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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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Ten Reasons Why You Really Need Rocks

My new YouTube video

Remember when crushed-rock front yards were a ’60s retirement-community cliche? Not any longer! Nowadays smart designers cover bare soil with rocks to create gardens that are as sophisticated and good-looking as they are practical.

“Before” photo of driveway planting

 

Driveway garden, “after” (newly installed)

In my latest video, Van Liew Garden Redo, San Diego landscape designer Steve McDearmon explains how he installs succulents amid swaths of warm-toned Mojave Gold gravel, Hickory Creek rubble rock, and Honey Quartz boulders (all from Southwest Boulder and Stone). Though subtle, the rocks are as important as the plants.

Reasons for rocks:

— They need no maintenance and look the same forever.

— They contrast texturally with walls, pavement, and plants.

— They add color and cohesion to a landscape.

— They moderate soil temperature, keeping it warmer in winter and cooler in summer.

— They hold moisture in the soil and inhibit evaporation.

— They prevent erosion by diffusing the impact of rain.

— They give a garden a finished look. (Doubtless you already know that topdressing is important for containers. The same is true of gardens.)

— They’re visually intriguing, especially when several sizes combine.

— When used to create flowing lines in the landscape, they lend design interest and emphasize focal points.

— By shading the soil, they prevent weeds from germinating. (And any that do pop up are easier to pull.)

Your (fun) homework:  Browse my newly released, second edition of Designing with Succulents and notice how rocks enhance many of the gardens. 

Aloe glauca

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

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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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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

Agave victoriae-reginae
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My Succulent Meditation Garden

No doubt you’ve experienced how gardening can be a form of meditation. But have you considered how the plants themselves might enhance your sense of serenity? I’m conceptualizing a meditation area with succulents that incorporate soothing geometric patterns and spirals.

Agave victoriae-reginae

Stretched canvas wall art piece by Debra Lee Baldwin

The eye never tires of following a circular design. Case in point: I sometimes catch myself staring at this canvas print, above, in my living room. (It’s more relaxing than the TV.)

My meditation garden will have at its center an egg chair in which I can swing and rock—a happy reminder of my childhood. I’ll arrange rosette succulents (see list below) around it, vary their sizes and distances, and create groupings of them that in themselves offer repetitions. The area will be in dappled shade, bordered by a terrace on one side and pots on the other. A solar-powered fountain will muffle traffic and neighborhood noise.

Deep-toned, bell-like wind chimes will provide a pleasant sound and enhance my awareness of breezes. I listened to several wind chimes (anything’s possible on the Internet) and ordered Corinthian Bells 44-inch wind chimes. At $116 they’re a splurge, but anything smaller was too high pitched. (It helps that the fountain and chair are bargains.)

Additional tactile elements are the warmth of the sun, fresh air filling my lungs (“remember to breathe!” says my yoga instructor), cushy outdoor pillows, and maybe my dog on my lap. (I’d prefer a purring cat, but my husband’s allergic. Memo: See if neighbor will loan me her kitty.)

As for fragrance…in spring my garden has scents of orange blossoms and wisteria, and I’ve often thought of trying to grow jasmine again (my first attempt failed), but it’s easier to simply find incense I like. Doesn’t incense for outdoors sound wonderful? I ordered this assortment, which includes sandalwood, jasmine and others.

Finally, I’ll invigorate my taste buds with chilled water that has a few drops of mint essential oil. Or if it’s chilly, a cup of hot chamomile tea.

On to the plants! Here’s my short list of favorite symmetrical succulents:

— Large aeoniums, ideally variegated

04-Aeonium 'Sunburst'

— Graptoveria ‘Fred Ives’

Graptoveria 'Fred Ives'

— Pachyverias

33-Pachyveria

— Sempervivums that have offset in a hens-and-chicks fashion

91-Sempervivum

— Large, colorful echeverias

45-Echeveria, ruffled hybrid

— Echeveria imbricata

51-Echeveria imbricata

— Echeveria ‘Topsy Turvy’

103-Echeveria 'Cubic Frost'

— Euphorbia ‘Snowflake’

37-Euphorbia 'Snowflake'

— Stacked crassulas

Crassula capitella ssp thyrsiflora

— Agave lophantha ‘Quadricolor’

151-Agave lophantha 'Quadricolor'

— Agave victoriae-reginae

141-Agave victoriae-reginae

— Agave parryi ‘Truncata’


Agave parryi var truncata

— Aloe nobilis or any symmetrical red-orange aloe

21-Aloe nobilis

I’ll keep you posted as it all comes together. In the meantime…The newly popular activity of coloring a detailed line drawing also reduces stress, and mandalas (which means “circle” in Hindu) are useful as meditation aids. You’ll find succulent mandalas plus line drawings of the plants shown above in my coloring book for adults, Sensational Succulents. 

