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Gerhard Bock’s Review of Designing with Succulents

It’s a thrill for an author when a reviewer “gets” what a book’s all about. But succulent expert/blogger/photographer Gerhard Bock frankly floored me with his insights and evaluation of the second edition of Designing with Succulents. 

Excerpt:

Sometimes the second edition of a popular book is little more than a cosmetic update, maybe featuring a new foreword, a different page design, and some new photos. Not so here. The second edition of Designing with Succulents may share the same basic organization as the first edition—the first half covering design principles, the second half showcasing the best plants for a variety of applications—but the nuts and bolts of the book have been completely reworked. In the preface,

Debra says:

The world of succulent design has advanced so significantly since the first edition of Designing with Succulentswas released in 2007 that this second edition is a complete rewrite—in effect a new book. It showcases the cleverness and creativity of numerous designers and gardening enthusiasts, many of whom used the first edition as a starting point.

Let’s talk a closer look at the book. Beyond the preface and introduction, it consists of six major sections. “Succulent Landscape Essentials: Plan and Design Your Dream Garden” covers basics such as site selection and soil preparation; design principles such as scale and proportion, repetition, contrast, emphasis, shape and texture, and color; hardscape elements such as walls, raised beds, pathways, and terraces; as well as outdoor art.

“Specialty Gardens That Showcase Succulents” shows how succulents can be used in a variety of specific garden styles, including boulder and rock gardens, seaside and sea-themed gardens, desert gardens, firewise gardens, green roofs, container gardens, tapestry gardens, and miniature landscapes.

“Success Secrets for Succulents” covers the basics of planting, watering and fertilizing, pest, damage and weed control as well as growing succulents in challenging climates—everything from hot and dry, rainy and humid, to cold climates. This chapters also touches on various propagation techniques.

“Succulents A to Z” contains Debra’s “favorite foolhardy succulents for gardens large and small.” Organized in alphabetical order, this section describes the best species and cultivars from all common succulent genera—from aeoniums to yuccas.

“A Designer’s Palette: Plant Lists for Succulents” builds on the previous section, listing popular succulents according to characteristics such as size (tall, midsize, small), leaf variegation, leaf color, and “dramatic blooms.”

“Top Fifty Waterwise Companion Plants for Succulents” showcases a selection of trees, shrubs, perennials, and grasses that not only look good in combination with succulents but also share similar cultivation requirements.

My favorite addition to the second edition are the Featured Gardens. At the beginning of each section, Debra introduces us to a very special succulent-centric garden. For example, she describes the evolution of her own ½ acre garden over the last ten years—in her words, “a giant editing job”—and takes us to other gardens in San Diego, on the Central Coast, and in Northern California. All these examples illustrate how harmoniously succulents blend into just about any garden style.

What I noticed immediately when I received my copy of the book was its visual elegance. The superb page design, combined with arguably the best succulent photographs ever to to appear in a mainstream title, make the second edition of Designing with Succulents the most handsome commercially published gardening book I’ve ever seen.

As a photographer, Debra does know that one well-chosen photo often stirs a reader’s imagination more than a page of even the most evocative prose. Still, without words to back up the images, visual beauty is just skin-deep. So while it’s possible to enjoy the second edition of Designing with Succulents as a lavish photo book, its real value is the wealth of information contained in its pages. Debra’s writing is clear as a bell and conveys even complex information without going over their heads. It simply is a joy to read.

Read the rest of the review. 

 

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Is Cactus the New Black?

Dish garden by Matthew Maggio

Long a pariah plant, cactus is becoming cool. The first edition of my book, Designing with Succulents (Timber Press, 2007) showed few cacti—mainly golden barrels. A decade later, the completely revised second edition devotes 15 pages to numerous varieties of spiny succulents in gardens large and small.

Golden barrels backlit by the sun

Succulent aficionados initially drawn to echeverias and other rosette succulents are gaining appreciation for those with streamlined, sculptural forms. There’s a surging interest in succulent oddities as well, resulting in windowsill gardens with a vaguely extraterrestrial look.

