Plants and Pots at the Cactus & Succulent Society Show

Update: I released two fun and informative YouTube videos after doing this post. Both star “America’s Succulent Sweetheart” Jeanne Meadow, whose world-class succulent garden is featured in my book, Designing with Succulents (2nd ed.). Enjoy! ~ Debra

At the San Diego C&SS show, Jeanne Meadow selects perfect succulents for her newly acquired, one-of-a-kind art pots

At the San Diego C&SS show, Jeanne Meadow hunts art pots to showcase her rare and collectible succulents


Succulent enthusiasts flock to the annual Cactus & Succulent Society Show at the Los Angeles Arboretum mid-August. It’s the largest of its kind in the US. Judges award ribbons and trophies based on how well a specimen is grown, its rarity, and how well it’s “staged” in its pot. Pots aren’t merely containers, they’re works of art, and may be more valuable than the plant. Below are what caught my eye and photographed well, but represent only a fraction of the unusual and beautiful succulents on display.

Agave victoriae-reginae

Above: Agave victoriae-reginae, named after England’s Queen Victoria.

Twisted cereus

Above: A twisted cereus. Seriously.

Tephrocactus geometricus

Above: Tephrocactus geometricus. 

Mammillaria microthele

Above: Mammillaria microthele on the trophy table. Anyone for cinnamon rolls?


Above: Hoodia, the African cactus that’s reputedly an appetite suppressant. Not sure I’d want to take a bite, would you?


Above: Judge Woody Minnich examines an unusually colorful Gymnocalycium mihanovichii. 

Fig in Muradian pot

Above: A bonsai’d fig with its roots elevated in a Mark Muradian pot. His work is characterized by embossed patterns.

Euphorbia gorgonis

Above: Euphorbia gorgonis in a Mark Muradian pot. Notice the Fibonacci spiral in the plant’s center.

Epithelantha micromeris in Cone pot

Above: An Epithelantha micromeris cluster in a container by Tucson potter Mike Cone. More spirals!

Echinocereus pulchellus

Above: Echinocereus pulchellus on the trophy table. If all this Latin seems tiresome, consider how it describes the plant. Echino = prickly, cereus = waxy, and ceroid cacti tend to be cylindrical. Pulchellus you’ll remember if you took Latin in high school—it means beautiful.

E. castanea f. spiralis

A twisted cactus, Eulychnia castanea spiralis. Don’t you wonder how and why it would do that to itself? Ow!


Above: A dyckia. I’m not sure why these bromeliad relatives are in the show, but they’re certainly beautiful. And treacherous. Those stiff leaves are like serrated knives.

Dioscorea elephantipes Keith Kitoi Taylor

Above: A Dioscorea elephantipes on the trophy table. The plant is owned by Keith Kitoi Taylor of the Sacramento Cactus & Succulent Society, who also created the highly textural pot. What makes this a succulent is the plant’s woody caudex, which is a water tank. The vining foliage is deciduous.

Conophytum minimum

Above: Conophytum minimum. Sure wish I could get my hands on a few of those  muffin-like pots.

Cone pot

Above: Euphorbia horrida in a Mike Cone pot.

CA Cactus Ctr display

Above: A display of collectible plants in one-of-a-kind pots, presented byCalifornia Cactus Center in Pasadena.


Above: I was happy to see my trio of books for sale at the show (upper left).

Blossfeldia liliputana2

This diminutive Blossfeldiana liliputana is rare and difficult to grow. It made it to the trophy table, and is from a teen-age boy’s collection.


Above: A prehistoric-looking astrophytum. The name means star-shaped.


Above: Another astrophytum. Don’t the lines in its skin look like those of  a computer chip? I wonder what it might be trying to tell us.


Above: Best of show, an ariocarpus in bloom. These cacti, native to limestone hills of Rio Grande in south Texas, are endangered in the wild and notoriously difficult to cultivate.

Aloe by Tim Harvey

Above: An aloe hybrid developed by Tim Harvey, who edits the journal of the Cactus and Succulent Society. This plant is not for sale, nor is it available in any nursery; hopefully it will be some day.

Agave victoriae-reginae variegata

Above: Agave victoriae-reginae ‘Variegata’.

Agave utahensis

Above: Agave utahensis, from–no surprise–Utah. It’s one of the most cold-hardy agaves. Don’t you love its long terminal spines?

Agave pumila

Above: One of the smallest agaves, Agave pumila. Notice its blue color, wedge-shaped leaves and delicate striations.

Agave potatorum, Japanese hybrid

Above: Of all the plants in the show, this  was my favorite because of its deeply indented sides, rust-colored spines and  variegation. It was entered by agave expert Tony Krock of Terra Sol nursery in Santa Barbara, and is an Agave potatorum hybrid. The three-word cultivar name is Japanese and wasn’t translated on the tag. Anyone know what ‘Ikari Rajeh Nishiki’ means?


