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Designing with Cold-Climate Succulents

Becky Sell of Sedum Chicks plants cold-hardy succulents in repurposed wood-and-metal containers, hypertufa pots, wreaths and more. She grows the plants, too, where she lives in Turner, Oregon, near the Washington border.

Becky’s compositions can overwinter outdoors in northerly climates (Zones 4 to 8), providing the potting medium drains well. Cold-hardy succulents such as stonecrops and hens-and-chicks will also grow in Zones 8 and 9 if protected from heat in excess of 85 degrees and scorching sun. Some varieties, notably shrub sedums, die to the ground in any locale and come back the following spring.

In her designs, Becky often combines sedums (stonecrops), sempervivums (hens-and-chicks), and Delosperma ice plants. Of a little-known Rosularia species with soft, light green leaves, she says, “When people ask which plant is my favorite, this is definitely on the list.”

There are about 35 species in the genus Rosularia. The sempervivum-like succulents come from Europe, the Himalayas, and northern Africa.

Find more photos of succulents for Northern climates—including many of Becky’s favorites—on my website’s new Cold-Hardy Succulents page. I photographed the designs shown here during the Northwest Flower & Garden Show at the Sedum Chicks booth, which won an award for outstanding visual appeal.

Below: This bright red vertical container was a hit. At right, I darkened the photo to make plant IDs, in white letters, stand out.

Below: Sempervivum ‘Jade Rose’ repeats the teal blue of a Sedum spathulifolium cultivar.

Below: In a cold-hardy wreath, Becky surrounded a large sempervivum rosette with smaller sedums, Delosperma cooperi (at lower left), and Sedum confusum (lower right).

Below: I’ve ID’d the three sedums in this wreath at right. Becky gives her plants “hair cuts” to keep them compact.

“I like its dark edges,” Becky says of Sempervivum ‘Black’, shown below in dramatic contrast with chartreuse Sedum ‘Lemon Coral’. At lower right is a succulent native to Oregon: Sedum oreganum.

Becky and husband Paul create planters from repurposed wood and metal. The bronzy succulents below are Sedum confusum, which blushes red-orange in a sunny location. When less confused, it’s bright apple green.

For wreaths and vertical gardens, Becky uses sphagnum moss to help hold plants in place. She emphasizes the importance of good drainage, which is true for all succulents, but especially those in rainy climates. Succulents from cold climates tend to have thin or small leaves and want a richer potting soil than thicker-leaved varieties from desert regions. Becky recommends Black Gold’s organic mix.

In my YouTube video, “Sedum Chicks at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show,” Becky explains how to select, cultivate and beautifully combine cold-hardy succulents.

 

Learn more about succulents for northerly climates:

On my website:

— Find tips on care and cultivation, plus resources at How to Grow Succulents in Northerly Climates

— See labeled varieties of excellent, readily available varieties on my Cold-Hardy Succulents page. 

On my YouTube channel:

Growing Succulents in Northerly Climates: Part One of my presentation at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show. See gorgeous new Sempervivum cultivars and inspiring, eye-catching design ideas.

Growing Succulents in Northerly Climates, Part Two of my presentation at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show. More cool succulents for cold climates and how to select, grow and design with them.

Sedum Chicks at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show. Pacific NW designer/grower Becky Sell explains how to select, care for and beautifully combine cold-hardy sedums, semps and other succulents.

Make a Frost-Hardy Succulent Wreath with Hens-and-Chicks. Simple steps to a stunning wreath!

In my books:

— See the Cold-Climate Succulent Gardens section of Designing with Succulents (2nd ed.).

— Find info in all my books about succulents in the genera Sedum, Sempervivum, Delosperma and more.

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Tips from a Top Container Garden Designer

Melissa Teisl of Fresh Chic is the designer whose artistry I show most in my book, Succulent Container Gardens. 

Melissa and her mom, Susan, had a floral shop in Solana Beach, CA when I met them in ’07. Then Susan retired, and Melissa (with partner Jon Hawley) launched CW Design & Landscaping, specializing in gorgeous in-ground gardens.

But container gardens are Melissa’s first love (OK, except for Jon), so this dynamic couple—who also are in Succulents Simplified and Designing with Succulents—spun off Fresh Chic, CW’s boutique and container-garden division.

