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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

Obtain my comprehensive guide to growing and designing with succulents in containers, Succulent Container 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?

Above: 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 YouTube video: Succulents, Shells and Summer: Debra’s Potting Demo at Roger’s Gardens. Enjoy!

Obtain my comprehensive guide to growing and designing with succulents in containers, Succulent Container Gardens.

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

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Patrick Anderson’s Garden: Where It All Started

I wonder if Patrick remembers giving me a cutting of that red aloe (A. cameronii, at center right). I know l’ll never forget it! Photo from the second edition of Designing with Succulents 

Visiting Patrick Anderson’s garden in 1998 was the first time I had seen a residential garden that featured large aloes and agaves. In my YouTube video, “Patrick Anderson’s Succulent Garden,” I take you on a tour of the residential garden that launched my love of succulents. You’ll see it as it looks now, nearly 20 years after I visited it on assignment for the San Diego Union-Tribune (read the original article, below)Patrick’s garden was, and still is, mainly aloes and agaves plus other succulents and low-water plants.

Patrick and I became friends, and he graciously proofread the first edition of Designing with Succulents, released in 2007. That book, which helped generate interest in succulents worldwide, had more photos of Patrick’s garden than of any other. Now, a decade later, the book’s completely revised second edition includes newer, arguably even better photos of his garden. (See them in the video. Incidentally, I chose classical background music because Patrick is an opera singer.)

A dozen great ideas from Patrick’s garden:
— Use low walls and terraces to create an inviting entry garden.
— Streetside, install a no-irrigation, rock-and-boulder landscape.
— Create a sense of adventure with curved, meandering pathways.
— Build an open-air room as a destination and focal point.
— Repeat a theme color throughout, such as “aloe orange.”
— Contrast the theme color with its complement (i.e., orange with blue).
— Use large, rounded, unplanted pots as accent pieces.
— Have your garden double as an outdoor sculpture gallery.
— Paint walls bold colors to create dramatic backdrops.
— Make hardscape and walls as visually important as plants.
— Position barrel cacti so they’re backlit by morning or afternoon sun.
— Create memorable vignettes that express your individual style.

Learn more:
— View my 6-min. YouTube video: Patrick Anderson’s Succulent Garden
— See additional photos in the pages of my books. 
— Read the article that re-routed my career: Gardening in the Big Leagues (below).

The original article ~ Gardening in the Big Leagues

I’m proud to note that this article won a prestigious award for newspaper feature writing from the Garden Writers Association of America. Enjoy! ~ Debra

Originally published in the San Diego Union-Tribune, Jan. 31, 1999

Text and photos by Debra Lee Baldwin

Fleshy green monsters in Patrick Anderson’s Fallbrook garden look like they might snap him up if he turns his back. They’re giant succulents, and Anderson’s half-acre hillside showcases hundreds of unusual ones. “I like their huge, sculptural forms,” he said during a tour of his garden in January.

Patrick Anderson

Anderson is an active member of the San Diego Horticultural Society, and is known to local garden clubs as a lecturer who specializes in the great gardens of Europe. “I give slide presentations, and like to think I offer trenchant commentary,” Anderson said. “I’m a student of garden history and design, so I put European gardens in that context.”

Yet his own garden specializes in plants that wouldn’t survive in Europe, much less in most of the U.S. They prefer heat, poor soil and — because their leaves store water, camel-like — a dry climate.

Showiest among them are aloes and agaves, giant succulents with an attitude. Punks of the plant world, they produce blooms big as baseball bats, in colors calculated to shock. Hundreds of bullet-sized flowers sheathe bloom stalks. Leaves have sharp tips and clawed edges.

Yet Anderson’s armed-and-dangerous flora do have an otherworldly beauty. This time of year, aloes pierce the sky like exotic torch bearers, hot orange against cool blue.

Aloe ferox and coral tree

And the way they sprawl like squids or explode upward like fistfuls of knives make them the darlings of architects. Imagine a Volkswagen-sized artichoke growing against a stucco wall: One plant a landscape makes.

