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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:

 

 

 

 

 

Ten Reasons Why You Really Need Rocks
Remember when crushed-rock front yards were a ’60s retirement-community cliche? Not any longer! Nowadays smart designers cover bare soil with rocks to create gardens that are as sophisticated and… [Continue reading]

 

 

 

 

 

 

Six No-Water Succulents for Your Garden
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. Certain readily available succulents… [Continue reading]


Bridal succulents
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Wearable Succulents for Brides, Maids, and Moms

Succulent art to wear video

Designer Katie Christensen of Miss Katie’s Garden recently conducted a fun workshop at Weidner’s Gardens nursery in Encinitas, CA. Katie showed a simple technique for making lovely, long-lasting, succulent-adorned headbands and other art-to-wear items.

Bridal succulents

Shown here are several scenes from my YouTube video made during the workshop, “Succulent Art-to-Wear for Weddings, May Day and More.”

IMG_5615_annotated_resized “If you can glue moss to it,” Katie said, “You can glue succulents to it.” Her method is based on the “moss and glue” technique pioneered by designer Laura Eubanks of succulent-topped-pumpkin fame.
Succulent hair band

Such wearable art pieces will last a couple of months; spritz occasionally to hydrate the moss. Cuttings may root through the glue into the moss. Remove and plant them, if you like.

Mother-daughter project with succulents

It’s a great parent-child project (or grandmother-granddaughter).

Materials:

Flat-surfaced headband, cuff bracelet, etc.

Several dozen succulent rosettes (1/2-inch or less)

Trailing succulent such as string-of-pearls or string-of-bananas (Senecio radicans).

Dry moss (available at craft stores)

Glue gun and glue sticks

Scissors for trimming moss

Chopstick for pushing items into place

Optional: Tiny seashells, dried flowers, and/or fresh succulent flowers. Those of Kalanchoe blossfeldiana (supermarket kalanchoe), a Weidner’s specialty, are especially colorful and long-lasting.

Succulent flowers

Method:

Glue a layer of moss to the headband, stopping several inches from each end. Trim with scissors.

Chose a focal-point succulent rosette. Glue it slightly off center (on the side opposite your part).

Add several stems of a trailing succulent. Have them dangle from the main rosette past your chin.

Conceal and secure the tops of the dangler’s stems as you glue smaller rosettes around the main one.

Fill in the rest of the headband with rosette succulents, seashells and/or flower clusters.

See more lovely examples in my YouTube video, “Succulent Art-to-Wear for Weddings, May Day and More” (4.43).

Looking for succulent cuttings online? Find them at The Succulent Source.

Succulent wrist corsage low-res

Succulent wreath
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Stunning Succulent Arrangements by my Craftsy Students

Succulent wreath, Craftsy class

I’m so pleased with designs created by students in my online class, Stunning Succulent Arrangements!

During the 7-lesson class, I explain succulent varieties, care and propagation; and show how to make wreaths, terrariums, floral-style arrangements, a succulent color wheel and more.

Craftsy’s student-oriented approach allows you to take the class anywhere and anytime; pause, rewind and restart at your convenience; view my answers to questions and ask your own; and share projects you’ve made. Access never expires.

Want to join my Craftsy community? Enroll now for half price—$20. 

Craftsy filming in Debra's garden

To film the class, Craftsy—the leading purveyor of online how-to instruction—sent a 3-person crew from their headquarters in Denver to my home near San Diego. They brought enough high-tech equipment to fill a spare bedroom. We spent three intense days filming.

A few more fabulous projects by my students:
Student project, succulent design class

Succulent mini landscape, Craftsy Succulent bridal bouquet, Craftsy

Student succulent wreath, Craftsy

A couple of the Q&A’s:

Craftsy class Q&A2

Craftsy class Q&A
I’m eager to see what you come up with! ~ Debra

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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.

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)

Garden Gossip Radio with Debra Lee Baldwin
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Debra on Garden Gossip Radio in Santa Barbara

On Garden Gossip Radio (AM 1290 KZSB), Lisa Cullen and I talked about decorating succulents for the holidays, and how to decorate WITH succulents as well. This post illustrates several of the topics and gives links to more in-depth descriptions. The link to the full interview can be found below!

Debra Lee Baldwin on Garden Gossip Radio

 

 
 


 

Decorate Your Agaves!

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Turn your agaves into an explosion of festive color with glass ball ornaments. Agaves can be a bit treacherous, so be careful, but the risk is worth the reward!

Crassula tetragona is a type of jade that looks like a pine tree.
Crassula tetragona

Make a Wired Succulent Bouquet

Succulent Bouquet by Debra Lee Baldwin
For a lovely hostess gift, make a succulent bouquet with a dozen rosette succulents, floral wire and tape, and a simple ballast such as sand. Perfect for holiday parties!

 

Easy, Breezy Succulent Wreath

What’s the secret to a great succulent wreath? Color!

