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What You Didn’t Know About Debra Lee Baldwin

My hobby is making bird feeders out of repurposed objects. I’m highly visual and love to watch wild birds interacting with airy feeders, so I often use candle holders that have multiple votives that I can fill with birdseed.
I sometimes use wire bird cages for feeders. I think it’s fascinating (and ironic) to see wild birds try to squeeze their way into a cage. This one, which is both ornamental bird cage AND candle holder, hangs outside my office window. See more photos (and even videos!) on my Instagram page. 
Most of my birdfeeders are elegant and pretty, which is my preference. But a silly one—made from a brand-new bra (not mine, it’s way too big)—went viral on Facebook a year ago and has since had 26,000,000 views. Yep. Twenty-six. MILLION.
It’s a perfect example of how combining disparate items—in this case birds and bras—creates a third concept that transcends the two. And because it’s amusing, never-seen-before and a bit naughty, people have shared it to a fare-thee-well. Darn. If only I had made even a penny per view!
So here’s something else about me: I come up with clever ideas that don’t make me rich. But that’s another story, and one that’s not as cynical as it sounds. As game and reality show losers invariably say, “Hey, at least I had fun!”

Summer Care for Your Succulents

Don’t let midsummer heat, sun and dryness damage your succulents! 

If you live in an arid climate and grow succulents in the open garden (as I do), I recommend you ~

— Watch and enjoy my latest video: Succulents, Sun and Summer. On an 89-degree day I give a tour of my garden, noting what’s in bloom, lookin’ good (or dreadful), and checking the health of succulents small and large.

— Move sun-sensitive potted succulents into the shade: haworthias, gasterias, euphorbias, faucarias, sansevierias, echeverias, and anything light-colored or variegated.

— Give aloes and crassulas enough sun to turn bright colors but not so much that leaf tips shrivel or burn.

— Shade horizontal stems of trailing aloes, senecios, othonna and the like. Sunburn hinders stems’ ability to transmit moisture from roots to leaves.

— Create temporary shade structures from old window screens.

— Or use leafy branches trimmed from trees (insert in the ground next to a plant you want to protect, on the side that gets the most sun).

— Evaluate garden areas in need of shade, and plant trees when the weather cools in the fall. And for that (drum roll) I have another new video: Twelve Low-Water Trees for Succulent Landscapes.


Thrifting for the Birds

House finch on a glass creamer I repurposed as a bird feeder.

UPDATE: I’ve since made a series of one-minute videos of wild house finches using feeders created from repurposed objects. Find these videos on Instagram @DebraLBaldwin and on my Succulent Container Gardens Facebook page. 

My pastimes of thrifting and birding inspired me to create bird feeders from repurposed items. It all began a few months ago when I was given a commercial feeder to trial. Its peaked roof is “cute” (to quote a friend), but it’s made of plastic (shudder) and is a color I call “hose green”—a blue-green not found in nature.

It also was too efficient. House finches (linnets) emptied it quickly, and one cup of seed mix is all I wanted to give them daily. Plus, watching these mice of the bird world stuff themselves became boring. All they did was sit, eat, and lunge at rivals who wanted to share the feeder.

I read up on wild birds—their habits, what species frequent the foothills of inland Southern CA, and what they eat. I also researched the ideal bird feeding experience for both birds and humans. Feeders should be located where you can watch easily from indoors, birds can dart into nearby branches, and well above the ground so cats can’t pounce and it’s difficult for rodents to help themselves.

So with bird-feeding in mind, I trolled estate sales and thrift shops. I decided to go with inexpensive objects I found in abundance: wrought iron candleholders with metal rings for votives in glass cups. It seemed that such shallow vessels (sans candles) would hold the right amount of bird seed, and metal rods in pleasing ornamental shapes would make good perches.

Although I planned to do only one feeding station at first, I went on to create three on the deck outside my kitchen and dining room. Much thought, creativity and fun went into modifying these three stations to maximize their appeal to me and to my feathered guests.

Bird feeders on a plant stand create a feeding station. Wire ball at center contains suet. Birds are house finches and, at the hummingbird feeder, an orange-crown warbler (also shown below).

