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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 launched my interest in succulents. It 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

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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

Also see my 5-minute YouTube video, “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.

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Post-Rain Must-Do’s for Succulent Gardens

When is rain TOO much rain?

We’re not used to so much rain here in Southern CA. One series of storms has followed another. I’ve been gleefully gathering buckets of fresh rainwater for my potted plants. Could the drought finally be over? Well, no. It’ll take hundreds of years for underground aquifers to refill. The snowpack isn’t adequate for our future water supply. On the bright side, our gardens are looking glorious. Even those with mainly drought-tolerant plants.  If drainage is adequate, annual rainfall less than 25 inches, humidity is low, and temperatures remain above freezing, your succulents should be fine.

Check for:

Succulents with rotted leaves. Remove mushy leaves before rot spreads to the plant’s stem or crown. This and other concerns are addressed in my YouTube video, Oh No! Something’s Wrong with My Succulent! 

Drainage issues. If soil stays sodden and muddy areas remain long after a storm, roots may drown. Move plants to high ground, and install French drains.

Slope erosion. Create dams of rocks and diversion channels, and add gravel or mulch to diffuse the rain’s impact.

Stagnant water. Check pots, bins and barrels. If they’ve filled, dump the water before mosquitos find it and breed.

Weeds. Wherever soil is exposed to sun, weeds WILL sprout. Get them when small. All too soon they’ll have deep roots, go to seed, and look you in the eye.

Seepage. Check your home’s basement. Mine used to have an inch or two of standing water whenever the ground became saturated during storms. A few years ago, a friend suggested a simple solution: Coat the concrete blocks that form the basement’s walls with a special paint that prevents seepage. Works great. Any home improvement store carries it.

Shop for plants.  Now’s a good time to accumulate plants you want to add to your garden. Rain-soaked ground is soft and easy to dig. Early spring is the best time to establish new plants, after all danger of frost has passed (here in Southern CA, that’s usually by Valentine’s Day, but you may want to wait until March just in case). Plants will take off in spring and won’t have to contend with summer heat while putting down roots. And if your garden is like mine, when the soil dries, it’ll be as hard as concrete.

Take photos as reminders. When the weather clears, such issues are easy to forget.

View my video: Post-Rain Must-Do’s for Succulent Gardens Debra's post-rain must-do's video

The bottom line: Succulents are opportunistic when it comes to rain. They absolutely love it. My own garden looks better than ever. I hope yours does too!

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Thrifting for the Birds

House finch on a glass creamer I repurposed as a bird feeder.

UPDATE: I’ve since made a series of one-minute videos of wild house finches using feeders created from repurposed objects. Find these videos on Instagram @DebraLBaldwin and on my Succulent Container Gardens Facebook page. 

My pastimes of thrifting and birding inspired me to create bird feeders from repurposed items. It all began a few months ago when I was given a commercial feeder to trial. Its peaked roof is “cute” (to quote a friend), but it’s made of plastic (shudder) and is a color I call “hose green”—a blue-green not found in nature.

It also was too efficient. House finches (linnets) emptied it quickly, and one cup of seed mix is all I wanted to give them daily. Plus, watching these mice of the bird world stuff themselves became boring. All they did was sit, eat, and lunge at rivals who wanted to share the feeder.

I read up on wild birds—their habits, what species frequent the foothills of inland Southern CA, and what they eat. I also researched the ideal bird feeding experience for both birds and humans. Feeders should be located where you can watch easily from indoors, birds can dart into nearby branches, and well above the ground so cats can’t pounce and it’s difficult for rodents to help themselves.

So with bird-feeding in mind, I trolled estate sales and thrift shops. I decided to go with inexpensive objects I found in abundance: wrought iron candleholders with metal rings for votives in glass cups. It seemed that such shallow vessels (sans candles) would hold the right amount of bird seed, and metal rods in pleasing ornamental shapes would make good perches.

Although I planned to do only one feeding station at first, I went on to create three on the deck outside my kitchen and dining room. Much thought, creativity and fun went into modifying these three stations to maximize their appeal to me and to my feathered guests.

Bird feeders on a plant stand create a feeding station. Wire ball at center contains suet. Birds are house finches and, at the hummingbird feeder, an orange-crown warbler (also shown below).

Station One, positioned on the far corner of the deck, uses a 6-foot-tall wrought iron plant stand designed to hold hanging baskets of plants. On one hook is a square wrought iron candleholder with a glass candle cup that I initially worried might be too deep. I decided to go ahead and try it—after all, why shouldn’t those greedy finches work for their food? Sure enough, they’ll feed vertically if need be—beaks straight down and tail feathers skyward.