Collectible crested cacti on display at a nursery

Membership in the Cactus & Succulent Society of America (CSSA), founded in 1929, is at an all-time high. Longtime members of CSSA clubs nationwide seem bemused by the surging interest in succulents as landscape plants. But then, members are collectors. Clubs host shows and award trophies to rare, perfectly grown potted specimens. These widespread events are open to the public and free, so they’re often where people see exotic succulents first and in the flesh.

Large cacti that are spherical, cylindrical or jointed are popping up far from their native desert Southwest. Forward-thinking California landscape designers are creating focal-point beds consisting of rocks of all sizes (another trend) and dramatic succulents with translucent spines. These living sculptures, breathtaking when haloed by early morning or late afternoon sun, require no irrigation other than rainfall.

You needn’t live in a hot climate to grow cacti in-ground. On page 112 of the second edition of Designing with Succulents, I share this good news: “More than fifty types of Opuntia and a dozen varieties of Echinocereus will grow where temperatures drop below 0 degrees F, according to members of the Ottawa Cactus Club, who have grown and tested them in their gardens.”

My makeshift cactus tools include grippers with pieces of foam rubber attached to the tips with rubber bands and rubber gloves wrapped with duct tape

 

Whoever introduces flexible gardening gloves impervious to spines and glochids will likely make a fortune. Regardless, if they haven’t already, manufacturers of medical tools will see an uptick of interest in long-handled tweezers, calipers, hemostats, narrow-bladed scissors, and other items that enable gardeners to groom and handle cacti without actually touching them.

Not that I expect garden-club ladies to ever be enthralled by cacti. This edgy subsection of succulents appeals to a new generation of gardeners: people in their twenties and thirties who have the gardening gene (they’re fascinated by plants and their cultivation) but who want to do it their own way. Look for young green-thumbers to take an interest in formerly ignored fat plants, reveling in the eye-of-the-beholder beauty of mammillarias, euphorbias and more. (The more treacherous, the better, especially those with eyebrow-raising names and forms.)

Can spineless cacti help world hunger?

I’ve saved the best for last: It’s likely that research begun by famed hybridizer Luther Burbank (1849-1926) on spineless varieties of Opuntia (paddle cacti) will start up again in earnest, with the goal of creating a dependably smooth-leaved hybrid that’ll grow nearly anywhere. Many in this large genus have pads as thick as oven mitts, and juicy tissues capable of sustaining the plants during prolonged dry spells. Tender young pads, a dietary staple in Latin America (nopales), are notably high in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other beneficial nutrients.

Burbank envisioned spineless opuntia as an economical alternative to cattle feed. Despite harsh conditions, the plants grow from fallen pads. They thrive in poor soils and need far less labor than grains. Forget silos; simply leave pads on the plants until needed. But never mind cattle. Call me crazy, but I think spineless opuntia offers a significant way to combat world hunger. And due to its wealth of antioxidants, possibly cancer too.

Cacti are just one direction in which succulents are trending. With 400 photos and entirely revised and updated text, the celebratory, tenth anniversary, second edition of Designing with Succulents presents hundreds of innovative, practical, and eye-catching ways to use and enjoy these appealing and remarkable plants. Learn more at www.debraleebaldwin.com and www.timberpress.com.

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Watch How You Water!

OK, we all know that succulents are low-water plants. But they’re not “no-water” plants. Although they may survive without irrigation during the heat of summer, they’re unlikely to be lush and healthy.

I suggest that you ~

— Check your automatic irrigation system. Trust me, it needs it, and maintaining it can mean life or death to prized plants. Watch for leafy growth blocking sprayers, clogged riser heads, and plugged drip lines.

— Pay keen attention to soil moisture during heat waves and desiccating winds.

— If the root zone goes dry, supplement auto irrigation with hose watering. (See my canary-in-the-mineshaft way to evaluate evaporation in my latest video, Succulents, Sun and Summer.)

— Water early in the morning or late in the day. Note to desert gardeners: Watering in midday heat can literally cook roots. (Eek!)