Station One, positioned on the far corner of the deck, uses a 6-foot-tall wrought iron plant stand designed to hold hanging baskets of plants. On one hook is a square wrought iron candleholder with a glass candle cup that I initially worried might be too deep. I decided to go ahead and try it—after all, why shouldn’t those greedy finches work for their food? Sure enough, they’ll feed vertically if need be—beaks straight down and tail feathers skyward.

This made me wonder what other antics and acrobatics house finches might do. Although I stopped short of adding a maze, I decided the ideal feeder needs an entertainment factor.

Also on the plant stand I hung an old wire birdcage. It’s still my favorite feeder. I love watching wild birds eagerly enter the cage, the door of which I’ve wired open to avoid accidentally trapping one. (I’ve also spread the wires a bit on the opposite side, so they have a second exit. They enter the cage that way, too.) A plump mourning dove, seduced by the scent of peanuts, also cages itself from time to time.

Next came a hummingbird feeder. Imagine my surprise when an adorable chartreuse bird about 4 inches long (compared to 5 inches for the house finches) began frequenting it, along with the expected Anna’s hummers. I’m pretty sure my “little green guy” is an orange-crowned warbler. Score!

I wired a tray onto the deck railing, and filled it with peanuts for doves and jays. White crowned sparrows came next, gleaning bits that fell on the deck or patio below. The latest visitors are goldfinches.

Station Two, inspired by the birds’ lack of fear of my hulking house and the moving shadows within, is beneath the eaves right outside the kitchen window. In case you’re wondering, none of the birds has hit the glass. “They can tell it’s a barrier,” a Wild Birds Unlimited employee assured me. This station consists mainly of wrought iron candle holders linked together. I had to scrounge for S-hooks. When installing bird feeders, one never has enough.

House finches won’t share a feeder, but they’re fine crammed together if each has its own. Watch a video.   

Happy discovery: When each finch has its own seed-filled cup, it doesn’t mind being close to a rival finch. At a circular candleholder with seating for six, each place is soon filled, there’s a queue along the deck rail, and others observe from tree branches. That is, when they deign to visit.

House finches come and go like adolescents with cars. They arrive all at once, boisterous and noisy; pushing, flapping, and ravenous; each with a wary eye out for the Lady of the House. When she appears, they take off with a whoosh, offering no thanks, apologies, or stacking of dishes.

In my tea party themed station, glass feeders make the birds easier to see.

Station Three, the most recent, has a tea-party theme. I nailed two matching S-shaped candleholders horizontally beneath the eaves, then wired chains to them, and added hooks to hang tea cups, a sugar bowl and creamer, a tea pot, and a serving tray with a handle. The initial version used floral china cups, but I soon switched to glass. Glass is like solid air, so it suits an airy feeder, plus you can see the birds better as well as how much seed is left. I still need a transparent tea pot. Which is to say, I really need to go thrifting. Soon.

Tips for creating a feeding station and making your own feeders:

— Be patient. It may take birds several days, even weeks, to find a feeder.
— House finches are prevalent and arrive in pairs (male and female). If you leave food sitting out, even if it’s not in a feeder, they’ll find it. Although wild birds are endearing when hopping on patio furniture, they do make a mess.
— Visit your local Wild Birds Unlimited store. The employees are friendly, knowledgable and happy to share information. Pick up a bag of WBU’s “No Mess Seed Blend” of nuts and seeds already shelled.
— Add a birdbath. They’ll drink from it, splash around in it, and it’ll attract birds that aren’t interested in the feeders. (Not all want seeds; many eat insects).
— Expect a bonanza of birds on a rainy day, which also is a great time to install a new feeding station.
— Hang breakable objects so they won’t hit each other when jolted by wings or wind.
— At dusk, bring indoors food that might attract nocturnal varmints like rats and opossums.
— In winter, add suet (from a bird store or garden center) to your feeding station.

Female Anna’s hummingbird

— Don’t add food coloring to hummingbird syrup. The red of the feeder is enough to attract them.
— Keep hummingbird feeders clean; mildew and fungus can harm the birds.
— When placing a feeder, don’t forget that whatever is below it will be showered with bird droppings and seed husks.
— Hardware stores sell black S-hooks in the garden department; regular S-hooks (which are cheaper but silver colored) in the hardware section. You’ll also need chain (sold by the foot), flexible wire, and a wire cutter.
— Turn off the lights in the room when you’re observing wild birds, so it’s harder for them to see you. Regardless, avoid making sudden movements.
— Enrich your experience by identifying the birds that visit your feeders. Obtain a Sibley’s birding guide specific to your region. (No, the Internet and Google aren’t enough.)
— Get a good pair of binoculars (mine are Polaris Optics). They’re a portal to another world, both at feeders and beyond.