Succulent Wreath by Debra Lee Baldwin
My recent blog post on Katie Christensen’s Succulent Wreath Class has lovely photographs and a ton of ideas to choose from. Don’t miss it!

How to make a Succulent Topped Anything


In this video, I discuss how to make a succulent topped pumpkin with San Diego garden designer Laura Eubanks. With over 10,000 views on YouTube this video is a treat and, for all you DIYers, easy to follow. Use this technique to add succulents to anything from pine cone ornaments to napkin rings.

 


Special thanks to Chris and Lisa Cullen from Garden Gossip Radio for having me on the show!

Chris and Lisa Garden Gossip

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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.

Debra Lee Baldwin on Craftsy
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Stunning Succulent Arrangements Class

 

Stunning Succulent Arrangements

I’m very pleased to announce my in-depth online classStunning Succulent Arrangements. It’s available through Craftsy, a Denver-based company that offers a fresh, high-quality approach to online learning. Craftsy began in 2011, and their success has been phenomenal, doubtless due to their dedication to quality. Craftsy spends upward of $15,000 to develop and film each class. To create Stunning Succulent Arrangements, a five-person Craftsy crew came to my home and garden and turned them into a film studio.

Good news: Use this link to take 50% off the regular enrollment price of $40!Debra Lee Baldwin Craftsy Review

“The chance to take an affordable course from an expert doesn’t come along often. But if you’re interested in learning more about creating beautiful succulent arrangements, you’re in luck: You can learn from Debra Lee Baldwin, the queen of succulents.” — Garden Design magazine

WHAT YOU GET

  • 7 Streaming HD video lessons with anytime, anywhere access
  • Class materials
  • Hours of close-up instruction
  • Answers to student questions from instructor, Debra Lee Baldwin
  • Closed captioning available (web only)

CLASS OVERVIEW

Renowned succulent expert Debra Lee Baldwin shares the secrets to caring for these low-maintenance plants and explains why they lend themselves well to container arrangements. First, create a color wheel container composition and stress your plants to reveal beautiful hues. Then, make a gorgeous floral-style arrangement and add dimension and interest to your piece. Do you only have shade to give your succulents? Choose plants that thrive in low-light areas and learn how to care for their unique needs. Next, create a terrarium arrangement that’s straight from the pages of your favorite magazine! Debra shows you how to care for succulents in no-drain containers and add colored sand and pebbles for a special touch. Moving on, learn how to create a show-stopping succulent bouquet and never settle for ho-hum table decor again with this gorgeous centerpiece. Plus, attach succulents onto a wreath for beautiful door decor— the perfect way to greet guests!

LESSON BREAKDOWN

1. Succulent Starter Information 29:37
Meet your instructor, Debra Lee Baldwin, as you immerse yourself in the wonderful world of succulents. Debra explains how succulent plants grow and propagate, and demonstrates how to trim sections off without harming the plant. Next, she shares basic design ideas for potting beautiful single-plant containers.
2. Color Wheel 22:20
Discover the range of color and value that succulents offer as you create a beautiful color wheel container arrangement with Debra’s expert guidance. You’ll learn how plants can be stressed (depriving them of optimal growing conditions) in order to bring out different hues such as pink or yellow that you wish to add to your designs. Next, consider different arrangements that group plants according to color and value.
3. Floral-Style Arrangement 12:27
Create beautiful arrangements that resemble flower bouquets, using various plant shapes and heights to create dimension. Debra shares traditional and unusual container ideas as she demonstrates techniques for planting gorgeous floral-style arrangements.
4. Low-Light Composition 22:02
Succulents often thrive on access to lots of sunlight, but Debra has helpful tips for selecting plants that thrive in low-light areas such as patios or inside the home. Explore plant-care techniques as you become more familiar with the variety of plant textures that you can choose from, ranging from beautiful flowering plants to succulents with variegated leaves and much more.
5. Terrariums 33:08
Transform ordinary arrangements into magical microcosms as Debra shows you how to plant succulents in glass terrariums. Discover how to care for plants in containers that don’t drain water. Then add flair with colored sand and glass pebbles for additional interest. For a fun surprise, you can also add figurines and thematic elements to create a delightful miniature scene in your terrarium.
6. Bouquet 28:34
Try a new design idea as you create stunning, unique floral bouquets. Debra shares tips from professional florists that entail wrapping your plant stems in flexible wire and floral tape. Next, arrange your bouquet in a beautiful vase or jar to show off the rose-like blooms and sculptural petals. The final product provides a perfect gift or centerpiece for a special event.
7. Wreaths 26:28
Succulents don’t have to be confined to pots, planters or yards; they can make surprising additions to wreaths as well! Debra shares her method for creating beautiful mossy wreaths that are dotted with a variety of plant cuttings, buds and more. You’ll finish the class with dozens of new ideas for arrangements that can be used all around your yard and home, in addition to knowing how to keep your succulents healthy and thriving!
Use this link to take 50% off the regular enrollment price of $40!