— HOWEVER, aeoniums, dudleyas and other succulents that have closed their rosettes should be watered minimally or not at all, lest dormant roots rot. The plants will revive when the rains return. (They may not make it until then, though, if in full sun. So, shade them.)

— If the ground is concrete-hard, leave a hose dripping overnight to create an underground cone of moist soil.

— Trees and shrubs want water where their canopies would naturally direct rainfall: around the perimeter of the plant.

— Add gravel topdressing around succulents (or use organic mulch for woody plants) to help hold moisture in the soil.

— Take the opportunity, when hose-watering, to blast pests, fallen leaves and dirt out of leaf axils and the centers of rosettes.

— Use a hose-end sprayer—ideally one with multiple settings—to direct water where you want it.

— A hose lying in summer sun may contain scalding water. You already know this, but your house-sitter may not, so be sure to mention it.

— If you have a hose-full of hot water, aim a fine spray skyward. Droplets will cool by the time they hit leaves.

What about potted succulents?

From my website’s FAQ’s:  Aim to keep soil about as moist as a wrung-out sponge. About once a week should do it. Water thoroughly to soak the roots and flush salts. Let common sense prevail: Water more during hot, dry spells and less or not at all during periods of high humidity, cool temperatures and rain.

ALSO SEE: Page 56 of Succulents Simplified, pp. 219-222 of Succulent Container Gardens, and pp. 134-135 of Designing with Succulents (second edition). 

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Summer Care for Your Succulents

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Create temporary shade structures from old window screens.

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

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

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Why You Should Grow Aloe Vera

Aloe vera is arguably the most commercially grown succulent (followed by the tequila agave and supermarket kalanchoe). The medicinal and cosmetic value of the plant’s gel-filled leaves have been recognized for millennia, and it is reputed to have been part of Cleopatra’s beauty regimen. Google “Aloe vera” and you’ll get dozens of hits for products that use the gel in topical skin lotions or as a food ingredient.

Studies of the plant’s effectiveness for a wide range of ailments tend to be inconclusive, but no one questions the efficacy of Aloe vera at soothing minor burns. And because of its antimicrobial properties, it’s supposedly better than toothpaste at preventing cavities. But would you want to ingest the raw gel? It won’t hurt you (in small quantities) but it’s awfully bitter. Mixing it with honey and water is an option if you really want to take it internally, but don’t overdo it; it has laxative qualities.

In the garden, it serves as a nice (if not especially showy), midsized, low-water succulent. Instead of orange flowers typical of most aloes, those of Aloe vera are yellow. Its leaves are tapered, upright, gray-green, and grow to about waist-height. The plant is also colony-forming over time.

I grow Aloe vera mainly to have it on hand in case of sunburn. Slice a leaf lengthwise and rub the goo on your skin for soothing, instant relief. See my latest YouTube video: How to Harvest Aloe Vera Gel. 

Aloe vera plants are available at large nurseries and garden centers and will thrive outdoors if protected from frost and desert heat. Like most succulents, Aloe vera needs plenty of sun, weekly watering, and soil that drains well. It also makes a good windowsill plant, although it is unlikely to bloom indoors.

Aloe vera is not the only medicinal aloe, and not all aloes have medicinal properties. In fact, some are poisonous. Duke Benadom of the Los Angeles Cactus & Succulent Society and author of Superb Succulents researched and compiled this list of medicinal aloes (in blue) and poisonous aloes (in red) ~

List reproduced with permission. Source: Succulent author and expert Duke Benadom of the LAC&SS.

Benadom notes, “It’s important for the general public to be aware of the fact that aloes are not all the same. I constantly hear people speak of the genus Aloe as Aloe vera, and after questioning, find they were unaware of more different kinds. The replies are usually along the lines of, ‘Aren’t they all the same?'”

Note, too, that Aloe arborescens—a popular landscape succulent—offers the same benefits as less common Aloe vera.

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Succulents, Shells and Summer: My Potting Demo at Roger’s Gardens

When I arrived at Roger’s Gardens (the largest independently owned garden center on the West Coast) at 8 a.m., I hit the ground running. Roger’s is a 75-minute drive from my home, and I was scheduled to go on at 9 a.m. Did I mention I’m not a morning person? Or that I had only a vague idea how I was going to “wow” a packed house?

