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John Matthews, the Top Dressing Guy

Top dressings for succulent pots

At the last Palomar C&SS sale at the San Diego Botanic Garden—perhaps you recall—I clasped my hands and shrieked.  One of the booths had tables laden with plastic bags filled with every sort of crushed rock! There were dozens of different top dressings in earth tones and muted colors, and the prices—OMG, the prices! Eeeek!

I can’t begin to tell you how long I’d been looking for an affordable source of pea-sized crushed rock in a variety of hues, sold in bags I can carry.

The best top dressings are backup singers. They enhance a container-grown succulent’s overall presentation (known as “staging”) by harmonizing with both pot and plant. A top dressing has done it’s job if it looks good without calling attention to itself.

Rock suppliers sell neutral-toned fine gravels in bags too heavy to lift. Craft stores offer odd-colored criva and neon-bright sand in bags no bigger than baked potatoes, at distressing prices. What’s a finicky, frugal, not-very-buff succulent aficionado to do?

Pounce on John Matthews at a Cactus & Succulent Society sale. 

Top dressings at the C&SS show

John’s a vendor at C&SS events throughout Southern CA (view the schedule) and yes, he sells mail-order too. John, who also has a cactus-and-succulent nursery in the Los Angeles area, explains how to order top dressings and gives shipping costs (which aren’t as bad as you’d expect) on his Facebook page, along with photos of the 100 or so kinds he has available.

Or
 you’re welcome to email him: jgmplants@aol.comMention Debra sent you. ;+)

P.S. Potted plants grow better when top-dressed due to improved water dispersion.

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 nearly 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

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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. Be sure to also watch my video, Succulents in Driftwood (2:51).

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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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Find out more in 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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A Succulent Bouquet in Colored Sand


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For a great hostess gift, arrange a bouquet of succulent rosettes in a glass container filled with layers of colored sand. (See my video, How to Wire Succulent Rosettes.) Despite no roots, soil or water, cuttings wired onto faux stems and wrapped with floral tape last for months, living on the moisture in their leaves. The sand lends color, style and interest, and serves as ballast so top-heavy rosettes don’t tumble out.

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Colored sand is available online from Amazon, occasionally found at crafts stores, or you can make your own. Obtain a bag of playground sand from any home improvement store, plus Rit dye in whatever colors you want (sold in supermarkets and online). The sand looks white but is actually pale gray, but that’s OK, because the resulting muted colors look good with the plants. To color sand, pour the liquid dye into a pan no longer used for food, add sand to the level of the liquid, and bake until the liquid evaporates—300 degrees for an hour or so. Stir occasionally with a metal spatula or clean garden trowel. Let it cool outside, stirring every so often to expose moist sand and to break lumps. When cool, funnel the dry sand into glass jars and store the excess in ziplock bags labeled with whatever color or mix you used.

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When making a bouquet, I like to select sand based on the colors of the rosettes or vice versa.

IMG_7104annotated_resizedIt’s fun to experiment with layers of sand and hard to go wrong. I generally fill the container halfway with three different colors, turn it on its side and rotate it to make swirls, then add more soil to make sure stems will be concealed. Push a chopstick into the layers to make V’s along the inside of the glass. These next two bouquets are by attendees at one of my workshops.

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Kathryne's bouquet

I didn’t want to transport sand to the Northwest Flower and Garden Show, so I tossed a bag of split peas in my suitcase. In a marvelous coincidence, volunteer helper Kathy Juracek of Browns Point, WA brought budded eucalyptus for the dried greens, which perfectly repeated the peas. Here’s the bouquet I made during my presentation. The red explosions are tillandsias; the succulents, Graptosedum ‘Vera Higgins’ and Echeveria ‘Lola’.

 

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P.S. If using dried peas, try not to get them wet. ;+)
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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 class: Stunning 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 turned my family room into a film studio. Good news: Use this link to take 50% off the regular enrollment price of $40!

Debra Lee Baldwin Craftsy Review