Melissa Teisl designs in Succulent Container Gardens

These photos from Succulent Container Gardens showcase Melissa’s aesthetic. She…

— Picks succulents in scale with their containers.
— Repeats plants’ colors and/or forms in her container selections.
— Uses lines and shapes of pots to lead the eye and frame the plants.
— Plants densely for a lavish look and uses topdressing to conceal the soil.
— Sets a container atop a table that becomes part of the composition.
— Expands her palette with non-succulents. A pink-striped cordyline adds drama to a tall pot; crypthanthus bromeliads create a wreath’s “bow.”
— Jazzes up gift arrangements with real bows of satin or velvet.

Learn more (from Melissa herself!) in my how-to video about hanging containers.

See Fresh Chic’s succulent designs at San Diego’s Spring Home/Garden Show, March 2-4, in the outdoor vendor area. Btw, social media really “likes” Melissa’s innovative, photogenic combos, so have your cell phone handy!

If you happen to be in Southern California, here’s a Free Pass to the Spring Home/Garden Show

Spring Home Show tickets

Come see me at the Show! I’m giving two new presentations and signing all three of my books, including the new 2nd edition of Designing with Succulents.

Fri., March 2 at noon and Sat., March 3 at 11:00, join me in the Bing Crosby exhibit hall in the presenters’ area (southwest corner). Also enjoy display gardens by top designers. The Show’s all about helping you make your home and outdoor living spaces your own private paradise.

Don’t pay admission! Come as my guest/s. You’ll still have to pay parking, but my VIP pass for two lets you waltz right in. (Print it out and bring it with you, like you would an airline boarding pass.) Hey! It’s worth $18! 

Books by Debra Lee Baldwin
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Seen at Succulent Extravaganza ’17

Members of the Succulent Fanatics 2 Facebook Group take advantage of a hanging frame planted with sempervivums and echeverias. A perfect photo-op!

The 7th annual Succulent Extravaganza (Fri-Sat, Sept. 29-30) at Succulent Gardens Nursery in Castroville, CA drew about 1,000 visitors a day. Not bad for a relatively small wholesale/retail nursery out in the boonies 100 miles south of San Francisco. There’s an energy there, some might say a vortex, that whirls visitors into a state of enchantment.

Debra Lee Baldwin and Hannah Eubanks

Hannah Eubanks, designer Laura Eubanks‘ daughter, was my assistant and took lots of footage of event highlights and my presentations. During the Extravaganza, Hannah posted short videos on my Instagram and Facebook pages. I’ll soon release longer, edited versions on YouTube. To be notified of new releases, subscribe to my YouTube channel.

Although the greenhouses themselves, viewed from outside, are about as pretty as quonset huts (which they resemble) there’s true magic inside—rows and rows of perfectly grown echeverias, aloes, kalanchoes, haworthias, sedums, sempervivums and more.

Much of the fun of returning year after year is seeing old friends and making new ones. The staff is friendly and welcoming, plant enthusiasts come from near and far, stellar speakers like Brian Kemble of the Ruth Bancroft Garden share their knowledge. Nursery founder and fellow book author Robin Stockwell was there, as were many delightful members of the Facebook group “Succulent Fanatics 2” founded by San Jose designer Laura Balaoro.

Laura Balaoro of the Succulent Fanatics 2 Facebook group, with her snorkeling-themed succulent display

Laura’s also known for her stunning succulent decorated hats. (See my article about her in Country Gardens.) I think she outdid herself on this one, don’t you?

Laura Balaoro’s sea-themed, succulent decorated hat

 

A barn door’s peeling paint makes a great backdrop for this sempervivum-planted square

All sizes and shapes of containers suitable for planting are available at the nursery. They seem to have the best selection of wooden ones anywhere.

 

IMHO, the nursery’s potted succulent gardens were better than ever this year

Also at the 2017 Extravaganza, I launched my new book, the completely revised and updated second edition of Designing with Succulents. We sold out the first day.

Audiences for my presentations were enthusiastic and engaged.

A speaker’s dream! SRO!

When it seemed the Extravaganza couldn’t get any better, my book’s publisher Timber Press provided a succulent-decorated cake!

The cake, by Sweet Reba’s of Carmel, CA, combines succulents with books

For more, I recommend Gerhard Bock’s “Succulents and More” blog posts about the Extravaganza.

