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Perfect Succulent Art-Pot Pairings

A few simple design principles can take your potted succulents from ho-hum to WOW. My new YouTube video, Tips for Perfect Succulent Art-Pot Pairings, is a must-see if you’ve ever wondered which succulents to choose for a container—especially art pottery. Follow my guidelines in this 3-min video, and you’ll be amazed at how polished and perfect your plant-pot combos will be!

Succulents (from Altman Plants):
Echeveria ‘Green Abalone’
Kalanchoe tomentosa ‘Chocolate Soldier’
Sedum adolphii
Echeveria ‘Topsy Turvy’
Echeveria pulidonis
Aloe ‘Christmas Sleigh’

Pots by Jeff Stewart of Oceanside, CA, jsstewbones@gmail.com

Subscribe to my YouTube channel to be notified whenever I release a new video.

What Reviewers Are Saying About “Designing with Succulents”

The newly released, completely revised and updated second edition of Designing with Succulents is the best book on the topic, ever. But why believe me?

That’s why reviewers are important. It’s not the author or a publicist telling you how good a book is. It’s savvy editors, radio show hosts, columnists, industry pros and industry peers whose opinions are impartial and credible. For example…

Bay Area landscape designer Susan Morrison, author of The Less is More Garden: Big Ideas for Designing Your Small Yard (Timber Press, Feb., 2018). Susan reviews books for The Designer, the magazine of the APLD (Association of Professional Landscape Designers), a beautiful and prestigious online publication.

Excerpt: “Inspiring photos of world-class gardens are scattered throughout, but designers will especially appreciate the featured gardens that are profiled at the beginning of each chapter.”


Garden Design magazine is known for stunning photography and in-depth stories about gardens, plants and the people who create them.  This appeared in GD’s weekly newsletter, which offers gardening inspiration and innovative design solutions for enjoying outdoor spaces.

Also: “If you liked Debra Lee Baldwin’s first edition of this book published 10 years ago, then you will definitely have to have a copy of this complete re-write, which includes several featured succulent gardens from designers and dedicated homeowners. . . . a book every succulent lover needs.” —Garden Design Magazine


Phoenix Home and Garden magazine:

Excerpt: “Has everything to keep the succulent lover entertained and plenty of knowledge to help a new gardener become an expert.” 


“A masterly book about the creative use of succulents in modern landscapes.” —John Bagnasco, host of Garden America radio show and co-author of two books about succulents.

“Takes the mystery out of these fascinating plants. The book is well illustrated, full of good information, and eminently readable.” —Brian Kemble, curator of the Ruth Bancroft Garden; board member of Cactus and Succulent Society of America

“Another classic with amazing photos. From images that show you what can be done, to explanations that help you do it, this is a must-have for succulent gardeners.” —Ken Altman, president of Altman Plants

“Many people know about succulents, but using them in the landscape is another matter. Designing with Succulents shows us how; it’s inspiring, practical, and complete—a treasure for any gardener who loves these otherworldly beauties.” —Kathleen N. Brenzel, Sunset magazine

“Home gardeners as well as those looking for a ‘Zen’ book-cation of browsing gorgeous plant photographs should read (and purchase!) Designing with Succulents. Readers will be inspired by both plants and design, and take away principles and projects to incorporate more beauty into their surroundings and everyday lives.” —Esther Jackson, librarian and columnist, New York Botanical Garden’s Plant Talk

“Thanks to Baldwin’s expertise on succulents from propagation to design, beautiful photographs, and personable writing style, [Designing with Succulents] retains its well-deserved status as the bible for succulent gardeners.” —Pam Penick, Digging 

“Gardeners new to these plants will find both useful information and inspiration in this book. Experienced growers of succulents also will discover motivation to explore possibilities for refining their gardens and containers, and enjoying gardening with succulents.” —Tom Karwin, The Santa Cruz Sentinel 

“The second edition of Designing with Succulents is an instant classic. It’s a must-have for any succulent lover, even if you already own the first edition…my most anticipated book of the year.” — Gerhard Bock, Succulents and More

Behind the Scenes with “Designing with Succulents”

Brian Kemble and Debra Lee Baldwin     Photo: Kyle Short

I’m about to give you a behind-the-scenes look at my book, Designing with Succulents (2nd ed.) by sharing Brian Kemble’s comments on its manuscript, prior to publication. He was of one of the proofreaders who went over my plant descriptions.