It’s also possible to purchase collectible succulents and containers at the show. Here I’m with the two potters mentioned above:  Mark Muradian (left) and Mike Cone (right). Photo by Jeanne Meadow.

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Amy’s Circular Succulent Garden Re-Do

Watch my 5-minute YouTube video of this project: “Circular Succulent Garden Start to Finish.”

When I first saw fitness coach Amy Van Liew’s circular garden and spherical fountain, I envisioned how it might look replanted with colorful succulents. A great fountain and garden bed deserve to be seen, especially when in the middle of a magnificent home’s entryway!

In the spring, when I took this photo of Amy, the flowers in the circle garden were impressive. However, aeoniums bloom once and then die. As you can see, they had already become leggy, and other plants (notably Sedum rubrotinctum) were overgrown and ratty. Moreover, the nearly concealed fountain was home to tadpoles.

Amy and husband Ed agreed it was time for a re-do. So, six months later, we created a new entry garden.

The basin now is filled (and concealed by) aqua-colored crushed rock that suggests water. This appears to overflow and create rock rivulets between planted areas that are top-dressed with pea gravel in a contrasting orange hue.

Each of six sections features a different kind of plant. We chose six of each kind, all in one-gallon pots, and all from Waterwise Botanicals nursery in nearby Bonsall, CA. Some have rounded leaves or a globular form that repeats the fountain’s. Except for one, all are succulents.

Sedum ‘Firestorm’ is a ground-cover succulent with red-orange leaves massed with clusters of tiny white flowers in spring.

Echeveria ‘Sahara’ is a new cultivar bred to be heat-tolerant, and therefore is suitable to a climate with summer temps in the 90s. It has a circular shape, lavender-pink-blue coloration, and produces dainty flower stalks in autumn.

Yet more circles can be seen in the leaves of Portulacaria afra ‘Minima’, a cultivar of elephant’s food. ‘Minima’ is a low-growing, heat-tolerant, ground-cover succulent with bright green foliage and red stems.

Blue fescue took the longest to become established—which is why I postponed showing the finished garden. This ornamental grass is doing great; it’s just s-l-o-w. As you can see, it has a mounding growth habit and slender, threadlike leaves that are truly blue.

Amy had had good luck with flapjack plants (Kalanchoe luciae), so we used them again, this time massing them for effect. A bonus is that their red-edged leaves are rounded—yet another echo of the fountain.

But nothing so perfectly repeated the fountain as these globular barrel cactus. I was pleased Amy wanted them; many people don’t because the plants are so spiny. But barrel cactus is not difficult to handle if you know how. The spines curve downward, so they’re not treacherous unless you push on them the wrong way (upward).

Here’s how the circle garden looked when finished last fall.

And how it looks now, six months later.

To see highlights of the installation, watch my 5-minute YouTube video, “Circular Succulent Garden Start to Finish.” The entire project took about two days, including time spent rounding up plants and materials.

See my video of the Van Liew garden redo by landscape designer Steve McDearmon, and my blog post “Ten Reasons Why You Really Need Rocks.” 

Are There Feral Agaves in Your Garden?

Agave americana bud imprints
You might assume I’m pleased whenever I see a new succulent garden in my neighborhood. Most often I am, but to be honest, I’m occasionally dismayed. I’m seeing a lot of Agave americana (century plant). This succulent seduces people with its gray-blue leaves (sometimes striped with yellow); its upright, fountainlike form; and its scalloped bud imprints (impressions leaves make on each other before unfurling). Plus, it needs no irrigation other than rainfall. Century plants that are knee-height are easy to obtain and make good-looking additions to any dry garden.

So, what’s not to love? Just wait. Century plants become enormous, are wickedly spined, and they pup (produce offsets from their roots). A LOT of pups. Moreover, when an americana blooms—which takes a couple of decades, hence the name “century plant”—it dies and will be an eyesore until removed. Below is one post-flowering, after its leaves had been trimmed to the trunk. Note the chopped-off flower spike and numerous pups ready to take Mom’s place.


Admittedly, the large succulents I’m most fond of in my own half-acre garden happen to be century plants. They really stand out, and serve as dramatic focal points and living sculptures. But I have room for them, routinely blunt their menacing tips with garden shears, and pay a gardener to remove pups.

Agaves in Debra Lee Baldwin's garden

My point (ha) is that before planting an americana, ask yourself if you’ll be OK with an agave the size of an VW beetle in that spot a decade hence; if you’re willing to dig up and discard its numerous offspring (which, if you don’t, will form an ever-spreading colony like the one below); if 5-feet-long, toothed, sharp-tipped leaves might be a problem; and if it can be accessed when the time comes to remove it.


