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A Succulent Centerpiece in Five Easy Steps

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To create the composition shown here, the designer chose a white-painted wooden urn 12 inches in diameter and 8 inches tall, with a basin 3 inches deep. Plants include ‘Sunburst’ aeonium, Echeveria ‘Perle von Nurnberg’, burro tail sedum, assorted blue echeverias, lithops (living stones), and Seneco radicans (fish hooks).

Instructions follow. Be sure to see more lovely centerpieces in my book, Succulent Container Gardens. Learn how to make them in my online Craftsy class, Stunning Succulent Arrangements. And visit my YouTube channel for more great ideas for designing with succulents!  

 

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  1. Cut a circle from heavy mil plastic (such as a trash bag) and use it to line the basin. Fill with potting mix and press down on the soil with your palms to compact it. Form a mound several inches high in the middle that slopes to just below the rim.

 

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2. In the center, plant an upright cluster of the largest rosettes.

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3. Tuck smaller plants or cuttings around the center grouping, facing outward at a slight angle.

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4. When the arrangement is nearly finished but still has some gaps, use a chopstick to push roots of remaining plants into the soil, and to tuck and conceal the edge of the plastic below the rim.

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  1. Gently brush spilled soil off the leaves, then water the completed arrangement lightly to settle the roots.

Design by Susan Teisl of Chicweed floral design shop, Solana Beach, California

See more lovely centerpieces in my book, Succulent Container Gardens. Learn how to make them in my online Craftsy class, Stunning Succulent Arrangements. Visit my YouTube channel for more great ideas for designing with succulents. ~ Debra Lee Baldwin 

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How to Propagate Succulents

Aaron Ryan takes a cutting from a stacked crassula

Ever wondered how to propagate a certain succulent? For example, lithops (living stones)…is it possible to take cuttings from those thick, molar-shaped leaves? How about ruffled echeverias…can a solitary rosette be made to offset? And stacked crassulas…what do you do when stems are tightly lined with leaves? 

Most succulents can be propagated vegetatively—via stem cuttings, pulling apart offsets, or rooting leaves. To the novice, of course, such tasks are mystifying. How deep, for example, does one plant a leaf? 

Even more challenging are succulents that make propagators pull out a power drill, coffee grinder, or tub of roofing gravel—all tools routinely used by nurseryman-grower Aaron Ryan of Petaluma, CA. 

Aaron is down-to-earth in more ways than one. At past Succulent Extravaganzas at Succulent Gardens Nursery, he graciously showed standing-room-only audiences a half dozen ways to propagate a variety of succulents. 

Somehow watching Aaron grind seed pods, guillotine a frilly echeveria, or snip a stacked crassula is soothing. You know those babies are gonna make it. You also know that with Aaron’s methods, you’ll soon have plenty of new plants to play with. 

Impressed by his teaching skills, I’ve made several videos that feature Aaron. They’re short (4 to 6 min.), fun to watch, and easy to follow. You’ll find them on my YouTube channelplaylist “Succulent Propagation.” Or click below.

To be notified when I release a new video, subscribe to my YouTube channel. 

FIND “How to Propagate Succulents” IN MY BOOKS ~

Designing with Succulents, 2nd ed., pp. 148-154

Succulent Container Gardens, pp. 232-235

Succulents Simplified, pp. 58-61

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Summer Care for Your Succulents

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Create temporary shade structures from old window screens.

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

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

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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?

Echeveria and Crassula falcata
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The Succulents of Birdsong

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

Aloes in bloom

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

 

Succulents for San Diego

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

 

Agave and yucca garden

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

 

Blue columnar cactus

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

 

Agaves and bromeliads

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

 

Kalanchoe luciae and burro tail in a car-part pot

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

 

Agaves glow in the sun

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

 

Echeveria and Crassula falcata

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

 

Echeverias bloom in a pot near a koi pond

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

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.

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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. 

 

 


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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Should You Let Your Flapjack Plants Bloom?

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You’re probably aware of flapjack plant (Kalanchoe luciae), a succulent that’s popular because of the color of its leaves. (Shown above at Waterwise Botanicals nursery, perfectly timed for Valentine’s Day.)

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Like other succulents with overlapping leaves along a single stem, when Kalanchoe luciae blooms, the entire plant elongates. This is how those in my window box looked in March of last year.

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If your goal is to have a lot of new little plants, one option is to let the mother plant bloom. Providing it survives the effort (they usually do, but not always), you’ve hit the jackpot. Harvest each cluster with several inches of stem attached to anchor it, and start it as a cutting. Roots will grow from leaf axils (where leaves are attached to the stem).

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I didn’t want awkwardly tall plants in my window box, so when the flapjacks started to elongate in March, I snipped off the bloom spikes. The mother plants seemed determined to flower regardless, and buds grew from leaf axils beneath the cut. I was just as determined they weren’t going to flower, so I pinched out the buds.

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Within a month, the plants’ topmost leaves turned beige and crisp along the edges. I’m not sure why this happened, but I trimmed them to keep the plants tidy.

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By June, new little leaves concealed the truncated stems, indicating that the plants had been gearing up to produce offsets. When they couldn’t do it along a bloom spike, they did so closer to the core.

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Here’s how one of the plants looked in August.

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And again in October. Other plants in the window box are blue echeverias and Euphorbia tirucalli ‘Sticks on Fire’. The composition looks fine, but would be even better if those flapjacks would turn as red as they were at the nursery! (Hm. Topic for a future post? “How to Keep your Flapjacks Red.” Advice welcome!)

 

 

Shooting a Succulent Prodigy

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Country Gardens magazine, published by Better Homes and Gardens, sent Ed Gohlich, one of the top garden photographers in the US, to the home of Matthew Wong, then 11, to shoot him with his succulent collection. I served as field editor and writer and took photos, too. The article is in the early spring 2016 issue, on newsstands nationwide and online. If you’d like to give the magazine a thumb’s up, you can do so on its Facebook page. Also enjoy my ten-video series, Succulent Matters with Matthew, on my YouTube channel. (In the most recent, you’ll join Matthew as he explores my garden.) And if you’d like to visit Matthew’s blog and connect with this remarkable kid, here’s the link.
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Ed’s assistant arranges plants for Matthew to hold.

 

 

Below: Matthew mugs for the camera, pretending to bite a cactus.

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Below: Stapeliads have stunning flowers that smell like rotting meat in order to attract flies and other pollinators.

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Below: We shot some of Matthew’s drawings of succulents, too.

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Here’s what to look for when you’re in line at the supermarket. This issue’s article on monarch butterflies is another reason to buy it. (Saving the monarch is one of my favorite topics, too. Click here for my post about an aloe garden designed for monarchs.) 

Country Gardens cover

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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.

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.