Brian, a world-renowned horticulturist, shares my obsession with accuracy. However, I lack his decades of studying and growing thousands of cacti and succulents, and his memory for arcane and detailed plant information. Not that succulent cultivation and nomenclature are exact sciences, in fact, they’re rife with gray areas. Discussions can be lively—even heated—when geeks (I use the term respectfully) get together and discuss little-known succulents found only in, say, Zimbabwe or the Great Karoo.

Although Brian revels in that sort of stuff, he’s remarkably engaging when instructing the gardening public. He “gets” that not everyone is interested in obscure genera unsuitable for residential landscapes. At yearly Succulent Extravaganzas at Succulent Gardens nursery 200 miles south of San Francisco, Brian starts the festivities at 8 a.m. with a tour of the display gardens. Despite the nursery’s rural location, he draws dozens of rapt listeners. Most are homeowners who are into gardening—as are the readers of my books.

You might wonder if Brian is eccentric, being so devoted to plants. Does he relate to people, too? Oh, yes. He’s active in the San Francisco Cactus & Succulent Society, travels the world with fellow enthusiasts to observe plants in habitat, lectures widely to C&SS groups, and interacts with visitors at the Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek, CA, where he has served as curator for decades.

Yet there’s a certain reserve to Brian. He’s mild mannered, soft spoken, and polite. He’s not one to leap into the limelight, yet he’s good on camera. When speaking on his favorite topics—cacti and succulents, dry-climate gardening, and landscape design—he does so with a quiet intensity that’s perfectly delivered, interesting and engaging. Plus he has a delightfully dry sense of humor.

You’ll notice these things about his comments too, some of which made me laugh. Granted, much of what follows has to do with nomenclature and what one expert has to say versus another. Yet Brian sifts through all the lofty blather and draws conclusions that are reasonable, helpful, and—to an author whose reputation is at stake—a huge relief.

He’s also exquisitely diplomatic. Brian never states that what I wrote was wrong or stupid, although at times it was. I committed some “howlers”— editors’ slang for errors that, should they find their way into print, would cause erudite readers to howl with dismay (or, possibly, laughter).

Not only do Brian’s comments merit a wider audience, they illustrate the effort that went into the book. Credit also goes to the excellent staff at Timber Press, the largest publisher of gardening books in the US, who focused on style consistency, logical flow, readability, photo selection, design and layout, and copyediting.

If, as you read through Brian’s suggestions, you find one that’s a snooze, skim past it to a nugget or howler. It pleases me to imagine you discovering them as I did, and perhaps vicariously experiencing my mingled dismay, relief and gratitude.

I’ve included a few pages from the published book so you can see the final results as well. Enjoy! ~ Debra Lee Baldwin

Excerpts from horticulturist Brian Kemble’s proofreading comments on the manuscript of Designing with Succulents (2nd edition), by Debra Lee Baldwin ~

Page 37 — Furcraea macdougalii should be macdougallii (note that Fouquieria macdougalii has one L, but the furcraea has two).

Page 99 — I am glad to see you mentioned aeoniums in the caption. Lots of succulents do well in sea-side conditions, but some such as aeoniums and dudleyas seem MADE for this – you should mention dudleyas, too!

Page 101 — The cactus looks like Cleistocactus icosagonus (or Borzicactus icosagonus in Hunt’s newest taxonomy) rather than Disocactus martianus.

For plants to suggest underwater creatures, many gardens use dyckias (like the aptly-named Dyckia ‘Brittle Star’) for a sea star effect. You list medusoid euphorbias under the “sea urchin” category, but isn’t it sea anemones that you mean? Sea urchins have a spiky look, and your listings of E. horrida and polygona are indeed appropriate for this.

Page 114 — In the Thinking Outside the Pot section, I feel a little uneasy about “succulents are not dependent on their roots to survive.” Yes, they can go a long time living off their stored reserves, but sooner or later they need to send out some roots!

Page 122 — In the list of succulents for miniature landscapes, you didn’t mention two of my favorite Crassula species for this purpose: C. tetragona and C. ericoides (I see you do mention the former on the last page). The many dwarf othonnas and tylecodons are also good for this, suggesting larger pachycaul plants like pachypodiums. And a Mestoklema makes a great miniature banyan tree – but one could go on and on with this; the idea is really to just throw out some ideas, letting the reader take the ball and run with it.

Page 133 — In the photo, the plant on left is C. strausii, but the one on the right isn’t (spines too yellow).

Page 148 — To the list of succulents that can be propagated from leaves, you could add gasterias.

