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Create a Soothing Succulent Sitting Area

If you enjoy gardening, you’ve no doubt experienced how it can be a form of meditation and a treat for all the senses. But have you considered how simply looking at certain plants induces a feeling of serenity? You can discover this by enhancing a sitting area with succulents that incorporate geometric patterns and spirals.

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Stretched canvas print of Agave victoria-reginae ‘Variegata’

The eye never tires of following circular patterns. For example, I sometimes catch myself gazing at this canvas print, above, in my living room. It’s more relaxing than the TV.

There are many possibilities for an intimate garden of symmetrical succulents. Here’s a hypnotic euphorbia I enjoy near my outdoor dining table: E. polygona ‘Snowflake’.

Several more to inspire you…

 

Treat both mind and body

Silence may be golden, but it’s not always an option. A fountain is a great way to muffle neighborhood noise and attract birds that are relaxing to watch. When I sit in my home’s entry, I’m captivated by goldfinches that flit back and forth from a fountain across the driveway to a feeder under the eaves. Another auditory option is deep-toned, bell-like “Corinthian” wind chimes.

As for fragrance…my spring 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 go with incense or potpourri. Doesn’t the fragrance of, say, sandalwood for a breezy outdoor area sound wonderful?

To indulge the palate, enjoy my favorite fast and refreshing chilled drink: ice water with a few drops of mint essential oil.

Coloring a detailed line drawing also reduces stress, and a mandala (which means “circle” in Hindu) is a useful meditation aid. You’ll find succulent mandalas plus line drawings of your favorite plants in my coloring book for adults, Sensational Succulents. Here’s a page from the book that you’re welcome to download. Enjoy!

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Succulent Garden Design Essentials

Nancy Dalton’s award-winning succulent garden in San Diego is an outstanding example of smart landscaping for Southern California’s arid climate. Enjoy it’s many pleasing and practical aspects and keep these dozen ideas in mind as you design and plant your own garden.

  1. Repeat colors and forms. By combining agaves with yuccas, the designers used similar-but-different plants to create continuity. The Yucca rostrata at far right repeats the dark green starburst shapes of slender-leaved agaves at middle left. These in turn echo an intriguing aspect of each other: white filaments that curl from leaf margins.Succulent landscaape

2. Incorporate textural plants. Texture is both what’s seen up-close, like fuzzy red kangaroo paw flowers, and what’s viewed from a distance, like the mounding jade at middle right and ‘Sticks on Fire’ beyond. Also highly textual are barrel cacti and any plant that shimmers in the breeze—like the Yucca rostrata at left.

Award-winning succulent front yard in Southern California

3. Sculpt the terrain with berms and valleys. Mounded soil is more interesting than flat and height enhances drainage. Tip: Bring in several yards of topsoil amended with pumice and mound it atop your former lawn or a difficult-to-dig area of compacted dirt. The succulents you plant in fresh soil will quickly take root and thrive.

Agave multifilifera in the front yard succulent garden.

4. Group plants with varying heights and sizes. In Nancy’s garden, Euphorbia tirucalli ‘Sticks on Fire’ serves as a backdrop for medium-sized succulents such as barrel cacti and variegated elephant’s food (Portulacaria afra ‘Variegata’). Low-growing blue Senecio mandraliscae and Othonna capensis complete the high-medium-low vignette.

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5. Position plants according to water needs. Those most prone to rot, such as cacti from to the desert Southwest, tend to do best atop a berm that allows water to drain away from their roots. Finer-leaved succulents tend to dry out more easily and will be happiest around the base of the mound or in a swale. See my article, “How to Water Succulents.”

6. Grow rangy non-succulents in pots. Instead of in the ground, Nancy’s herb garden occupies large terracotta pots near her kitchen door. This keeps the plants under control (some, like mints, are invasive) and makes them easy to water, tend, harvest, and replant.Pot grouping of herbs

7. Add a fountain. The sound of splashing water on a patio or adjacent to a garden sitting area blankets neighboring noise and  enhances even a small yard’s sense of privacy. It also attracts songbirds.

8. Put complementary colors to work. Succulents come in all colors, as do glazed ceramic pots, so have fun with them! Here, Nancy contrasted blue and orange. Coppertone stonecrop (Sedum nussbaumerianum) in the bed serves as a ground cover, frames the focal point, and flows around pots of Kalanchoe orgyalis (copper spoons) at left and Agave colorataFountain surrounded by succulents

 9. Display dynamic succulents against walls. Nancy lent interest to a white stucco retaining wall with three brightly-glazed pots. They contain a tall, columnar cactus, a clustering euphorbia, and star-shaped Agave lophantha ‘Quadricolor’. Find more ideas in my book, Succulent Container Gardens.