This made me wonder what other antics and acrobatics house finches might do. Although I stopped short of adding a maze, I decided the ideal feeder needs an entertainment factor.

Also on the plant stand I hung an old wire birdcage. It’s still my favorite feeder. I love watching wild birds eagerly enter the cage, the door of which I’ve wired open to avoid accidentally trapping one. (I’ve also spread the wires a bit on the opposite side, so they have a second exit. They enter the cage that way, too.) A plump mourning dove, seduced by the scent of peanuts, also cages itself from time to time.

Next came a hummingbird feeder. Imagine my surprise when an adorable chartreuse bird about 4 inches long (compared to 5 inches for the house finches) began frequenting it, along with the expected Anna’s hummers. I’m pretty sure my “little green guy” is an orange-crowned warbler. Score!

I wired a tray onto the deck railing, and filled it with peanuts for doves and jays. White crowned sparrows came next, gleaning bits that fell on the deck or patio below. The latest visitors are goldfinches.

Station Two, inspired by the birds’ lack of fear of my hulking house and the moving shadows within, is beneath the eaves right outside the kitchen window. In case you’re wondering, none of the birds has hit the glass. “They can tell it’s a barrier,” a Wild Birds Unlimited employee assured me. This station consists mainly of wrought iron candle holders linked together. I had to scrounge for S-hooks. When installing bird feeders, one never has enough.

House finches won’t share a feeder, but they’re fine crammed together if each has its own. Watch a video.   

Happy discovery: When each finch has its own seed-filled cup, it doesn’t mind being close to a rival finch. At a circular candleholder with seating for six, each place is soon filled, there’s a queue along the deck rail, and others observe from tree branches. That is, when they deign to visit.

House finches come and go like adolescents with cars. They arrive all at once, boisterous and noisy; pushing, flapping, and ravenous; each with a wary eye out for the Lady of the House. When she appears, they take off with a whoosh, offering no thanks, apologies, or stacking of dishes.

In my tea party themed station, glass feeders make the birds easier to see.

Station Three, the most recent, has a tea-party theme. I nailed two matching S-shaped candleholders horizontally beneath the eaves, then wired chains to them, and added hooks to hang tea cups, a sugar bowl and creamer, a tea pot, and a serving tray with a handle. The initial version used floral china cups, but I soon switched to glass. Glass is like solid air, so it suits an airy feeder, plus you can see the birds better as well as how much seed is left. I still need a transparent tea pot. Which is to say, I really need to go thrifting. Soon.

Tips for creating a feeding station and making your own feeders:

— Be patient. It may take birds several days, even weeks, to find a feeder.
— House finches are prevalent and arrive in pairs (male and female). If you leave food sitting out, even if it’s not in a feeder, they’ll find it. Although wild birds are endearing when hopping on patio furniture, they do make a mess.
— Visit your local Wild Birds Unlimited store. The employees are friendly, knowledgable and happy to share information. Pick up a bag of WBU’s “No Mess Seed Blend” of nuts and seeds already shelled.
— Add a birdbath. They’ll drink from it, splash around in it, and it’ll attract birds that aren’t interested in the feeders. (Not all want seeds; many eat insects).
— Expect a bonanza of birds on a rainy day, which also is a great time to install a new feeding station.
— Hang breakable objects so they won’t hit each other when jolted by wings or wind.
— At dusk, bring indoors food that might attract nocturnal varmints like rats and opossums.
— In winter, add suet (from a bird store or garden center) to your feeding station.

Female Anna’s hummingbird

— Don’t add food coloring to hummingbird syrup. The red of the feeder is enough to attract them.
— Keep hummingbird feeders clean; mildew and fungus can harm the birds.
— When placing a feeder, don’t forget that whatever is below it will be showered with bird droppings and seed husks.
— Hardware stores sell black S-hooks in the garden department; regular S-hooks (which are cheaper but silver colored) in the hardware section. You’ll also need chain (sold by the foot), flexible wire, and a wire cutter.
— Turn off the lights in the room when you’re observing wild birds, so it’s harder for them to see you. Regardless, avoid making sudden movements.
— Enrich your experience by identifying the birds that visit your feeders. Obtain a Sibley’s birding guide specific to your region. (No, the Internet and Google aren’t enough.)
— Get a good pair of binoculars (mine are Polaris Optics). They’re a portal to another world, both at feeders and beyond.

 

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Highlights of the Fall Garden Party at Waterwise Botanicals Nursery

There was so much beauty at Waterwise Botanicals nursery near San Diego during the recent Fall Garden Party (an annual event near San Diego featuring succulents), I’ll let the photos I took speak for themselves. Cue rhapsodic music!