Subscribe to my YouTube channel to be notified of new releases. Those filmed at the event will show clever uses of topdressings, a bouquet of echeveria flowers, how to compose a perfect plant-pot combo, growing succulents in nondraining containers, how to keep aeoniums looking good, agaves for your garden, Brian Kemble on in-ground succulents, Aaron Ryan on succulent propagation, how to refresh a tired container garden, and much more!

Find out more about what I’m up to! 

LA Drought-Tolerant Plant Festival Highlights

At the recent Drought Tolerant Plant Festival, I managed to smile despite sitting on a cactus cOUCH.

Debra Lee Baldwin cactus couch

The LACSS (Los Angeles chapter of the Cactus & Succulent Society of America) hosts this popular garden festival every June at the Sepulveda Garden Center (a community garden) in Encino, CA. The setting is parklike, with grass underfoot and tall trees providing shade. As you approach the festival area, you walk past garden plots tended by members of the community, each space abundant with flowers and fruit-bearing vines. Some even have little sitting areas, arches and birdbaths.

An auditorium on the grounds is perfect for hosting flower shows and meetings, and during the Festival it served well to showcase beautifully staged, rare and collectible succulents owned by club members, who number 200. This one is part of a larger exhibit of sansevierias:

Cascading sansevieria

The vendor tents were enticing, and despite being busy at the book signing table, I found time to hunt for my favorite souvenirs: one-of-a-kind, artist-designed pots perfect for succulents. These are by Regina Fernandez of Port Town Pottery:

Succulent pottery

I was happy to meet Pablo of Peetypots, whose pottery I had admired on Instagram and Facebook’s Succulent Infatuation group. I also ran into the group’s moderator, Monica Guiterrez, who flattered me immensely by dashing to her car and returning with several of my books to sign.

Pablo of Peetypots

As you might expect, there was a good selection of beautifully grown succulents, such as these intriguing aloes:

colorful aloes

Sadly, when I returned to buy it, this lovely Aloe nobilis ‘Variegata’ was gone:

Aloe nobilis 'Variegata'

The Desert Creations Nursery booth was among the busiest. Owners Kim and Artie Chavez graciously provided plants for my presentation, which included a discussion of colorful succulents for the landscape. Typical of members of the LACSS and its parent organization, the Cactus & Succulent Society of America, Kim and Artie are avid plant collectors eager to share their knowledge.
Desert Creations nursery

At her booth, Sandy Johnson of Hearts of Jade Succulent Garden Art and Gift Shop in Moorpark, CA, had these cute socks for sale:
succulent socks

During my presentation, I “Morticia pruned” the wiry flower stalks of this Haworthia limifolia x striata. The term, coined by me, means “to snip off healthy flowers.” (If you’re old enough, you may recall that Morticia Addams of the TV series “The Addams Family” routinely pruned healthy blooms off her rose bushes.)

morticia pruning

The weather was perfectly cool and cloudy, and the Festival had an excellent turnout both days. (Yay!)

Debra Lee Baldwin presentation

For the potting demo part of my presentation, I made this arrangement consisting of Aloe ‘Pink’, Echeveria purpusorum and pachyverias in a pink hypertufa pot:

Succulent arrangement

Arguably the best part of the event were the Kids Day activities—games, crafts and educational displays all having to do with succulents. Goofing off in the Kid’s Day area, below, are Kathleen Misko, my point person for the Festival, and Kyle Short, my ever-debonair Jack-of-all-trades:

Kathleen Misko, Kyle Short

Kyle sure knows how to create an attention-grabbing Instagram photo:

Cactus couch

Having a special area set aside to entertain, engage and enlighten children about succulents is probably unprecedented in the realm of gardening events. Regardless, Kids Day merits its own article—coming up soon—and video. I’ll also be releasing a YouTube video of my presentation. Check back for links!

Below: Kathleen Misko discusses final preparations for Kids Day with Artie Chavez, upper right. In the foreground are gift bags that children received when they arrived.

Succulents for kids

Below, Kathleen’s granddaughter Veronica scoops potting soil. Later, this potting station was thronged with children who selected small succulents and potted them with the help of LACSS members and volunteers. “They bring their pots back to show us how well the plants are doing, the following year,” Kathleen proudly told me.