Pot grouping in Nancy Dalton's succulent garden

10. Showcase the symmetry of succulents. Small agaves look great in pots that frame and call attention to their elegant, geometric shapes.  Here, Agave victoria-reginae graces a hexagonal pot near Nancy’s front door. Agave victoriae-reginae in a pot

 

11. Include a dry creek bed. In a drought-prone climate it’s soothing to suggest the presence of water. To create the look of rushing water, designer Michael Buckner lined Nancy’s dry creek bed with cobbles turned sideways. Such enhancements can channel water from gutters into the garden and provide access to hard-to-reach areas. See the section in Designing with Succulents on dry creek beds, pp. 56-59.

Cobbles appear to be rushing water

12. Top-dress bare soil with crushed rock. It may seem minor, but this often overlooked aspect of design makes a huge difference. A layer of gravel lends a finished look, discourages weed growth, and helps hold moisture in the soil. See my articles, “Ten Reasons Why You Really Need Rocks” and “Why Top Dressing is Essential for Succulents.” 

Special thanks to Deeter-Buckner design for these “before” photos of Nancy’s front yard:

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Nancy Dalton’s s garden won the city of San Diego’s drought tolerant landscaping contest and was on the San Diego Horticultural Society’s Spring Garden Tour. Located in Carmel Valley, the garden has a mild, frost-free climate. Landscape designers Samantha Owens of Barrels and Branches nursery and Michael Buckner of Deeter-Buckner Design helped with soil amendments, plant selection, placement, and installation. Nancy herself is knowledgeable about plants and is a hand’s-on gardener.

Download my list of Succulents for Coastal Southern California Gardens.

See my YouTube channel playlist, “Great Succulent Gardens.”

See Nancy’s garden in my video, Design Ideas from an Award-Winning Succulent Garden

…and in my book, Designing with Succulents.

Related info on this site:

 

 

 

 

 

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Make a Succulent Mug Gift Bouquet

I’m not much of a cook, so instead of a prepared dish, I like to bring my hostess a succulent floral bouquet.Succulent coffee mug bouquet

Mugs sold individually at home goods stores and secondhand shops make great gifts, especially when filled with succulent rosettes that suggest exotic flowers.

How to give succulents stems

Succulents wired onto faux stems are long lasting and can themselves be planted later as cuttings.

Materials for succulent bouquet

I prefer to use a mug of my own design (available online from my Zazzle store), but any nice one will do.

Colorful succulent cuttings for mug bouquetYou’ll need a dozen colorful succulent cuttings…

Materials for succulent gift mug

…sand for ballast (so the stems stay upright), 22-gauge floral wire, stretchy green floral tape, garden snippers, and wire cutters.

Succulent gift mug bouquet

See each step in my recent video: How to Make a Succulent Mug Bouquet.

Succulent gift mug video

And if you like this idea, check out my earlier post on how to make A Succulent Bouquet in Colored Sand. It features wired succulent rosettes in a slender glass bottle filled with layers of sand.

For how to make a SPECIAL OCCASION succulent bouquet, see my book, Succulents Simplified, pages 162-169.

One of seven sessions of my Craftsy class, Stunning Succulent Arrangements, is How to Make a Succulent Bouquet. Use this link to take the entire class (all seven lessons) at 50% of the regular enrollment price—$20 instead of $40.

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Why Top Dressing is Essential for Succulents

In the ground or in containers, your succulent compositions will look and perform better if bare soil doesn’t show. Top dressing lends a finished look, and plants benefit from how it disperses water.

In the open garden, soil exposed to sunlight is likely to foster weed growth. Add a thick layer of crushed rock, and those few weeds that do sprout will be easier to pull. My preference is to use an inorganic top dressing, such as crushed rock or pebbles, rather than shredded bark, which can be too water-retentive and may harbor molds, insects, and snails.

Be sure to watch my YouTube video, “Why You Really Need Rocks” which features a newly installed succulent landscape by Steve McDearmon of Garden Rhythms, who top-dressed with several sizes of warm-hued rock, brought in by the truckload from Southwest Boulder & Stone.

By diffusing the impact of rain, gravel also helps prevent erosion. And by holding moisture in the soil, rock promotes root growth, thereby boosting the vitality of plants—especially important during dry spells. The darker the gravel, the more heat it absorbs from the sun’s rays. Aloe and agave expert Kelly Griffin, whose coastal garden is featured in my book, Designing with Succulents (2nd ed.), top-dresses with dark crushed rock because warm soil promotes rapid root growth—which is what he wanted, and to which his garden attests. However, such chocolate-brown gravel wouldn’t be a good choice for a desert garden.

Aesthetically, as I told my audience at the recent Succulent Extravaganza, top dressing is to a potted succulent as a mat is to a painting. The pot is the frame, the plant is the artwork, and the mat helps fill in and enhance the overall presentation. I also discussed showy topdressings, like crushed glass. Watch the video: Why Top Dressing is Essential for Succulent Gardens.