Presentation area at Roger’s Gardens, Corona del Mar, CA

It didn’t seem fair to my audience, many of whom come year after year, to simply do what I’d done in the past. Roger’s Gardens is all about opulent, over-the-top displays of succulents and flowering plants. These fill lovely containers, often an urn or pedestal pot that gives the nod to classic East Coast or European design—like this mounded succulent arrangement I made several years ago:

After checking the presentation area and setting up my camcorder and tripod, I made a beeline for the indoor retail boutique—an eye-candy cache of home decor enhancements that change kaleidoscopically with the seasons. Their buyer must have a ball. The shop is chock full of items of glass, glossy metal, colorful fabrics, and themed stuff…which is what I wanted. I already knew two parts of my design equation—succulents and summer—all I needed was a third. An array of shells sold me, in particular this wreath. Its colors go so beautifully with succulents. During my demo, I popped a ruffled echeveria into a cache pot that suggests tidal beach sand, then placed the pot in the center of the wreath to create a summery tabletop display.

I also combined rosy-pink barnacles from the store with cuttings of a pink-tipped, cream-striped crassula:

My third potted arrangement needed to be a show-stopper. Roger’s sells plenty of decorative pots, and this year large, ceramic-shell planters were new. I decided to fill one with succulents suggestive of undersea flora and fauna. The grouping shown here was done by Roger’s Gardens:

As well as this plaster clam shell:

And this is the one I made during my presentation. To see how it came together, start to finish, view my recently released video: Succulents, Shells and Summer: Debra’s Potting Demo at Roger’s Gardens. Enjoy!

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I’m Horticulturist of the Year!

 

Above: I react to learning that a pair of Felco pruners is a traditional gift for honorees. San Diego Horticultural Society past president Susi Torre-Bueno, center, gave the introduction, and SDHS president Jim Bishop is at right. The event took place at the Flower & Garden Show of the San Diego County Fair. Photo: Hannah Eubanks

Recently I was honored by the San Diego Horticultural Society (SDHS) as their Horticulturist of the Year—a lifetime achievement award.  I knew the evening would be a blur, so I asked Laura Eubanks’ daughter Hannah to take photos and videorecord the speeches. I’m so glad I did!

I’ve since released two YouTube videos for those of you who would like to share (or re-experience) the festivities.

PART ONE is SDHS past-president Susi Torre-Bueno’s gracious introduction and informed perspective on the popularity of succulents.

PART TWO is my acceptance speech, in which I say a couple of times, “You may not know this, but…”

So, are you curious? Then settle in and be entertained and perhaps a little surprised. (Hint: My husband certainly was!)

 

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How Three Designers Express Their Love of Succulents

I’m pleased to share with you three artist-designers whose work delights me. Dyana sells in art galleries; Mike hosts in-studio workshops; and Tari has a bright new Ebay store. See if you don’t agree: Each celebrates succulents in fun, appealing and creative ways. (Photos used with permission.)

Tari Colbry of Reclaim-It 

No two of Tari Colbry’s succulent-planted squares are exactly alike, yet each highlights the geometry of succulents. She suggests showcasing them as table centerpieces for homes, weddings, and other social events.

Made from reclaimed wood, moss and wire, Tari’s squares individually are great for small garden spaces—I have six on my deck—atop tables and grouped on walls. Spritz the moss every few days (depending on the weather) and keep them in bright shade or dappled sun. Tari also makes lovely wreaths and hanging succulent balls.  Visit her new shop.

Dyana Hesson, botanical artist

Arizona artist Dyana Hesson‘s paintings of succulents are colorful, detailed and realistic; her style, sophisticated and skillful. The luminosity with which Dyana conveys the soul of a succulent results from thinly applied, layered, and blended oils.

Painting, she says, gives her a way to express aspects of the natural world that she’s unable to do via photography alone. Visit Dyana’s website.

Mike Pyle, Hunt Collective Ltd. 