Page 176 — The correct name for the agave is A. parryi var. truncata, not A. parryi ‘Truncata’. One might quibble with whether var. truncata is really a good variety or not, but that is the way it is described in Gentry.

Page 177 — According to the Mexican botanists who published Agave pintilla, the name A. nickelsiae has priority over A. ferdinandi-regis because it was published earlier. However, A. ferdinandi-regis is such a well-known name that one can’t ignore it. I would handle this by calling the plant Agave nickelsiae (syn. Agave ferdinandi-regis).

Page 182 — Re aloes, the text says “Native to southern Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and Madagascar…” This could be amended to “Native to southern and eastern Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and Madagascar…” since there are so many widely grown aloes from East Africa, like juvenna, cameronii, camperi, elgonica, etc.

Page 184 — Aloe nobilis is a hybrid and not a species, so it should be rendered Aloe ×nobilis to denote its hybrid origin. Since Aloe maculata has been the accepted name for A. saponaria for quite a few years, I would use it in the caption, with (syn. Aloe saponaria) following, or “also called Aloe saponaria,” as you have done with Aloe vera/barbadensis.

Page 188 — Having just called Aloe dorotheae “arguably the loveliest aloe”, it seems funny a couple of pages later to be crowning Aloe polyphylla as “arguably the most beautiful of all succulents.” Wouldn’t it be better not to repeat the word “arguably” and simply say something like, “Aloe polyphylla, spiral aloe, is one of the most striking of all succulents”?

Page 189 — For the Aloe speciosa photo caption, saying “flowers banded with cream, pink, and rose-red buds” leaves out the rust-orange of the stamens, which seems to me too prominent to ignore.

Page 194 — The text says, “When designing with cacti, keep in mind their three main shapes: columnar forms that have “cereus” in their Latin names (ceroids), those with jointed stems such as Opuntia (paddle cacti and cholla), and globular ones such as mammillarias (pincushions and barrels).” First off, although many of the ceroid cacti do indeed have “cereus” as part of their Latin name, others do not (like Carnegiea or Neobuxbaumia or Backebergia or Browningia or Eulychnia), so perhaps you could say “columnar forms that often have “cereus” as part of their Latin names.” And while the three forms you mention are very important categories when thinking of cacti in the landscape, there are also types of cacti that do not fit in any of the three, like epiphytic cacti or scramblers such as Peniocereus. Here is a stab at a re-wording: When designing with cacti, keep in mind the three distinct forms taken by most of the kinds used in landscaping: the columnar ones that often have “cereus” as part of their Latin names; those with jointed stems such as Opuntia (paddle cacti and chollas); and globular types from large to small (barrels to pincushions).

[Item deleted—DLB] Caption of the Bob Barth astrophytum photo: The fuzz on the Astrophytum areoles (not aureoles) is referred to as “wool.” How to phrase the caption? Here’s an attempt: “…but the plants have furry areoles, the points on a cactus from which flowers, spines or offsets emerge.”

Page 195 — Though many ferocacti become cylindrical as they age, others do not (including the F. latispinus illustrated). And although some kinds form clumps, others remain solitary (like F. acanthodes in the Mojave Desert, F. wislizenii in the Sonoran Desert, etc.). Suggested re-wording: “These ribbed and stout-spined cacti from Mexico and the Southwest are spherical when young, but many become cylindrical with age. Some are solitary, while others eventually form clumps.”

Page 197 — For the Opuntia paragraph, you are on firm ground to say it is the most widespread genus of cactus, but “numerous” is a little trickier. There may be more individual plants of Opuntia than any other genus, but in terms of the number of species they are outdone by mammillarias (The New Cactus Lexicon recognizes 163 species of Mammillaria vs. 74 of Opuntia). Of course, the number of Opuntia species is in much dispute, and the same goes for Mammillaria. Perhaps it is best to avoid pinning yourself down on the number of species: “Opuntia or prickly pear is the most wide-ranging genus in the whole cactus family, occurring from Argentina all the way up to Canada.” Nobody could dispute that.

With regard to chollas, though they used to be classified under Opuntia, they have for some time been treated as a separate genus, Cylinropuntia. Suggested fix: “Those on my keep-away-from list include O. microdasys, due to abundant glochids, and also anything in the related genus Cylindropuntia, known as chollas, since these have vicious spines and cylindrical joints that detach all too easily. Chollas were formerly included in Opuntia.”