Members of the Cactus and Succulent Society of America see top dressings as backup singers and never as the star. They enhance their collectible, container-grown succulents by harmonizing pot, plant and top dressing, sometimes adding a choice rock or two to suggest how the plant might look in habitat. This approach, an art form in itself, is called “staging.” In competitive shows, judges apply strict standards to the way plants are staged.

Commercial rock suppliers sell neutral-toned gravels in bags too heavy to lift. Craft stores offer odd-colored criva and neon-bright sand in small bags at high prices. So thank goodness for John Matthews, the top-dressing guy. John sells at C&SS shows throughout Southern CA, and offers the ideal solution: pea-sized crushed rock in a variety of hues, packaged in affordable, 2-lb. bags. For more info, email John at jgmplants@aol.com or call him at 661-714-1052.

 

 
Greenhouse for succulents in display garden
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Succulents at the Spring Home/Garden Show

Succulent display garden

I zipped around San Diego’s Spring Home/Garden show right before the judging, cell in hand. (When in a hurry, I use my phone to take photos in dim light instead of my fancy-schmancy Canon.) I was delighted with what I saw. No question I’m biased, but the display garden (above) showcasing plants from Desert Theater nursery, and designed by Steve McDearmon of Garden Rhythms and Katie Christensen of Miss Katie’s Garden, was my favorite. You could plunk the whole shebang in your front yard for a great-looking, low-maintenance lawn-replacement landscape.

The show is the first Fri.-Sat.-Sun. of March every year. You’ll have to pay parking, but you needn’t pay the admission price of $9 at the door. Obtain a FREE PASS by going to the show’s Buy Tickets page and entering this special code for my fans and followers: DLBA.

Have fun!

Succulent display garden

Apologies for photos that lack credits. None of the display gardens had names on them because they were about to be judged. If you want to ID them in a comment below, please do!

Greenhouse for succulents in display garden

St. Madeleine Sophie’s Center (display garden above) helps adults with developmental disabilities. Gardening, propagating plants and selling them is a big part of it. I love the greenhouse in their display garden!

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Do I detect a trend brewing? This lovely display combines succulents (dudleyas) with red bromeliads and other low-water tropicals.

Succulent vertical display garden

Melissa Teisl and Jon Hawley design gardens as Chicweed Design & Landscaping. Although they sold their floral shop in Solana Beach, you can still see aspects of it in their gardens, like the lovely vertical display above. I’ll bet the sandbox behind it was inspired by their little boy.Potted aloe garden by Chicweed

This mosaic pot filled with succulents also is in Chicweed Design & Landscaping’s display garden.

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Speaking of lovely succulent container gardens, this one is by Katie Christensen for Desert Theater. The gorgeous purple plant is a dyckia, a type of bromeliad that’s succulent. Dyckias would doubtless be more popular if they didn’t have leaf edges as sharp as steak knives. (Katie, are you bleeding?)

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Also in the Desert Theater display is “Miss Katie’s potting bench.”

Succulent container gardens

Miss Katie brings a feminine aesthetic to succulents.

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Judges give bonus points for labeled plants. This is a charming way to do it, don’t you think?

IMG_4306The display garden above, which incorporates agaves and dasylirions, utilizes a lot of interesting hardscape and topdressings, which after all are THE ultimate way to have a waterwise garden.

echeverias in metal bowl

And isn’t this stunning? So simple! Pass the oil and vinegar. (Kidding.)

Don’t forget, you can get a free pass by going to the Show’s website and entering my special discount code: DLBA. If you missed it this year, subscribe to my newsletter (below), and I’ll give you a head’s up for next year.

Succulent container how-to
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How To Design a Succulent Container Garden

“How to Plant a Succulent Container Garden,” the video that Timber Press commissioned when my book, Succulent Container Gardens, was released, has had more than a quarter of a million views! For your entertainment and edification, below are annotated photos of the main steps involved. Be sure to visit my YouTube channel for more than 50 how-to videos of super design ideas featuring succulents!

Container How-To 1 Container how-to 2 Container How-To 3 

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Succulent Driftwood Designs

Watch my YouTube video, Succulents in Driftwood (2:51).

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It’s surprisingly easy to make a succulent driftwood planter that looks professionally designed. Each piece of driftwood has its own personality and suggests a different flow of succulents. The plants resemble undersea flora, and the wood hints at something you’d see in a forest. The two combine to make a special, almost fantasy-like composition that works well as a patio centerpiece or special gift for a friend. These photos are from a recent succulents-and-driftwood workshop.

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Driftwood pieces (from Sea Foam Driftwood) come with pre-drilled crevices for potting.

