melissa Teisl).


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The Colors of Rancho La Puerta

Rancho La Puerta health and fitness spa in Tecate, Baja California, across the border east of San Diego, offers the best of Mexico’s food, climate and ambience. It’s also famous for mature gardens that offer a wonderfully immersive experience. The Ranch is a great getaway within half a day’s drive from nearly anywhere in SoCa. Amid the lush landscaping are guest casitas (bungalows), gyms, library, gift shop, dining hall, and much more. Ornamental plants include Mediterraneans such as rosemary, Australian trees (melaleucas), native oaks and palms, and succulents large and small. The majority are minimally watered (or not at all) and are well suited to the region’s arid climate. Below are a few favorite photos from a recent visit. Bienvenidos al Rancho!

In the lobby, stained glass windows by famed Julian artist/sculptor James Hubbell overlook a cactus-and-agave boulder garden.

Agave shawii (Shaw’s agave) is native to the Baja peninsula. When backlit, teeth along leaf margins glow shades of yellow, orange and red.

One reason I went in April was to see the Aloe striata (coral aloes) in bloom. They’re beautifully juxtaposed with a similarly red-orange ice plant.

Incorporated into the door of the art studio is a stained-glass-and-brass butterfly.

A mosaic by artists Linda Weill and Tilly Nylin near the concierge office depicts a garden of cacti and succulents. That’s a scrub jay at lower right.

Another mosaic holds a blackboard with inspirational sayings that change daily. Its top echoes the outline of mountains nearby.

At La Cocina Que Canta (the Kitchen that Sings), dining tables are decorated with Mexican textiles and folk art.

Want to see more? Be sure to watch my YouTube video, “The Succulents of Rancho La Puerta.”

Related Info on this site:

Even if you live in drought-parched Southern CA, garden plants that don’t need to be watered are not as hard to come by as you might think…[Continue reading]
Agaves are rosette-shaped succulents native to the Americas. There are dozens of species of Agave… [Continue reading]
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Meet Debra Lee Baldwin: Author, Designing with Succulents

San Diego Voyager: Today we’d like to introduce you to Debra Lee Baldwin. Thanks for sharing your story with us Debra. So, let’s start at the beginning. Where did you grow up?

I grew up on an avocado ranch in south Escondido on a hilltop overlooking San Pasqual Valley. 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.

He also grew many succulents because cuttings were free from friends, and succulents need much less water than other ornamental plants. But I didn’t see these fleshy-leaved, water-storing plants as special. For one thing, there were not nearly as many varieties available then as now.

I fell in love with succulents while photographing cacti, aloes, agave and other varieties as a scout for Sunset Magazine, because of the plants’ sculptural geometry. I transformed my own hard-to-garden yard with these resilient plants, and through books, public speaking, YouTube videos, social media, and articles online and in print, I now advise others how to cultivate low-water landscapes with “plants that drink responsibly.”

 

My three bestselling books are Designing with Succulents, Succulent Container Gardens and Succulents Simplified, all from the nation’s leading publisher of gardening books, Timber Press.

ACHIEVEMENTS:
— Author of the Timber Press bestsellers Designing with Succulents, Succulent Container Gardens and Succulents Simplified.
— Magazine contributor to Sunset, Better Homes & Gardens, Garden Design and more.
— Succulent expert quoted by the Associated Press, Huffington Post, Bloomberg News, KPBS TV, Garden America, Garden Design, and others.
— Producer of 100+ YouTube videos with over 3,000,000 views.
— Presenter at venues that include Epcot Center; the Cactus and Succulent Society of America convention; flower-and-garden shows in Philadelphia, Seattle and San Francisco; and botanical gardens, universities and horticultural groups nationwide.
— Profiled in Garden Design as the publication’s Spring, 2016 “Ground Breaker.”
— Instructor at Craftsy, the leading online purveyor of how-to videos in the US. Debra’s popular 7-lesson class is “Stunning Succulent Arrangements.”

AWARDS:
— Literary: Nineteen first-place awards from the Garden Writers Association of America, the Society of Professional Journalists and Authors, and the San Diego Press Club.
— Lifetime achievement: San Diego Horticultural Society “2017 Horticulturist of the Year.”

Has it been a smooth road?
I was a single mom when my son was ages 7 to 11. That instilled in me the desire to make a living at what I’m good at and love doing. It wasn’t easy, but it was essential to developing the person I was meant to be.

From 2000 to 2010 I suffered from a chemical imbalance that caused an anxiety disorder. I didn’t take medication because of the side effects. So to avoid being miserable, I stayed focused on the present moment via research, writing and photography. The result was a book that launched a worldwide gardening trend: Designing with Succulents (Timber Press, 2007). My therapist at the time told me, “You’re the highest achieving person with an anxiety disorder that I’ve ever seen.” I’m fortunate that I was able to handle it in a positive and productive way.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Debra Lee Baldwin story. Tell us more about the business.
I’m proud and honored to have played a unique role in the history of horticulture and landscape design and to have been able to develop my skills in creative ways that help others, not only to use yards more sensibly, but also to enjoy them more fully.