In his Orange County design studio, Mike Pyle designs furniture, succulent planters and more. Several times a month, Mike crafts ten or so similar containers from pallet wood, then hosts a workshop during which attendees plant one to take home, enjoy a fun social event, and learn about succulents.

Mike, who will soon launch a line of Midcentury Modern furniture, also does landscape design and consulting. In fact, a photo of his studio garden graces the cover of the second edition of Designing with Succulents (shown below). Visit Mike’s website.

Do you have a favorite succulent artist? Send me a link!

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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?

Hoodia

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

Gymnocalycium

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!

Dyckia

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.

Books

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.

Astrophytum3

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

Astrophytum2

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.

Ariocarpus

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?

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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.

Succulent bouquet with echeverias
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Succulent Bouquet Styles

When I need a quick hostess gift, thank-you present, or an arrangement for a special friend, I make a bouquet of succulents. Below I show materials, numerous design ideas, and offer lots of useful info, tips and inspiration. For a special-occasion succulent bouquet (suitable for a wedding), see my book, Succulents Simplified, pages 162-169. I also have several videos on my YouTube channel of assorted succulent bouquets; for links, scroll to the end.

Cuttings for the mug bouquet shown below.

I start by selecting a glass container (usually a jar, thrift-store vase, or clear bottle), the size of which determines the size of the arrangement. Then I head into the garden with clippers. I cut a dozen or so succulent rosettes, and in 2 or 3 minutes per cutting, they’re wired onto stems and ready to be arranged.

Echeverias, graptosedums, crassulas and kalanchoes lend themselves beautifully to bouquets because of their colorful leaves and rosette shapes. They’re easy to attach to faux stems, need no water (because they live off moisture in their leaves), look good for a long time, and can later be planted as cuttings.

Succulent arrangement
At a workshop I taught, a student made this lovely bouquet of wired succulent rosettes, ‘Sticks on Fire’ stems, and red eucalyptus. For ballast, she added layers of sunrise-colored sand.

Sunburst aeonium bouquet
I made this bouquet before I learned the floral technique of wiring succulent rosettes. The reason for the arrangement was to show how the plants resemble flowers. It consists of aeoniums and graptoverias with long stems…always an option, but not easy to find!

Aloe flower bouquet with wired succulents
These bouquets were for the launch party for my book, Succulents Simplified, which has those same plants on the cover. I used marbles as ballast and filled the vases with water to keep the flowers fresh. The faux stems are reinforced with bamboo skewers.

Succulent bouquet of wired rosettes
After the aloe flowers faded in the bouquet show earlier, I pulled them out and arranged the succulent rosettes in a different vase (with no water). They looked good for several more weeks.

Elaborate succulent bouquet of wired rosettes
I made this bouquet of echeverias, dwarf aloes and silver eucalyptus stems for a garden club at which I was speaking, to raffle off. It took me forever to wire so many rosettes (30 @ 3 min./ea. = 1-1/2 hours). The response made it worthwhile, but please don’t ask me to do it again!


The color of the vase inspired the selection of ‘Coppertone’ stonecrop, which in turn inspired blue echeverias for contrast.

Gift bouquet of succulent rosettes
Wired rosettes are top-heavy, so you need some sort of ballast to hold them in place. Here I used crushed, tumbled glass. (I made this a few years ago. I wonder, should I have filled the jar with glass? At the time, I thought it was cool to let the wired stems show.) Succulents include jade, aeoniums, sedums, and in the center for texture contrast, a fuzzy kalanchoe. When stems are this short, you needn’t stabilize them with floral picks or bamboo skewers.

Succulent bouquet in colored sand
The colors of the rosettes inspired the colors of sand. (I keep a palette of colored sand in jars that occupy an entire bookshelf.) Read more about how this arrangement came together. 

Succulent bouquet with eucalyptus and dried split peas
I agreed to demonstrate how to make a succulent bouquet at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show. Few colorful succulents were available, so I wired red and silver tillandsias onto stems as filler and included dried material. I had brought a bag of split peas for ballast, so imagine my delight when my helper showed up with seeded eucalyptus—an unplanned yet perfect repetition!