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How I Get Rid of Gophers

Trapped gopher

A newly caught gopher (lower right) in my garden.

Over the past quarter century, I’ve trapped four to six gophers a year in my half-acre garden near San Diego. If I can catch gophers, so can you. Here’s how.

— Obtain at least four Macabee gopher traps.

— Tie one end of a string that’s several feet long to the end of the trap opposite its pincher-jaws. At the other end of the string, tie a loop.

— If you don’t know how to set the traps, watch a video that shows how. Tip: If you’re having trouble inserting the trigger wire into the little hole, use your thumbs to push down firmly on the wires between the trap’s open jaws, then thread the trigger wire up and into the hole with your fingers. As with any trap, be careful not to catch yourself!

— Dig down into the tunnel with a shovel. Aim to expose two openings, one in each direction, so you can catch the gopher coming or going. (Granted, two holes aren’t always possible. Gopher tunnels seldom go in a straight line, nor are they necessarily parallel to the surface.)

— Use a trowel to clear each opening of dirt and to create space to insert a trap. Sometimes it’s easier to reach into a hole with your hand and scoop dirt out, which also is the best way to discern if a hole does indeed lead into a tunnel. (If someone’s with you, snatch back your hand as though bit. No worries. The gopher won’t come near you.)

— Insert a set trap into each hole. I hold the trap by the string end and push the metal square forward with my thumb to keep the trigger wire in place, lest it become dislodged. (This will become obvious when you do it. Again, no worries—if the trap snaps, your thumb won’t be in the way.)

— Extend each trap’s string outside the hole and drive a stake through the loop into the ground. This ensures that you can find the trap later, that a squirming gopher can’t drag the trap deeper into the hole, and that you won’t have to reach into the hole to remove the trap. (Simply extract it by pulling the string).

— The more tunnels you open and the more traps you set, the better your chances…which is why I set four traps, minimum.

— Cover the trap holes, because if a gopher sees light, it’ll push dirt into the trap while trying to close the opening. I place palm-sized pieces of flagstone upright to cover trap holes, but nearly anything will work—just don’t let pebbles, leaves and dirt fall into the hole.

— Check traps the next day. If they’re empty, reevaluate their locations and try again. Keep doing this until you catch the gopher or it exits on its own (evidenced by no new mounds). Sometimes—rarely—a predator gets the gopher first: snakes go into tunnels; and owls, raptors, cats, and coyotes pounce on gophers as they emerge from their holes at night.

— Traps are too expensive to discard with a gopher. If you’re squeamish about such things, have someone who isn’t extract it from the trap. Shake the gopher into a plastic grocery bag, tie the top, and set it out with the trash.

“Gopher spurge” in the Euphorbia genus is supposed to repel gophers (the roots exude a gummy sap gophers don’t like) but I’ve always wondered why a gopher wouldn’t simply go around them!

Poison bait also is an option, but it has a shelf life, may possibly endanger pets and beneficial animals, and you don’t know for sure that you’ve caught the gopher because there’s no evidence (but maybe that’s a good thing). Use a metal bar to poke the ground around a gopher mound until the bar goes into a tunnel. Funnel bait through the hole into the tunnel. Cover the hole so light doesn’t enter.

Chicken wire protects the roots of an agave from gophers.

Chicken wire protects the roots of an agave from gophers.

The Sunset Western Garden book suggests protecting roots of young plants by lining planting holes with chicken wire. If you look closely at this photo taken in Patrick Anderson’s garden, you’ll see chicken wire around the agave. Gophers don’t go after many succulents, perhaps because the plants are shallow rooted, but they do like agaves. Below, my Agave americana ‘Marginata’ after a gopher ate the roots and up into the heart of the plant. Gopher-eaten agave Collapse gopher runs by slicing into them with a shovel, thereby making it less easy for a new gopher to use them. Gophers are antisocial except when mating, but if there’s a unoccupied network of tunnels, a new one will soon move in.

Keep open a run that leads into your yard from a neighbor’s. When the tunnel opening fills with soil, you’ll know a gopher is active. Clear out the dirt the gopher used to seal the opening, then trap the gopher before it enters your garden.