Page 197 — The problem of what to call the Santa Rita prickly pear is a vexing one. Benson called it O. violacea var. santa-rita; Anderson and Hunt both provisionally accepted it as a species in its own right (Opuntia santa-rita), and Ferguson in his book Prickly Pears classifies it under O. chlorotica, as O. chlorotica var. santa-rita. I think the easiest thing might be to call it Opuntia santa-rita (often sold as O. violacea var. santa-rita).

There is no such species as Opuntia macrocarpus. There has been debate about what species Opuntia ellisiana is a spineless form of, but most people I know have accepted David Furguson’s conclusion that it is Opuntia cacanapa. Furguson uses the designation O. cacanapa ‘Ellisiana’ – and here we go with Latinized cultivar names! In any case, that is the name in usage, so that’s what I would call it.

Page 199 — The cactus in the photo is certainly not Stenocereus thurberi; looks like Stenocereus marginatus.

Don’t you think it’s a little harsh to say Trichocereus hybrids when not flowering are “no more interesting than utility boxes”?

Page 200 — Do people call the epiphytic cacti “tropical cacti?” I usually hear them called epiphytic cacti or sometimes “jungle cacti,” but am not accustomed to hearing them called tropical cacti. But they are from the tropics…

Page 201 — “Epiphyllum, with long segmented leaves” should be “with long leaf-like segmented stems.” And for “Rhipsalis, which have jointed strands of leaves…” wouldn’t it be better to say, “which have cylindrical or flattened jointed stems”? Just like with opuntia pads, people often mistake flattened cactus stems for leaves, but let’s not encourage this!

The text says, “Grow cotyledons in semishade…” While some species of Cotyledon prefer semishade, haven’t you found that C. orbiculata does well in full sun? It grows fine in full sun in Walnut Creek.

Page 203 — While jadelike crassulas (like C. ovata or C. arborescens) certainly look quite different from stacking ones (like perforata or deceptor or ‘Tom Thumb’), there are plenty of species that don’t fit into either camp (like C. pubescens ssp. radicans or C. multicava, both of which are pictured). Perhaps you could get around this by saying something like, “Crassula is a large and diverse genus containing plants with widely differing forms. Some have definite trunks and look like miniature trees, like the jade tree. Others have stacked leaves which look like they have been threaded along ever-lengthening stems. These two types may seem like they don’t even belong in the same genus, but the key determinant is the flowers, which are tiny, star-shaped, and clustering for both types.” This preserves the contrast you are pointing out, without making it seem like all species of Crassula can be shoe-horned into these two categories.

Crassula ovata — Leaves the size of half-dollars sounds too big; I don’t have one handy to measure, but aren’t they usually more like the size of a quarter? Also, do you think you should put C. argentea in parentheses as a synonym? Plenty of people still call it that.

Page 205 — Crassula perforata — I would say that C. perforata and C. rupestris are both quite common when it comes to stacked-leaf crassulas, and they are very easy to confuse. I think your text is fine as is, but you could include C. rupestris by saying: “Most common of the stacked crassulas are Crassula perforata and Crassula rupestris, two similar species with triangular leaves…” This way the rest of the paragraph can remain unchanged. For the record, though, C. perforata has flowers that tend to be on the cream or yellowish side, while C. rupestris is usually pink or pinkish, which leaves the white-flowered ones in the hard-to-determine category.

Page 206 — Dudleya — The text says D. brittonii rosettes “resemble those of echeverias, but the leaves are flatter and broader, and the tips more pointed.” But there are Echeveria species with leaves flatter and broader than D. brittonii, and plenty with pointed leaves. But it’s hard to know how to concisely state what distinguishes the appearance of dudleyas from echeverias. A greater likelihood of being covered with thick white powder? But then there are dudleyas with none at all. The dead leaves being much more firmly attached to the stems? Maybe so, but you have to wrestle with the plant to find this out. I suppose you could just say something like “their chalky rosettes resemble those of echeverias, and even their flowers look similar, but though the two groups are in the same family, they are not close enough to hybridize.” This mentions the similarity and their degree of relatedness, but without trying to come up with a formula for telling the two apart.Page 211 – Euphorbia — It says: “Flowers of euphorbias are tiny relative to the plants and come in shades of cream, yellow, and rusty red.” This is not untrue, but it fails to point out that yellow is far and away the most common flower color, and neglects to mention ones that are pure white (esculenta) or green (some medusoids and some forms of horrida) or dark purple (‘Snowflake’). Without going on and on, perhaps you could say “Flowers of euphorbias are tiny relative to the plants and are most often yellow, though some come in other colors like white or purple or rusty red.”