Materials: To make a succulent bouquet, you’ll need:

— Garden clippers, wire cutters, and scissors.

— A vase, mug, jar or some other holder. Height and size don’t matter, but keep in mind that your bouquet should be at least half as tall as its container, and the taller the arrangement, the more succulents you’ll need.

— Assorted colorful succulent cuttings. In order for stems not to split when you wire them, they should be about the diameter of a chopstick but no thicker than your little finger (because thick tissue is tough to push a wire through).

— 22-gauge florist’s wire. I buy it in prepackaged, 18-inch lengths from a craft store. You’ll need one length of wire for each rosette.

— A roll of green florist’s tape. This helps hold the wire in place and hides it, creating what looks like a real stem. (Wondering if you can simply use long-stemmed succulents? Yes, if you have them. You can certainly use the flowers of succulents, too!)

— Bamboo skewers (sold at any supermarket) or floral picks. These are useful for strengthening and stabilizing the faux stem and holding the cutting upright. They’re inflexible, so plan to cut some of the faux stems shorter to make a balanced arrangement. I usually wire a few lightweight cuttings without sticks to have some to bend outward.

— Ballast to anchor stems. Their high moisture content makes succulent cuttings top-heavy when wired, so stems need to be held in place with sand, pea gravel, a floral frog or foam, crushed glass or—in a pinch—dried peas or beans (careful not to get them wet).

Method:

  1. Cut wire in half and thread each 9-inch-long piece into the stem just below the lowest leaf. Wires should be at right angles to each other, so when you look down on the succulent, it’ll look like a plus sign with a plant in the middle.
  2. Place a floral pick or bamboo skewer alongside the stem or, if it’s wide enough, up through the middle.
  3. Fold wires downward so they encase the stem stub and skewer. All four wires should touch each other.
  4. Tear or cut off 8 or so inches of floral tape. Use your thumb to hold the top of the tape against the base of the succulent. With your other hand, gently stretch the tape. Twirl the rosette and stretch the tape as you wrap the stem. (It may take a few tries, but it’s not difficult.)
  5. Use wire cutters to cut the stem to whatever length you want it to be.
  6. Add ballast to the container and insert the wired rosettes into it (with dried floral material if you like) until you have a pleasing bouquet.

Videos I’ve made showing this technique:

If you’d like a professionally made succulent bouquet sent to the recipient, San Diego floral designer MariaLuisa Kaprielian (shown in my Bridal Bouquet video, above) ships nationwide. MariaLuisa’s online floral shop is Urban Succulents. You’ll love her site’s gallery. Also follow her on Instagram @urban_succulents, where she continually posts new designs. 

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.

Succulent bouquet made by Debra Lee Baldwin for Craftsy

This is the bouquet (above) I made for the Craftsy class. It’s in a Mason jar with crushed glass for ballast.

Hints:

— Handle succulent leaves minimally because they mar easily. Hold cuttings by their stems or the underside of the leaves.

— Unless you’re using heavy rosettes, floral picks or skewers aren’t necessary with short-stemmed arrangements (wires wrapped with tape are adequate).

— As with any good design, select elements that are colorful, textural, and provide pleasing repetitions and contrasts.

— It’s nice to place the bouquet in a container that’s also a gift, such as a pretty coffee mug.

Succulents in a gift mug

Succulent coffee mugs of my own design are sold through my Zazzle store.

— For ballast in clear-glass containers, use layers of colored sand that repeat colors in the plants.

— Include dried floral material. I often use eucalyptus because it harmonizes well with succulents.

— It’s OK to combine wired succulents with fresh floral material, but you’ll have to fill the container with water, which may make the floral tape come loose from the faux stems. Moreover, fresh flowers and greens last a week or less; wired succulents, much longer. (See the story of “Grandma,” an Echeveria ‘Lola’ rosette that lasted atop her stem for several years, in the second edition of Designing with Succulents.)

— Photograph the bouquet before you give it away. You’ll want to show people later!

For how to make a SPECIAL OCCASION succulent bouquet, see my book, Succulents Simplified, pages 162-169. To be notified of my new video releases, be sure to subscribe to my YouTube channel