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Nancy’s Award-Winning Succulent Garden

Award-winning succulent front yard in Southern California
Kangaroo paws enhance Nancy’s succulent garden

When Nancy Dalton emailed me that her garden had won the city of San Diego’s drought tolerant landscaping contest, I was ON it. I’d visited her garden earlier during the Horticultural Society’s spring garden tour, and immediately went back with my camera and camcorder. (Here’s the resulting 5-minute YouTube video.)

Nancy lives in a housing development in Carmel Valley’s mild, frost-free coastal climate. Landscape designers Samantha Owens of Barrels and Branches nursery and Michael Buckner of Deeter Buckner Design helped with soil amendments, plant selection, placement, and installation. Nancy’s also very knowledgeable about plants and is a hand’s-on gardener.

Here are a dozen lovely and practical lessons from her garden:

  1. Combine filamented agaves with yuccas for great shape repetitions.Succulent landscaape Shapes of succulents repeat and contrast throughout the garden.
  2. Incorporate plants that provide texture, like kangaroo paws and Agave filifera. Agave multifilifera in the front yard succulent garden. An agave with white filaments appears to spin.
  3. Sculpt the terrain with berms and valleys, and incorporate a pathway or dry stream bed.
  4. Group plants with a high element, such as Euphorbia tirucalli ‘Sticks on Fire’ with medium-sized succulents such as barrel cacti and variegated elephant’s food (Portulacaria afra ‘Variegata’) and low-growing blue Senecio mandraliscae or Othonna capensis.
  5. Position cacti and yuccas, which are native to the desert Southwest, atop mounded soil so water doesn’t collect around their roots.
  6. A fountain near a sitting area blankets neighboring noise and creates a sense of serenity.
  7. Have an herb garden in a grouping of large terracotta pots. This keeps the plants under control (some, like mints, are invasive) and makes them easy to water, tend, harvest, or replace.Pot grouping of herbs Herb garden in containers
  8. Contrast cobalt blue pots with bright orange coppertone stonecrop (Sedum nussbaumerianum).Fountain surrounded by succulents Blue and orange succulents create dramatic contrast
  9. Lend interest to a blank wall with three brightly-glazed pots containing a tall, columnar cactus, a mounding euphorbia, and Agave lophantha ‘Quadricolor’, which has a starburst look.Pot grouping in Nancy Dalton's succulent garden Vivid pots contain sculptural succulents
  10. Grow small agaves (such as A. ‘Quadricolor’, A. victoriae-reginae, and A. colorata) in pots; midsized ones (such as A. ‘Blue Glow’ and A. potatorum) in the ground, and avoid those (such as A. americana) that get too large and pup excessively.Agave victoriae-reginae in a pot A geometric potted agave sits alongside the front door.
  11. To create the look of rushing water in a dry creek bed, line it with cobbles turned sideways.Cobbles appear to be rushing water A dry stream bed “flows” through the succulent garden.
  12. Top-dress bare soil with gravel to lend a finished look and to help hold moisture in the soil.

Watch the video.

Many thanks to designers Michael and Jenise Deeter for these “before” photos of Nancy’s front yard:

DSC_1350resized

BucknerDSC_1345_resized

BucknerIMG_6208_resized

BucknerIMG_6243_resized

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Make a Succulent Mug Gift Bouquet

I’m not much of a cook, so instead of a prepared dish, I like to bring my hostess a succulent floral bouquet.Succulent coffee mug bouquet

Mugs sold individually at home goods stores and secondhand shops make great gifts, especially when filled with succulent rosettes that suggest exotic flowers.

How to give succulents stems

Succulents wired onto faux stems are long lasting and can themselves be planted later as cuttings.

Materials for succulent bouquet

I prefer to use a mug of my own design (available online from my Zazzle store), but any nice one will do.

Colorful succulent cuttings for mug bouquetYou’ll need a dozen colorful succulent cuttings…

Materials for succulent gift mug

…sand for ballast (so the stems stay upright), 22-gauge floral wire, stretchy green floral tape, garden snippers, and wire cutters.

Succulent gift mug bouquet

See each step in my recent video: How to Make a Succulent Mug Bouquet.

Succulent gift mug video

And if you like this idea, check out my earlier post on how to make A Succulent Bouquet in Colored Sand. It features wired succulent rosettes in a slender glass bottle filled with layers of sand.

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. 

 

 


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

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