Page 212 — Medusoid euphorbias – “…their prostrate, snakelike leaves resemble locks of hair…” Well, first of all we are talking branches here (or arms, as they are sometimes called), not leaves, and the resemblance is not to locks of hair, but to snakes, which is what Medusa had in place of hair. This is a great photo – almost hypnotic – of the spiral center, so let’s have a caption that doesn’t make me cringe! Perhaps: Medusoid euphorbias, so named because the cylindrical arms that emerge from their central heads are reminiscent of Medusa’s head of snakes, have numerous bumpy green stems that radiate from the core of the plant in a Fibonacci spiral. The tiny yellow, white or red flowers arise at the tips of the arms.” I have avoided saying “in spring,” because we have medusoids in flower all the way through October, though spring is indeed the peak season.

Euphorbia ‘Snowflake’ — There has been much debate about whether ‘Snowflake’ is a form of E. horrida or of E. polygona, but the most knowledgeable people I know (like Gerhard Marx) think that it belongs in horrida; thus Euphorbia horrida ‘Snowflake’. Since many people also have it labeled the other way, you could put E. polygona ‘Snowflake’ in parentheses.

Page 216 — Graptopetalum — Perhaps it is splitting hairs, but describing the color of G. paraguayense, I would add lavender: “plants turn gray-blue when grown in shade and take on tinges of lavender, pink and yellow in full sun.”

Page 218 — Haworthia — It is not really accurate to say that “the plants are winter growers that go dormant in the hottest summer months.” Some species are from the winter-rainfall zone in the western part of South Africa, but the majority are from either the overlap zone where rain comes in summer as well as winter, or else from summer-rainfall areas. They tend to slow down or stop growing both in the hottest part of the summer and in the coldest part of the winter, so they do a lot of their growing in the spring and the fall (unless you live in San Francisco, where the “hottest part of the summer” is an oxymoron!).

Page 218 — Hesperaloe — You say the common name for Hesperaloe parviflora is red yucca “because of the color of its flowers.” This explains the “red” in the common name, but leaves out the “yucca” part. Possible re-write: “The common name of red yucca is applied to the most popular species, Hesperaloe parviflora, because its reddish flowers are reminiscent of an aloe, while its leaves with curling threads call to mind its relatives the yuccas.” Note that I am trying to sneak in the idea that its resemblance to an aloe is only superficial, while it really is related to yuccas.

Page 219 — Ice plants — Is there to be no mention of the mimicry-type plants in the ice plant family, like Lithops, etc.? Some of them have such evocative names, like “living stones”, “baby toes”, “split rock”, and “tiger jaws”. But perhaps they are a little too much collectors’ plants and not landscape plants.

[Entry deleted — DLB] Aptenia cordifolia —  I am accustomed to hearing this plant called candy apple, and I think that name is for the true species, while ‘Red Apple’ is a hybrid with another plant and is a brighter red. (Sunset Garden Book identifies the other parent as Platythyra haeckeliana – but who has ever heard of that?).

Page 220 — Kalanchoe — You are correct that the plants once included in Bryophyllum are now considered a subset of Kalanchoe (by most people; there are still those who prefer to keep them separate). I would vote for doing it just the way you have, with Kalanchoe as the primary name and Bryophyllum as a synonym in parentheses.

Page 231 — As to whether Sedum adolphi and S. nussbaumerianum are the same species or not, there is disagreement. Both come from central Veracruz and are no doubt each other’s closest relatives if indeed they are distinct. Miguel Chazaro, who has done much investigation of the plants in Veracruz, thinks they should be considered synonymous. But the plants we have in cultivation are different, with S. adolphi having shorter leaves which are more closely packed together, and more yellow in color, while the plants of nussbaumerianum have longer and pointier leaves which are a little more spaced out along the stem and turn orange rather than yellow (often with a distinct orange margin). For this reason, I prefer to keep them separate, even if it turns out that the two are merely different forms of one species.

Page 238 – Yucca — It says “Plant yuccas in full sun…” but yuccas are very adaptable and can be grown in partial shade or even quite shady conditions (or as house plants), though they may not flower if given too much shade. Regarding the trimming off of old leaves, there are some whose persistent old leaves give an attractive “grass-skirt” look, and might be considered an asset rather than a liability, like Y. rigida, Y. thompsoniana and Y. rostrata. Note that although Y. rostrata may indeed be single-headed, it often divides and becomes multi-headed (though it does not do so as much as the related Y. thompsoniana). To convey this, you might say “…which over time forms a trunk topped by one or more shimmering pincushions of blue-gray leaves.” (Your imaginitive descriptive phrases like “shimmering pincushion” for Y. rostrata and “whipped cream” for yucca flowers are one of the strengths of the book, since they are both evocative and a little humorous, and relate the plants described to familiar things).