Just when I think I've seen one too many succulent topped pumpkins, one comes along that's beyond gorgeous

Just when I feel I’ve seen too many succulent topped pumpkins, one comes along that takes my breath away.

This tricholobivia has formed quite a colony of offsets

The display gardens are worth visiting, year-round, for design ideas plus practical-yet-lovely plant combos.

The staff makes lovely dish gardens, each unique

The staff makes lovely dish gardens for sale. No two are like.

At my booth during the event, I did impromptu plant-pot pairings

At my booth during the event, I did impromptu plant-pot pairings.

The best way to pair pots is to take them to the nursery with you. Who would have thought that purple pleiospilos was perfect for this whimsical fish pot?

The best way to select plants for a pot is to take it to the nursery with you. Who would have expected purple pleiospilos to be perfect for this whimsical fish? Yet when the two were alongside each other, it seemed obvious.

Metal clay artist Lucy Ellen stopped by to brainstorm new designs.

Metal clay artist Lucy Ellen of Escondido stopped by my booth to brainstorm workshop ideas.

The display garden near the entrance was designed to suggest the desert in bloom, while using plants more suited to a coastal climate

Nursery manager Tom Jesch designed the display garden near the nursery entrance to suggest the desert in bloom. The plants he chose are suited to a more maritime climate.

I love the geometry and textures of columnar cacti, especially when illuminated by the sun

I love the geometry and textures of columnar cacti—especially when illuminated by the sun—don’t you?

Silvery blue Echeveria peacockii in one of the display gardens

Silvery blue Echeveria peacockii graces one of the display gardens.

A miniature succulent garden at one of the workshops

A miniature succulent garden at one of the workshops.

A succulent holiday three, mainly of sempervivums and sedums, was a workshop project

This succulent holiday tree, made mainly of sempervivums and sedums, was another workshop project.

One workshop was about planting driftwood with succulents

…As was planting driftwood with succulents.

Aeonium 'Zwartkop' backlit

Aeonium ‘Zwartkop’ backlit.

Those filamented edges!

Those glowing, filamented edges!

An Echeveria cultivar tough enough to grow in the open garden

An Echeveria cultivar tough enough to grow in the open garden. I believe it’s ‘Sahara’.

A green Echeveria cultivar has offset into a large mound in one of the display gardens

Over time, this Echeveria ‘Green Crush’ offset to form an impressive, hens-and-chicks mound.

I'm obsessed with this red cryptobergia bromeliad, a colorful low-water companion for succulents

Red cryptobergia is a desert bromeliad that makes a colorful, low-water companion for succulents and a great addition to potted combos.

Nursery manager Tom Jesch repurposed a toy truck as a planter for succulents

Tom Jesch repurposed a toy truck as a planter for succulents.

Masses of coppertone stonecrop and graptosedum

Masses of coppertone stonecrop and graptosedum carpet the ground in one of the display gardens.

Columnar cacti, haloed by late afternoon sun

Columnar cacti, haloed by late afternoon sun, point to festive white tents where workshops were held.

If you didn't make it, here's one more thing you missed: taking home a free one-gallon succulent. (Don't feel bad. Maybe next time!)

Forgive me if this makes you gnash your teeth, but if you didn’t make it to this year’s Fall Garden Party, you missed taking home one of these free one-gallon succulents.

Hey, there’s always next time! ~ Debra

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Are You a Plant Collector, Gardener or Both?

The Bold Dry Garden Book

As she researched her book, The Bold Dry Garden, it dawned on Sunset’s garden editor Johanna Silver that plant collectors are not necessarily gardeners, and vice-versa. The subject, Ruth Bancroft, is both gardener and collector—as is Brian Kemble, the curator of the Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek, CA. Since 1980, Brian has helped Ruth (now age 108) orchestrate an inviting, 3.5-acre showcase of unusual succulents and low-water companion plants.

Johanna, Brian and I were having dinner when she fixed me with her level gaze and asked, “Are you a collector?” I knew from reading her book that she isn’t. “I am no closer to being a plant collector than I was when I signed up to write this book,” she admits in the Preface. Yet Johanna went on to write that she is “now more likely to research where a plant comes from and track down photos of its natural habitat in order to get a sense of what helps it thrive in the garden.”

Earlier we had been at Johanna’s and Brian’s joint presentation at the San Diego Horticultural Society, during which Brian had observed, “When you see a plant in habitat, it’s like looking into its soul.” No wonder that speakers at Cactus and Succulent Society meetings show photos of little-known genera in arid, rocky terrains accessible only by hiking or horseback. Brian, in fact, had just returned from his sixth or seventh South African plant-hunting expedition.