Got boulders? My neighborhood in the foothills north of San Diego is a big rock pile. Plop an americana in a natural basin amid boulders and voila: instant garden. Thus confined and set at a distance from children and dogs, the plant can’t cause trouble.


Doubtless century plants are popping up everywhere because they’re quite common and free. Ask a neighbor for a pup, and he’ll hand you a shovel. Yet there are dozens, if not hundreds, of improved Agave cultivars—like popular ‘Blue Glow’ below—that stay manageably small, don’t offset, and look stunning in gardens and landscapes.


True, pedigreed agaves aren’t free, but in most residential front yards they’re a much better choice than a feral americana, and will save you money, time and hassle in the long run. See them in my website’s Agave photo gallery and at nurseries throughout California and the Southwest. Also be sure to watch my YouTube videos: “What You MUST Know About Century Plants” (2:50), and “Six Great Agaves for Your Garden, with expert Kelly Griffin” (4:53).



On Instagram, Nobody Cares About Your Dog

Now through July 9, I’m celebrating having attained 10,000 Instagram followers by giving away all four of my books! See details. 

Instagram is pure eye-candy, one luscious photo right after another. Captions tend to be brief or nonexistent. If you have a favorite topic, such as “echeverias,” you can scroll  through glorious echeveria photos simply by searching for #echeverias. Not only does Instagram give people like me opportunities to visually share our garden adventures and favorite photos, it’s terrific exposure for our brands. It’s also a great learning experience. In a nutshell, I live for “Likes,” and I continually strive to post photos that earn them. The screen captures below illustrate what I’ve learned—what works and what doesn’t—as evidenced by their number of likes (at the upper right of each).

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I can post the most amazing photo and it won’t get many likes if it doesn’t show succulents. No surprise: Most of my followers are into succulents, so that’s what they want to see.

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To paraphrase a popular saying: On Instagram, nobody cares about your dog. It doesn’t much matter how cute he is or how you pose him, he won’t earn many “Likes’ from people unless they own the same or similar breed.

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When I do post a photo of a succulent, I aim for amazing. The quality of photography on Instagram is extraordinary. I enhanced this photo using filters provided by the Instagram app. The most interesting filter, IMHO, is “Structure.” Depending on the quality of the original photo, Structure can sharpen the image so that it practically pops off the page. A little goes a long way; photos that have been excessively filtered look unnatural and garish.

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In terms of likes, my nice photo of a pachyveria earned a C+.

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People quickly scroll past anything that resembles advertising. Who can blame them?

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No matter how lovely, cactus is simply not as popular as nonspiny succulents.

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People love anything they haven’t seen before, like this succulent-planted trash container lid I shot recently at Roger’s Gardens nursery.

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But what they really go nuts over are innovative, well done succulent wreaths…

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…and short videos, especially if the description intrigues them.

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It’s considered the height of rudeness to repost someone else’s photo without giving them credit. At first, I erred on the side of caution and didn’t repost anyone’s at all. Then someone told me about Repost, an app that automatically identifies a photo’s origin in the lower left corner. It’s a win-win: I got 3,306 “Likes” for Jen’s terrific photo, and Instagrammers who weren’t following her already probably did so after I posted it.

If you’re thinking, “Who’s got time for all that? I’d rather read a book,” be sure to enter to win all four of mine! (Btw, I save my very best photos for my books!)



Echeveria and Crassula falcata
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The Succulents of Birdsong

Frank and Susan Oddo of San Diego are hand’s-on gardeners who continually are on the lookout for unusual plants that’ll thrive in a low-water landscape. Not surprisingly, they’ve incorporated many succulents on their multi-acre property. With its layers of foliage and tall trees, the garden serves as a wild bird sanctuary that attracts dozens of species, including visitors that drop in (literally) during seasonal migrations. Below are outtakes from the article I wrote about Frank and Susan’s garden (which they call “Birdsong”) that’s in the summer, 2016 issue of Country Gardens magazine. Enjoy!

Aloes in bloom

Aloes bloom along the lane near the entrance to the garden.


Succulents for San Diego

A silk floss tree provides bright shade for the succulent garden beneath it.


Agave and yucca garden

Agave angustifolia ‘Variegata’ growing at the base of yucca trees echoes their lancelike leaves and silhouette.


Blue columnar cactus

Blue baseball bat cactus (Pilosocereus pachycladus) is an amazing blue with golden spines. At its base are similarly sky blue pebbles


Agaves and bromeliads

A cluster of Agave attenuata thrive in the dappled light of Frank’s bromeliad garden.


Kalanchoe luciae and burro tail in a car-part pot

Frank, who collects cars, likes to repurpose old car parts, gears and more as succulent containers. This one is planted with Kalanchoe luciae ‘Fantastic’ and trailing burro tail sedum. A yucca explodes behind it.