Page 274 — It says, “Daylily hybrids come in a multitude of flower colors, including burgundy, pink, and red.” Of course, this means that it comes in these colors in addition to the usual yellows and oranges, but perhaps it would be better to state this, in case there is someone out there in the world who doesn’t know the usual colors of daylilies.

Page 283 — In the rosemary entry, you suggest using it with Senecio mandraliscae to repeat the blue color, and then you came up with a great photo which shows exactly this, but oddly the senecio is left out of the caption, as is the agave which dominates the picture.

Page 285 — For the entry on Tradescantia pallida, it might be worth mentioning that freezing weather will cause it to die back, but it will bounce back vigorously from the roots as long as the ground doesn’t freeze. Then people who plant it won’t pull it out thinking it had died when the above-ground portion turns to mush in winter (as it does every year at Ruth Bancroft Garden).

Watch a 3-min. video taken at the 2017 Succulent Extravaganza, in which I talk about the new book and Brian. 

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.

Succulent wreath
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Stunning Succulent Arrangements by my Craftsy Students

Succulent wreath, Craftsy class

I’m so pleased with designs created by students in my online class, Stunning Succulent Arrangements!

During the 7-lesson class, I explain succulent varieties, care and propagation; and show how to make wreaths, terrariums, floral-style arrangements, a succulent color wheel and more.

Craftsy’s student-oriented approach allows you to take the class anywhere and anytime; pause, rewind and restart at your convenience; view my answers to questions and ask your own; and share projects you’ve made. Access never expires.

Want to join my Craftsy community? Enroll now for half price—$20. 

Craftsy filming in Debra's garden

To film the class, Craftsy—the leading purveyor of online how-to instruction—sent a 3-person crew from their headquarters in Denver to my home near San Diego. They brought enough high-tech equipment to fill a spare bedroom. We spent three intense days filming.

A few more fabulous projects by my students:
Student project, succulent design class

Succulent mini landscape, Craftsy Succulent bridal bouquet, Craftsy

Student succulent wreath, Craftsy

A couple of the Q&A’s:

Craftsy class Q&A2

Craftsy class Q&A
I’m eager to see what you come up with! ~ Debra

Debra Lee Baldwin in her succulent garden
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Debra’s Succulent Garden Redo

This most popular of all my posts appeared in the spring of 2015. I revised it a year later with photos taken since. Enjoy! ~ Debra

Debra's Garden

As I sailed past him one mild January day, trowel in hand, I announced to my husband Jeff my intent to stay home this spring instead of going on tour. “I’m done with delayed flights and sleeping in airports,” I said. “I’m going to have people come here instead.”

I quickly realized the garden needed a LOT of work. It reflected every plant flirtation I’d ever had, and not in a good way. Strappy-leaved perennials blocked views of statuesque agaves. Unpruned roses rambled into aloes. Ivy, Mexican evening primrose, centranthus and babiana (a South African bulb) had gone feral. The auto irrigation system insisted on overwatering certain areas and leaving others bone dry. Day after day I dove into the garden, often spending hours on a few square feet.

Overgrown succulent garden

An overgrown section of the garden.

My gardener, accustomed to working solo during his biweekly visits, was clearly puzzled at how nit-pickey I’d become. Suddenly La  Señora hovered like an angry helicopter. “No lineas direchas!” (no straight lines) I snarled, catching him arranging nursery plants in tidy rows. When traps he set came up empty, I sighed and caught gophers myself. “Don’t do anything I can do,” I explained in imperfect Spanish. “You’re stronger than I am, so no weeding and sweeping. Por favor, place those boulders for me.” When I didn’t like how they looked, he rearranged them without complaint. (The man’s a saint. As is Jeff, who had gone into hiding.)

Succulent rock garden

My motto: A garden can never have too many rocks. This sloping bed is home to dwarf aloes and haworthias, growing in a pumice-rich mix. 

The thing is, I’m a garden photojournalist, not a landscape designer. Words, camera and computer are my primary tools. I understand the inner workings of great succulent gardens because I’ve researched, described and photographed hundreds. I never doubted I could transform my half-acre into a succulent showplace. However, I lack speed. I contemplate how something might be improved, then I experiment, stand back, and tweak or redo it. Did I mention that the garden had to be perfect? People hold authors to a higher standard. But I wanted more than perfection. I wanted innovation.