And no, it doesn’t help to put a hose down a gopher hole.


Macabee traps, set of four, about $25. (Five stars on Amazon.)

Videos produced by the University of California Cooperative Extension:

How to Set a Macabee Gopher Trap

Pocket Gopher: Finding Tunnel Systems

Pocket Gopher: Trap placement

Also on YouTube for your entertainment: Debra Discusses Gophers During a Potting Demo.



Agave victoriae-reginae
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My Succulent Meditation Garden

You’ve experienced how gardening can be a form of meditation. But have you considered how the plants themselves might enhance your sense of serenity? I’m conceptualizing a meditation area with succulents that incorporate soothing geometric patterns and spirals.

Agave victoriae-reginae

Stretched canvas wall art piece by Debra Lee Baldwin

The eye never tires of following a circular design. Case in point: I sometimes catch myself staring at this canvas print, above, in my living room. (It’s more relaxing than the TV.)

My meditation garden will have at its center an egg chair in which I can swing and rock—a happy reminder of my childhood. I’ll arrange rosette succulents (see list below) around it, vary their sizes and distances, and create groupings of them that in themselves offer repetitions. The area will be in dappled shade, bordered by a terrace on one side and pots on the other. A solar-powered fountain will muffle traffic and neighborhood noise.

Deep-toned, bell-like wind chimes will provide a pleasant sound and enhance my awareness of breezes. I listened to several wind chimes (anything’s possible on the Internet) and ordered Corinthian Bells 44-inch wind chimes. At $116 they’re a splurge, but anything smaller was too high pitched. (It helps that the fountain and chair are bargains.)

Additional tactile elements are the warmth of the sun, fresh air filling my lungs (“remember to breathe!” says my yoga instructor), cushy outdoor pillows, and maybe my dog on my lap. (I’d prefer a purring cat, but my husband’s allergic. Memo: See if neighbor will loan me her kitty.)

As for fragrance…in spring my garden has scents of orange blossoms and wisteria, and I’ve often thought of trying to grow jasmine again (my first attempt failed), but it’s easier to simply find incense I like. Doesn’t incense for outdoors sound wonderful? I ordered this assortment, which includes sandalwood, jasmine and others.

Finally, I’ll invigorate my taste buds with chilled water that has a few drops of mint essential oil. Or if it’s chilly, a cup of hot chamomile tea.

On to the plants! Here’s my short list of favorite symmetrical succulents:

— Large aeoniums, ideally variegated

04-Aeonium 'Sunburst'

— Graptoveria ‘Fred Ives’

Graptoveria 'Fred Ives'

— Pachyverias


— Sempervivums that have offset in a hens-and-chicks fashion


— Large, colorful echeverias

45-Echeveria, ruffled hybrid

— Echeveria imbricata

51-Echeveria imbricata

— Echeveria ‘Topsy Turvy’

103-Echeveria 'Cubic Frost'

— Euphorbia ‘Snowflake’

37-Euphorbia 'Snowflake'

— Stacked crassulas

Crassula capitella ssp thyrsiflora

— Agave lophantha ‘Quadricolor’

151-Agave lophantha 'Quadricolor'

— Agave victoriae-reginae

141-Agave victoriae-reginae

— Agave parryi ‘Truncata’

Agave parryi var truncata

— Aloe nobilis or any symmetrical red-orange aloe

21-Aloe nobilis

I’ll keep you posted as it all comes together. In the meantime…The newly popular activity of coloring a detailed line drawing also reduces stress, and mandalas (which means “circle” in Hindu) are useful as meditation aids. You’ll find succulent mandalas plus line drawings of the plants shown above in my coloring book for adults, Sensational Succulents. 

Related articles:

Debra’s own garden 

My succulent meditation garden

Spring in my succulent garden

Succulent garden design essentials

How to grow succulents

Debra Lee Baldwin in her succulent garden

Debra’s Own Garden

My goal with my own garden is to create a three-dimensional art form that serves as a backdrop for videos, photo shoots and casual get-togethers. Whether in books, photos, videos or presentations—or with plants, rocks, and sweat—I’m invariably about entertaining and sharing in equal measure. It’s one way I define joy.

Debra Lee Baldwin in her succulent garden

Yours truly in the lower garden with “Big Blue.” Photo by Craftsy.