You might describe me as an award-winning garden photojournalist who launched worldwide interest in succulents in 2007 with her first book, Designing with Succulents. I’m widely known as the “Queen of Succulents.” I’m especially proud of the book’s completely revised and updated second edition, released in 2017.

My mission is to increase awareness and appreciation of “plants that drink responsibly” through my books, articles, photos, videos, social media and more. During my 25-year career as a garden communicator, I have discovered and shared cutting-edge design ideas and interviewed renowned experts. To an ever-increasing fan base, I present information with the goal of “entertaining and enlightening in equal measure.”

How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
It’s becoming politically incorrect to have a water-thirsty front yard and a lawn that isn’t used for anything but greenery. Yards are subject to fashion just like clothing, and furniture, and now we’re seeing more and more succulent landscapes replacing the turf.

But succulent gardens are not always done well. There’s a learning curve, and doubtless we’ll see smarter plant choices as homeowners and landscapers gain knowledge. For example, century plants (Agave americana) may be free for the asking, but they’re a poor choice unless you have a lot of land. All too often people put these plants, when small, alongside their driveways or in curb strips, little realizing that century plants eventually get as big as Volkswagens, and are extremely difficult to remove. Not only are they huge and heavy, the plants have sharply toothed, inflexible leaves. But this isn’t to say you shouldn’t plant agaves. There are numerous other kinds that make excellent garden plants.

I think we’ll see the trend toward low-water plants arrive at its inevitable conclusion: cactus. All cacti are succulents, but people haven’t wanted cacti in their gardens. That’s changing. The plants are supremely low-water—they get by on rainfall alone—and are beautiful when backlit. (Spines of many varieties are translucent and glow when low sun illuminates them.) Again, there’s a learning curve. People have yet to learn which cacti to stay away from because they’re too treacherous and to realize that there exist wonderful spineless varieties.

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Ten Top Trends for Succulent Plants, Gardens and Design

Apr. 24, 2018 ~ If it seems that succulents are moving at warp speed in the world of gardens, nurseries and designers, they are. And as a journalist, I’m ON it. My predictions for succulent plants, gardens and design will help you stay on top of trends and maybe even make money from the plants you love.

Btw, I wrote this before all those native dudleyas were taken from Northern CA by tourists from overseas. Shocking. Goes to show how a little-known genus is gaining attention (see #8 below).

This is Part Two of my earlier post: Ten Predictions for the Succulent Decor Marketplace.

1. As no-water cactus gardens command the design scene, all eyes will be on high-end, professionally orchestrated, Arizona residential landscapes.

2. In Western gardens, large tree aloes, beaucarneas, Dracaena draco and columnar cacti will be sought-after focal points, commanding five figures per specimen.

3. Also popular will be golden barrels, blue baseball bats (Pilosocereus pachycladus), Cereus peruvianus‘ Monstrosus’ and any long-spined or filamented cacti (such as Pachycereus pringlei and Cleistocactus strausii) that glow beautifully when backlit.(For examples see Designing with Succulents, 2nd ed., pp 192-200.)

4. Beginning with collectors, the grafting of one type of cactus onto another will become fashionable, leading to groups on social media and a new market segment.

5. In southern and coastal CA from the Bay Area south, retail and hospitality destinations— such as theme parks, resorts, botanical gardens, restaurants and shopping malls—will hire celebrity designers to create innovative themed succulent gardens that boost traffic, PR and social-media shares.

6. Opuntia (paddle cactus, prickly pear) cultivars will be acquired by homeowner-collectors for the color and variety of the flowers, especially those with prolific, multicolored, long-lasting blooms.

7. Nurseries, having to compete with homeowners who give succulent cuttings away via “Free” signs and neighborhood sites, will offer membership-based, trim-and-share services.

8. Dudleyas native to Mexico and CA will be THE sought-after rosette succulents, unfortunately leading to the poaching of rare species from the wild. Above: Watch my video of D. brittonii last week in Baja. 

9. The indoor, urban, and cold-climate markets for succulents will continue to increase. The money’s in haworthias, gasterias, dwarf aloes, sempervivums, and those genera’s tough-and-colorful hybrids; as well as windowsill mammillarias, parodias, rebutias, and anything monstrose or crested.

10. By 2020, spineless opuntia and other minimally spined cacti—the bigger, the better—will be the hottest plants for dry gardens in southern CA and beyond.

 

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On this site: 

Why Grow Paddle Cacti? My 16 Reasons

April 22, 2018— Of the dozen or so types of cacti in my garden, I have more opuntias than any other. Also known as paddle cactus or prickly pear… [Continue reading]

Ten Predictions for the Succulent Decor Marketplace

April 13, 2018— In fabrics, dishes and other decorative items, rosette succulents such as echeverias have… [Continue reading]

 

Dec. 27, 2017 — Whenever I’m asked how to find certain succulents or services that are in short supply, I wonder why so few offer them[Continue Reading]

Is Cactus the New Black?

Aug. 9, 2017 — Long a pariah plant, cactus is becoming cool. Spiny succulents are following smooth ones in popularity, notably in… [Continue reading]