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Materials include small potted succulents, cuttings, sea shells, bits of tumbled glass, moss, rocks and sand. Tools are clippers, hot glue, and a chopstick for tucking-in plants and settling roots.

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Begin by filling the planting hole with potting soil.

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Add small rooted succulents and cuttings, envisioning them as undersea flora and fauna growing in and on submerged logs.

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Use a chopstick to tuck floral moss into remaining gaps. Moss will conceal any exposed soil and help hold cuttings in place until they root.

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Cuttings selected by Julie Levi include trailers (Ruschia perfoliata, Crassula lycopodioides), colorful rosettes (Sedum nussbaumerianum and Graptosedum ‘California Sunset’), and Crassula tetragona, among others. A sea urchin shell, attached with hot glue, is the perfect finishing touch.

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Connie Levi chose a slightly different assortment: Crassula lycopodioides (watch-chain crassula), a dwarf aloe, Aeonium haworthii, Crassula perforata ‘Variegata’ (a stacked crassula), and for upright interest (at right), Hatiora salicornioides.

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Linda Powell filled her piece of driftwood with pieces of jade, Kalanchoe pumila, variegated aeoniums, an echeveria, a dwarf aloe that resembles a sea star, and dainty cremnosedum rosettes. I like how she clustered smaller shells, too.

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Libbi Salvo’s long piece of driftwood, with several areas for planting, would make a good centerpiece for a rectangular outdoor table.

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Watch my YouTube video: Succulents in Driftwood (2:51)

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Katie’s Succulent Wreath Class

On a December Saturday that couldn’t have been more perfect weather-wise, a couple dozen ladies assembled at Buena Creek Gardens nursery north of San Diego to make succulent wreaths. Katie Christensen, a talented young designer from the Seattle area conducted the class. I had fun helping her, seeing old friends and making new ones, and recording the occasion with my camera.

For more about wreath-making, see my other blog posts: Make a Succulent Wreath and Succulent Wreath Tips and Ideas; go to my books Succulent Container Gardens pp. 176-178 and Designing with Succulents (1st ed.) pp. 113-117; sign up for my Craftsy class (get 50% off); and watch my YouTube video, Design and Plant a Succulent Wreath.

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For more wreath-making tips and ideas, view my other blog posts: Make a Succulent Wreath and Succulent Wreath Tips and Ideas; see my books Succulent Container Gardens pp. 176-178 and Designing with Succulents pp. 113-117; sign up for my Craftsy class (get 50% off); and watch my YouTube video, Design and Plant a Succulent Wreath.

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The Easy Way to Paint Watercolors

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When you dilute watercolor paint with liquid light (clear water), you can create an image that’s translucent. Because the white of the paper shines through, the result suggests a sunlit moment in the garden.

I learned this cool technique from San Diego watercolor artist Diane Palley McDonald.

  1. Select a photo that inspires you.
  2. Print the photo on 8-1/2 by 11 paper.
  3. Put the photo on a light table or against a sunny window, and tape a piece of watercolor paper over it.
  4. Using a pencil, lightly trace the photo’s main lines onto the watercolor paper.
  5. Tape the edges of the watercolor paper to a thick rectangle of cardboard.
  6. Mask any bright white lines. (optional)
  7. Have fun painting!

It’s a lot like painting a coloring book page. The worst that can happen is you’ll have to start over, but the hard part of any painting is the drawing, so you can skip that part. I often do two or three paintings of a subject before I’m satisfied.

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See more of my paintings in my succulent watercolor calendar…or paint your own! Most of them also are on my Pinterest page, Succulent Watercolors. I also have a YouTube video showing how I paint a watercolor. Enjoy!

 

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Succulent Wreath Tips and Ideas

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Do you like the succulent wreath that my friend Denise made during a wreath party at my home? To create a similar one, you’ll need about 100 cuttings, a wire wreath form, 24-gauge florist’s wire, a chopstick, and a bag of sphagnum moss. The form, moss and wire are available at any craft store. Cuttings will root right into the moss (no soil needed).

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Stuff the wire form with moistened moss, then wrap the form with wire to hold everything together tightly. Add wire loops to both top and bottom of the back of the wreath so you can rotate it, when finished, 180 degrees once a month or so for balanced growth. Poke holes in the moss and insert cuttings.

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Keep the wreath flat until cuttings root into the moss—about two weeks. To hang it sooner, secure the cuttings with U-shaped florist’s pins.

For more wreath-making tips and ideas, view my other blog posts: Make a Succulent Wreath and Katie’s Succulent Wreath Class; see my books Succulent Container Gardens pp. 176-178 and Designing with Succulents (1st ed.) pp. 113-117; sign up for my Craftsy class (get 50% off); and watch my YouTube video, Design and Plant a Succulent Wreath.

Succulent wreaths

Also view the 50+ pins on my Pinterest page, Succulent Wreaths and Topiaries.