Succulent lily pond by Debra Lee Baldwin
My dry pond has thin, nearly spineless cactus pads I ordered from Florida (!) and graptoveria rosettes. 

Innovation means you reach deep inside and pull out creativity you didn’t know you had. It’s risky. Sometimes your guts come with it. Yet more and more (at least for me), so did a pleasure so visceral it defies description. Pretty soon, all I wanted was to be outdoors. By sunset I was mud-smeared, with oak catkins in my hair and bloody scratches from a cactus so astonishingly purple I had to have it, even though it’s a mean little thing.

Garden art and succulents

The newly planted cactus garden included a prickly kitty. 

Oaks that arch over an expanse of flagstone—a newly installed gathering area—seemed intent on concealing it with fallen leaves. Consequently, I was devastated when my grown son came down with a cold and postponed adding electricity to the lower garden (his Christmas gift to me). I needed it for my new leaf blower—a sopladora de hojas. When at last I plugged it in, leaves flew upward like locusts and descended on the new succulent tapestry. I thought about the literal translation of sopladora—“that which blows, incites or inflames”– as I attempted to harness the 150 mile-per-hour blast.

Succulent tapestry garden

One of two succulent tapestries by designer Laura Eubanks.

Late every afternoon I observed with dismay the slow goldening of surrounding hills. For once, I welcomed Daylight Savings Time. When the faint clink of neighbors’ silverware made me realize I was hungry, I pulled sweet-tart tangerines from one of the trees. The streetlight’s awakening was the definitive signal to quit, yet there was always something essential to do. My night vision improved. I lost weight, gained muscle tone and acquired mysterious bruises. I rediscovered how marvelous a mosquito bite feels when scratched. I looked in the mirror and saw my mother, who seemed older than I remembered. Jeff noticed it too and asked, “Are you sure this is less stressful than traveling?”

Admittedly, I was ambivalent. I was having a ball, but also worried I wouldn’t finish in time. Offering tours and workshops had shoved me out of my comfort zone, yet also had served as a catalyst. Nothing motivates a journalist like deadlines.

And people indeed were coming. Three months after the process had begun, on the eve of the spiffed-up garden’s debut, the streetlight revealed La Señora shoveling desert-hued decomposed granite onto remaining bare spots. The moon was full (and no doubt the neighbors relieved) when the leaf blower’s intense purr gave way to distant, maniacal yips of coyotes. As I left my shoes at the back door, it dawned on me that I, too, am a sopladora. I fling things, make noise, incite, inflame and, despite missteps, eventually make a clean sweep. Yet I had managed to transform my garden into three-dimensional art and another form of communication. Whether in books, photos, videos or presentations—or with plants, rocks, snarls and sweat—my goal is to entertain and enlighten in equal measure. It’s how I define joy.

Future posts will offer more about my garden. Modesty aside, I think you’ll find them succulent. ;+)

Debra Lee Baldwin in her succulent garden

Spring, 2016 update:

People did indeed come to the garden. Because I had to charge a lot to make it worthwhile and cover expenses (such as increased homeowner’s liability insurance), I stressed out trying to make everything perfect. If you came to one of the tours or workshops, thank you, and please know I loved having you. But now my attitude is: Never again!  I suspect my real motivation was to justify spending so much time, money and effort on the garden. And now it’s done. Well, more or less. (Is a garden ever finished?)

Debra Lee Baldwin in her garden

One group came to see Laura Eubanks, far right, install a second tapestry. 

But hey, you can visit my garden any time you like. I’ve filmed numerous YouTube videos in it, including this recent one about replanting one of its overgrown beds:

Debra shows how to trim and replant succulents

In addition to hand’s-on advice, the video includes photos of the bed as it changed over the years.  

What if you REALLY want to come see my garden, in person? I do occasionally give private tours for visiting VIPs. Email me. 

For more great landscaping ideas, see my book Designing with Succulents (2nd ed.).


Debra Lee Baldwin, Garden Photojournalist, Author and Succulent Expert Debra Lee Baldwin, Garden Photojournalist, Author and Succulent Expert

Connect with Debra on Google+

 


 

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Katie’s Succulent Wreath Class

On a December Saturday that couldn’t have been more perfect weather-wise, a couple dozen ladies assembled at Buena Creek Gardens nursery north of San Diego to make succulent wreaths. Katie Christensen, a talented young designer from the Seattle area conducted the class. I had fun helping her, seeing old friends and making new ones, and recording the occasion with my camera.