Agaves glow in the sun

Agave ‘Blue Glow’ has red margins that light up when backlit, plus it stays small and doesn’t offset.


Echeveria and Crassula falcata

Red flowers of Crassula falcata (green form) are striking in contrast with a teal-and-pink ruffled echeveria.


Echeverias bloom in a pot near a koi pond

This photo of a pot near the koi pond inspired one of the line drawings in my coloring book, Sensational Succulents—sans the fish.

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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.


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:





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.

New succulents for 2016

New Succulents

New succulents for 2016Let’s say you’re in the nursery business and can crossbreed popular succulents so their offspring combine their parents’ most desirable traits. What would you aim for? That’s what I found out on a recent visit to Altman Plants, the largest grower of succulents in the US. I was there to photograph Altman’s spring succulent introductions—new beauties now available (or soon to be) through Monrovia and other distributors, and also via Altman’s online mail-order nursery. The ones shown here were created by Altman staff hybridizer Renee O’Connell, who specializes in echeverias and other nonspiny varieties. Renee’s own descriptions, below, are in green.E Misty Lilac and Cubic Frost

Echeveria ‘Misty Lilac’:  This plant is similar to ‘Cubic Frost’, but is a much larger version. (DLB: ‘Misty Lilac’ at left is about 18 inches in diameter; ‘Cubic Frost’ at right, half that size.)

Echeveria ‘Camaleon’: The intent of this cross was to create a dark echeveria with these odd colors, but what’s interesting is that ‘Camaleon’ (Spanish for chameleon) has what I call an “ephemeral variegation.” For several months the new growth is often yellow, lime green, and shades of blue green, sometimes blushed pink in high light, before reverting to its unusual dark hues.E Dark Moon and Black Prince

Echeveria ‘Dark Moon’: The intent of this cross was a variably colored Echeveria ‘Black Prince’ with improved resistance to pathogens. (DLB: ‘Dark Moon’ is at left, ‘Black Prince’ at right.) 27_IMG_5466GalaxyBlue_annotated_resized

Echeveria ‘Galaxy Blue’: This cross was done to create a undulate, offsetting echeveria. ‘Galaxy Blue’ is versatile in that it looks good in a 2.5” pot, has already begun to offset at 3-1/2 inches in size, and is equally attractive in a 2-gallon pot.IMG_5497GraptoPlatinum_annotated_resized

Graptoveria ‘Platinum’: This was the result of wanting to create a very white plant with an attractive morphology. (DLB: “Morphology” refers to a plant’s shape or form. Succulents in the genus Graptoveria are intergeneric crosses of Graptopetalum and Echeveria.)

E 'Platinum' flower

‘Platinum’ is an attractive plant that has proven landscape worthy in temperate climates, but for me, its unusual, very delicately tinted flower is the pièce de résistance.


Cotyledon ‘Chocolate Fingers’: The intent of the cross that resulted in ‘Chocolate Fingers’ was to create a variable color for Cotyledon; something different than the shades of white or gray that are so prevalent.IMG_5488CotyMintTruffles_resized

Cotyledon ‘Mint Truffles’: Unlike many other cotyledons, ‘Mint Truffles’ does not grow upward to become lanky, but spreads laterally in the landscape. The mint green leaves, margined with red, create an attractive accent for other plants in the landscape.

New succulent introductions for 2016

Echeveria ‘Iresina’: The goal was an ‘Afterglow’ type echeveria for the landscape with a more concentric morphology. ‘Iresina’, a lilac-majenta echeveria, produces large vermillion flowers. (DLB: ‘Iresina’ is at left, about 18 inches in diameter. ‘Afterglow’ rosettes at right are about 12 inches. Memo to self: Shoot ‘Iresina’ in bloom!)

New succulent for 2016

Crassula ‘Ogre’s Fingers’: An eccentric form of Crassula ‘Gollum’ with mind of its own! Can’t seem to quite make up its mind if it wants to make big “fingers,” flattened, fluted leaves or near-mushroom shapes, but is never boring. When grown in good light, leaf tips light up a glowing crimson, and fingers are translucent glowing green, especially when backlit by the sun. (DLB: ‘Ogre’s Fingers’ is at left, ‘Gollum’ at right. Both are Crassula ovata (jade) cultivars.)


Special thanks to Ingeborg Carr of Altman Plants, shown here holding Echeveria ‘Platinum’, for expediting my visit and Renee O’Connell’s descriptions. ~ Debra Lee Baldwin

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!


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.


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?)


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

Succulent container gardens

Miss Katie brings a feminine aesthetic to succulents.


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.

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Succulent Driftwood Designs

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


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.


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


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.


Begin by filling the planting hole with potting soil.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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

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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!)