It makes sense that to cultivate any plant perfectly, one needs to be aware of the conditions in which it grows wild. But although I’m thrilled every time I see a succulent I haven’t seen before, I don’t necessarily want it. So I replied to Johanna’s question: “No, I’m not a collector.” She nodded. We may love plants and gardening in all their multifaceted aspects, but we lack the collector’s gene.

Johanna Silver

Johanna Silver

Ruth Bancroft, on the other hand, kept detailed handwritten notes on every plant she acquired, and also had extensive collections of sea shells, art, books, and textiles. “There is a certain flavor of obsession that comes with collecting,” Johanna writes, “an inability to stop. A collector is passionate, driven, and on a quest for knowledge. The habit only intensifies as the desired objects become more obscure.”

While he was in town, I escorted Brian to several San Diego garden destinations, and observed this gentle, quiet man come to life with an explosive “Oh, my God!” at Petra Crist’s Rare Succulents nursery when he saw some of her specimen plants. Invariably, he and Petra verbally revisited the wilds of Socotra, the Great Karoo, or Madagascar as they discussed a plant’s unique characteristics.

Petra Crist and Brian Kemble discuss a cyphostemma

Petra Crist and Brian Kemble discuss a cyphostemma, a lumpy-trunked succulent tree from Madagascar.

Johanna said she’d like to go on a plant-hunting expedition. Not me. Too dangerous. (On his recent trip, Brian sustained an injury that left him hobbling for several days.) However, I do understand the appeal. It must be similar to a photographer’s quest for the perfect shot, my genealogist friend’s desire to track down every ancestor, or the adrenaline rush I sometimes get when shopping at high-end second-hand stores.

How Ruth acquired, successfully cultivated, and combined her plant collection into a great garden—despite such setbacks as killing frosts—is described with wit and clarity by Johanna; fact-checked by Brian; and photographed brilliantly by Marion Brenner, who pursued and captured the garden’s soul.

BOOK GIVEAWAY: To enter to win a copy of The Bold Dry Garden, simply leave a comment below stating why you’d like to have it. Johanna or our mutual publisher, Timber Press, will pick the winner on Tuesday, Nov. 1. I’ll announce the winner here and contact him or her to obtain a mailing address.

CONGRATULATIONS TO THE WINNER! Many thanks to all who participated. Johanna selected Renata Muller because “I like that she recognizes Ruth for the gutsy/brave pioneer that she is!”

Renata wrote: “I am both a gardener and Succ-aholic. I have visited and purchased specimens from The Ruth Bancroft Garden. I cannot think of a more amazing garden story than that of Ruth Bancrofts. In a time when boldness and courage was not on the female virtues roster, she was a pioneer. Gutsy and brave and not content with the mainstream pansy route. She saw the beauty in the dry landscape and brought it and a lot of plant knowledge to millions thru her toils creating the incredible garden we all can visit and drool over, as well as the wisdom and experience she imparted dry scape novices and wanna be’s with the help she offered the local community with her newspaper articles. She was sustainable when sustainable wasnt cool! I would love a book about this grand lady and her creation and legacy!”

So there you have it…I’ll contact Renata and Timber Press will send her a copy of the book!

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.

agave-americana-post-flowering

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.

agave-americana-colony

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.

agave-americana-amid-boulders_a_r

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.

agave-blue-glow

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).

six-great-agaves-for-your-garden_a_r

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Jeff Moore’s Books 10% Off!

Jeff Moore, owner of Solana Succulents near San Diego, was my go-to succulent pro back when I was a photojournalist specializing in all aspects of gardening. At the time, I saw Jeff as a quintessential San Diego surfer and family man who had a thing for a narrow category of plants.

Turns out, there’s nothing laid-back about this surfer dude. Over the ensuing years, Jeff has become a remarkable photographer and writer who is as engaging in print as he is in person. Moreover, he took on the monumental task of self-publishing two books. The first, Under the Spell of Succulents (2014, 244 pages, 800 images, $30), is a terrific overview, especially if you live where succulents grow in the ground year-round (Southern and coastal CA from the Bay Area south).

Jeff Moore's book Aloes and Agaves

The recently released sequel, Aloes and Agaves in Cultivation (2016, 344 pages, 1000+ images, $40), is similarly luscious eye candy, and a comprehensive resource guide for anyone who admires these most dramatic of all succulents. Photographed primarily in California, “this isn’t about plants in habitat,” Jeff says. “It’s about how we grow them in California, with cultural tips and insights.”

Jeff’s books are available at his nursery and speaking engagements, and via mail order. Take 10% off with coupon code dlb2016.