Succulents come in all sizes, and grow easily in frost-free areas. They need no fertilizer, and only a little water in summer and fall. They’re green year-round, and don’t require pruning. Even so, cultivating the behemoths among them is not for the faint of heart.

“I wanted to use desert-climate plants in a lush way,” Anderson explained as his footsteps crunched on a gravel pathway near plants aflame with flowers. “And to create a tropical-looking garden that would survive without water.”

A dasylirion’s thin, slender leaves suggest spraying water.

Anderson paused at a fountain-shaped Agave americana, commonly known as century plant. Each pointed, tapered leaf was the size of a small shark, and toothed like one, too. Using garden clippers, he snipped a wicked tip that protruded into the pathway.

“With these spines and jagged edges, this is the agave from hell,” he said. “But look at its symmetry. Isn’t it magnificent?” He continued, “I can’t stand it when people cut back an agave so it looks like a pineapple. If you’re going to grow something like this, you’ve got to give it plenty of room. I won’t buy a succulent unless it’s labeled. I have to know how big it’ll get.”

Many people confuse agaves with aloes, he added. “Both are succulents and grow in a rosette form, but that’s where the similarity ends. Aloes are Old World plants, from South Africa, Madagascar, the Saudi peninsula and the Mediterranean region. Agaves are New World plants from the Americas. Leaves of agaves are fibrous; those of aloes are filled with gel.”

Agave americana and Aloe vera

He pointed his clippers at a smaller plant topped with yellow blooms. “That’s Aloe vera, also known as Aloe barbadensis. It’s the best known aloe because of its medicinal uses. And over there, by the lily pond…” he gestured downslope to a succulent supporting a candelabra of coral-orange spires… “is Aloe ferox. It’s used in South Africa as a purgative.”

“Aloes are in the lily family, yet agaves are the ones that behave like bulbs,” he continued. “Agaves send up stems that bloom, and then they die. Aloes don’t die after flowering.” And, Anderson added with a smile, “an aloe won’t kill you if you fall into it.”

Agave shidigera

Anderson’s fondness for plants began in childhood. “My grandmother was a wonderful gardener. She had roses and perennials — the traditional old Irish garden.”

He grew up in San Gabriel, and a neighbor who traveled the world gave him cuttings from unusual cacti and succulents. “But I had to leave them behind when we moved to Lake Arrowhead.”

Anderson majored in theater arts in college, then worked in the corporate world as a human resources director. In 1988, he and life partner Les Olson transplanted themselves from congested Los Angeles to a two-acre ranch in north San Diego county.

“We didn’t move all at once,” Anderson explained. “For the first few years, we were here only on weekends.” They still maintain a home in Pasadena, enabling Anderson to perform with a choral ensemble in that area (he also sings with San Diego’s Pacific Camarata), and to volunteer at the Huntington Botanical Gardens.

Located east of Pasadena in San Marino, “the Huntington” is famous worldwide for a 12-acre dry-habitat garden showcasing more than 5,000 species. National Geographic’s “Guide to America’s Public Gardens” describes it as “a naturalistic wonderland of often bizarre plants, accenting their architectural shapes and pronounced textures.” These attracted Anderson like a moth to a night-blooming cereus, and inspired his own garden.

“I love theater, and these plants are about as theatrical as you can get,” he said.

Aloe speciosa

As a Huntington volunteer, Anderson continued, “I work in plant propagation, specifically for plant sales.” This entails nurturing seedlings, cuttings, and “pups” taken from the base of parent plants.

Does Anderson have an ulterior motive in step-parenting unusual specimens? You bet.

Half his collection originated at what he calls the “mother of all plant sales,” held annually at the Huntington the weekend after Mother’s Day. The rest came from “like-minded friends,” or nurseries specializing in tropical plants, cactus and/or succulents.