Debra's Garden

My steep, terraced half-acre garden as viewed from my house. 

Succulent rock garden

IMHO, a garden can never have too many rocks. This sloping bed is home to dwarf aloes and haworthias growing in a pumice-rich mix. 

Succulent lily pond by Debra Lee Baldwin
My dry pond has thin, nearly spineless cactus pads I ordered from Florida (!). The “water lilies” are graptoveria rosettes. 

Succulent tapestry garden

One of two succulent tapestries by designer Laura Eubanks.

Related articles:

My succulent meditation garden

Spring in my succulent garden

Succulent garden design essentials

How to grow succulents

I’ve filmed numerous YouTube videos in my garden. The most popular shows how to replant an overgrown bed:Debra shows how to trim and replant succulents

If you REALLY want to come see my garden, I do occasionally give private tours for visiting VIPs. Email me. 

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




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Should You Let Your Flapjack Plants Bloom?


You’re probably aware of flapjack plant (Kalanchoe luciae), a succulent that’s popular because of the color of its leaves. (Shown above at Waterwise Botanicals nursery, perfectly timed for Valentine’s Day.)


Like other succulents with overlapping leaves along a single stem, when Kalanchoe luciae blooms, the entire plant elongates. This is how those in my window box looked in March of last year.


If your goal is to have a lot of new little plants, one option is to let the mother plant bloom. Providing it survives the effort (they usually do, but not always), you’ve hit the jackpot. Harvest each cluster with several inches of stem attached to anchor it, and start it as a cutting. Roots will grow from leaf axils (where leaves are attached to the stem).


I didn’t want awkwardly tall plants in my window box, so when the flapjacks started to elongate in March, I snipped off the bloom spikes. The mother plants seemed determined to flower regardless, and buds grew from leaf axils beneath the cut. I was just as determined they weren’t going to flower, so I pinched out the buds.


Within a month, the plants’ topmost leaves turned beige and crisp along the edges. I’m not sure why this happened, but I trimmed them to keep the plants tidy.


By June, new little leaves concealed the truncated stems, indicating that the plants had been gearing up to produce offsets. When they couldn’t do it along a bloom spike, they did so closer to the core.


Here’s how one of the plants looked in August.


And again in October. Other plants in the window box are blue echeverias and Euphorbia tirucalli ‘Sticks on Fire’. The composition looks fine, but would be even better if those flapjacks would turn as red as they were at the nursery! (Hm. Topic for a future post? “How to Keep your Flapjacks Red.” Advice welcome!)



Favorite Photos from My Garden

Certain photos that I’ve taken in my garden over the years continue to be my favorites—some for their color, others for composition, whimsy or subject. I hope you enjoy them, too.


I never tire of observing how what’s on the pot is the same as what’s in the pot.

Dymondia path_annotated_resized

Above is the photo of my garden that publications request the most. They really like those maroon aloes. (It’s because they’re dying. Our secret.)

IMG_1890 resized

I’m a sucker for great shadows.


This diminutive stapeliad looked great in this thrift-store pot even before it bloomed. I ask visiting children, “Is the fish eating the plants or throwing them up?” Girls invariably say the fish is ingesting; boys, the other option.

IMG_4785annotated_resized IMG_6155_annotated_resized IMG_2835_annotated_resized

More fish.


And an ant.


Echeveria flowers in windowsill vases.


This is the floral-style arrangement I made for “Stunning Succulent Arrangements,” the online Craftsy class I teach.


When I discovered Euphorbia mitriformis, I fell in love. That shape! Those stripes!


This, of course, is all about color. The orange plant isn’t a succulent—it’s coxcomb.


This fenestraria surprised me not only with a flower, but also by its sepals’ perfect star.

Miniature _annotated_resized

My favorite miniature landscape, from my book Succulent Container Gardens.


The background looks like a poster, but it’s actually plants. I love the repetitions of form and the complimentary colors of orange and blue!


When someone gave me a little stamped-metal box, I knew it would make a great treasure chest for an undersea themed terrarium.


Speaking of undersea, doesn’t this haworthia look like it’s undulating out of a shell?


Love the textures and the lighting—Mexican feather grass and variegated Agave americana.


These aeoniums look metallic, sort of like vegetable steamers. Great sheen and symmetry.

Cactus w eyes3