For more about wreath-making, see my other blog posts: Make a Succulent Wreath and Succulent Wreath Tips and Ideas; go to my books Succulent Container Gardens pp. 176-178 and Designing with Succulents (1st ed.) pp. 113-117; sign up for my Craftsy class (get 50% off); and watch my YouTube video, Design and Plant a Succulent Wreath.

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For more wreath-making tips and ideas, view my other blog posts: Make a Succulent Wreath and Succulent Wreath Tips and Ideas; see my books Succulent Container Gardens pp. 176-178 and Designing with Succulents pp. 113-117; sign up for my Craftsy class (get 50% off); and watch my YouTube video, Design and Plant a Succulent Wreath.

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Holiday Decorating with Succulents

This time of year, the succulent elves bundle up, go into the garden, and transform it into a holiday wonderland. Should I reward them with cocoa, or considering their size, chocolate chips?

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When you’re not much bigger than a caterpillar, you take your life in your hands when you decorate an agave. But look at the results!

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Yikes. Santa must have spilled the contents of his sleigh. I understand why the elves left the presents where they landed, don’t you?

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Aw. Look how they refilled his sleigh. IMG_5149bSo many agaves, so little time…

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Ho, ho, ho.

Debra Lee Baldwin on Craftsy
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Stunning Succulent Arrangements Class

 

Stunning Succulent Arrangements

I’m very pleased to announce my in-depth online class: Stunning Succulent Arrangements. It’s available through Craftsy, a Denver-based company that offers a fresh, high-quality approach to online learning. Craftsy began in 2011, and their success has been phenomenal, doubtless due to their dedication to quality. Craftsy spends upward of $15,000 to develop and film each class. To create Stunning Succulent Arrangements, a five-person Craftsy crew came to my home and turned my family room into a film studio. Good news: Use this link to take 50% off the regular enrollment price of $40!

Debra Lee Baldwin Craftsy Review

 

 


 

Events

2018 Northwest Flower & Garden Festival, Seattle

The best of the West! Join me at the second largest flower-and-garden show in the US, second only to Philadelphia. I’ve spoken there numerous times, and each time I’ve been wowed by the exhibits and speakers. The convention center is downtown, with sweeping views of the waterfront, near many wonderful shops and restaurants. I’m giving two presentations ~

Wed., Feb. 7 at 11:15/Hood Room/Book signing to follow: Sensational, Easy-Care Succulents in Containers
Eye-catching ideas for portable gardens that range from vertical displays and hostess gifts to multi-plant arrangements.

Thurs., Feb. 8 at 12:30/Hood Room/Book signing to follow: Designing with Succulents in the Pacific Northwest
Debra gives her perspective on the surging popularity of “plants that drink responsibly,” not only in warm, dry regions of the US but also in cool, wet climates like Seattle’s.

2018 Northwest Flower & Garden Festival, Seattle

The best of the West! Join me at the second largest flower-and-garden show in the US, second only to Philadelphia. I’ve spoken there numerous times, and each time I’ve been wowed by the exhibits and speakers. The convention center is downtown, with sweeping views of the waterfront, near many wonderful shops and restaurants. I’m giving two presentations ~

Wed., Feb. 7 at 11:15/Hood Room/Book signing to follow: Sensational, Easy-Care Succulents in Containers
Eye-catching ideas for portable gardens that range from vertical displays and hostess gifts to multi-plant arrangements.

Thurs., Feb. 8 at 12:30/Hood Room/Book signing to follow: Designing with Succulents in the Pacific Northwest
Debra gives her perspective on the surging popularity of “plants that drink responsibly,” not only in warm, dry regions of the US but also in cool, wet climates like Seattle’s.

2018 Northwest Flower & Garden Festival, Seattle

The best of the West! Join me at the second largest flower-and-garden show in the US, second only to Philadelphia. I’ve spoken there numerous times, and each time I’ve been wowed by the exhibits and speakers. The convention center is downtown, with sweeping views of the waterfront, near many wonderful shops and restaurants. I’m giving two presentations ~

Wed., Feb. 7 at 11:15/Hood Room/Book signing to follow: Sensational, Easy-Care Succulents in Containers
Eye-catching ideas for portable gardens that range from vertical displays and hostess gifts to multi-plant arrangements.

Thurs., Feb. 8 at 12:30/Hood Room/Book signing to follow: Designing with Succulents in the Pacific Northwest
Debra gives her perspective on the surging popularity of “plants that drink responsibly,” not only in warm, dry regions of the US but also in cool, wet climates like Seattle’s.