View my 6-min. YouTube video (2017): Patrick Anderson’s Succulent Garden

Obtain my guide to succulent landscaping, Designing with Succulents (2nd ed.).

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Announcing the Second Edition of Designing with Succulents!

 

Available for pre-order now. Ships Aug. 27, 2017

When publisher Timber Press proposed a celebratory 10th anniversary, second edition of Designing with Succulents, I figured all I’d have to do is change a word here and there and add a few photos. So I agreed to what seemed like a reasonable deadline—six months. But as soon as I dove into the project, I realized so much had changed that a complete rewrite and almost entirely new photos were in order.

To meet the deadline, I worked 12-hour days and weekends, often in pajamas with uncombed hair, too much coffee, and a dog that needed to go out. With the guidance of a terrific editor—Lorraine Anderson—I ripped the book open, pulled out its innards, rewrote the text, and agonized over the photos. It was so difficult to winnow the selection to 400!

How can I express my pride in this second edition of Designing with Succulents? It’s like birthing a child (except that was easier). It’s my magnum opus. Above all, it’s my gift to you—to anyone—intrigued by these elegant plants and their potential to enhance gardens and landscapes.

And don’t you just love the cover?

The second edition of Designing with Succulents is available for pre-order now. It ships August 27.

Obtain a signed copy from me at the annual Succulent Extravaganza at Succulent Gardens nursery in Castroville, CA (near Santa Cruz), Sept. 22-23; or at the San Diego Horticultural Society meeting Oct. 9. I’m speaking at both events.

The cover of the original edition of Designing with Succulents

Learn more about the book that launched worldwide interest in succulents: the first edition of “Designing with Succulents,” released in 2007.

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Spring in My Succulent Garden

In spring, my garden is less about succulents and more about flowers…well, actually, that’s not true. The garden’s most vivid blooms are those of ice plants. Singing alongside them in spring are poppies, daisies, wisteria, bulbs, and yes, some succulents—notably Aloe maculata and Bulbine frutescens.

Below are a few stills and the plant list from my new YouTube video: Debra Lee Baldwin’s Succulent Garden in Spring. Enjoy!

An ordinarily unexciting corner of my garden is stunning in spring solely because of all the blooms. Red ones at center are Sparaxis tricolor, a bulb from South Africa.

California poppies literally pop in spring. I encourage these bright orange annuals to reseed every year. Behind them is Drosanthemum floribundum (rosea ice plant).

Scilla peruviana returns every March. I’m always a little surprised to see it. It was planted by my home’s previous owners, and I don’t do anything to care for it. It produces these large, purple-blue snowflakes and then disappears from summer through winter.

I planted bright red geraniums near this orange-red iceplant. I can’t recall if I did it on purpose, but they do bloom at the same time. I’ll bet you can see them from outer space.

Those and more are in the video. Here’s the plant list:

Flowering Plants in Debra’s Garden

Inland Southern CA, Zone 9b

Spring (peak): mid-March to early April

Annual: California poppies

Bulbs:

Babiana stricta (baboon flower)

Scilla peruviana

         Sparaxis tricolor

Succulents:

Aeonium arboreum

         Aloe maculata

         Bulbine frutescens ‘Hallmark’

Gasteria sp.

Ice Plants:

Delosperma congestum ‘Gold Nugget’

Drosanthemum floribundum

                  Drosanthemum speciosum

         Sedum ‘Firestorm’

Perennial shrubs:

Euryops pectinatus

Gazanias (African daisies)

Pelargoniums (geraniums)

Rose, climbing: ‘Altissimo’

Wisteria

 

I just realized none of these are pastel. Can you imagine? They’d look pale and sickly alongside all that brain-bashing color. I do have some lovely, peach-toned irises that come up late spring. Every year I intend to dig and move them to a better spot, aesthetically speaking, and every year I forget. I vow I’ll go ’round and tie ribbons to the plants when they come into bloom. Uh…remind me?

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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.”