Succulents for kids

To be continued…

Greenhouse for succulents in display garden
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Succulents at the Spring Home/Garden Show

Succulent display garden

I zipped around San Diego’s Spring Home/Garden show right before the judging, cell in hand. (When in a hurry, I use my phone to take photos in dim light instead of my fancy-schmancy Canon.) I was delighted with what I saw. No question I’m biased, but the display garden (above) showcasing plants from Desert Theater nursery, and designed by Steve McDearmon of Garden Rhythms and Katie Christensen of Miss Katie’s Garden, was my favorite. You could plunk the whole shebang in your front yard for a great-looking, low-maintenance lawn-replacement landscape.

The show is the first Fri.-Sat.-Sun. of March every year. You’ll have to pay parking, but you needn’t pay the admission price of $9 at the door. Obtain a FREE PASS by going to the show’s Buy Tickets page and entering this special code for my fans and followers: DLBA.

Have fun!

Succulent display garden

Apologies for photos that lack credits. None of the display gardens had names on them because they were about to be judged. If you want to ID them in a comment below, please do!

Greenhouse for succulents in display garden

St. Madeleine Sophie’s Center (display garden above) helps adults with developmental disabilities. Gardening, propagating plants and selling them is a big part of it. I love the greenhouse in their display garden!

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Do I detect a trend brewing? This lovely display combines succulents (dudleyas) with red bromeliads and other low-water tropicals.

Succulent vertical display garden

Melissa Teisl and Jon Hawley design gardens as Chicweed Design & Landscaping. Although they sold their floral shop in Solana Beach, you can still see aspects of it in their gardens, like the lovely vertical display above. I’ll bet the sandbox behind it was inspired by their little boy.Potted aloe garden by Chicweed

This mosaic pot filled with succulents also is in Chicweed Design & Landscaping’s display garden.

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Speaking of lovely succulent container gardens, this one is by Katie Christensen for Desert Theater. The gorgeous purple plant is a dyckia, a type of bromeliad that’s succulent. Dyckias would doubtless be more popular if they didn’t have leaf edges as sharp as steak knives. (Katie, are you bleeding?)

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Also in the Desert Theater display is “Miss Katie’s potting bench.”

Succulent container gardens

Miss Katie brings a feminine aesthetic to succulents.

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Judges give bonus points for labeled plants. This is a charming way to do it, don’t you think?

IMG_4306The display garden above, which incorporates agaves and dasylirions, utilizes a lot of interesting hardscape and topdressings, which after all are THE ultimate way to have a waterwise garden.

echeverias in metal bowl

And isn’t this stunning? So simple! Pass the oil and vinegar. (Kidding.)

Don’t forget, you can get a free pass by going to the Show’s website and entering my special discount code: DLBA. If you missed it this year, subscribe to my newsletter (below), and I’ll give you a head’s up for next year.

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A Succulent Bouquet in Colored Sand


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For a great hostess gift, arrange a bouquet of succulent rosettes in a glass container filled with layers of colored sand. (See my video, How to Wire Succulent Rosettes.) Despite no roots, soil or water, cuttings wired onto faux stems and wrapped with floral tape last for months, living on the moisture in their leaves. The sand lends color, style and interest, and serves as ballast so top-heavy rosettes don’t tumble out.

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Colored sand is available online from Amazon, occasionally found at crafts stores, or you can make your own. Obtain a bag of playground sand from any home improvement store, plus Rit dye in whatever colors you want (sold in supermarkets and online). The sand looks white but is actually pale gray, but that’s OK, because the resulting muted colors look good with the plants. To color sand, pour the liquid dye into a pan no longer used for food, add sand to the level of the liquid, and bake until the liquid evaporates—300 degrees for an hour or so. Stir occasionally with a metal spatula or clean garden trowel. Let it cool outside, stirring every so often to expose moist sand and to break lumps. When cool, funnel the dry sand into glass jars and store the excess in ziplock bags labeled with whatever color or mix you used.

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When making a bouquet, I like to select sand based on the colors of the rosettes or vice versa.

IMG_7104annotated_resizedIt’s fun to experiment with layers of sand and hard to go wrong. I generally fill the container halfway with three different colors, turn it on its side and rotate it to make swirls, then add more soil to make sure stems will be concealed. Push a chopstick into the layers to make V’s along the inside of the glass. These next two bouquets are by attendees at one of my workshops.

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Kathryne's bouquet

For how to make a SPECIAL OCCASION succulent bouquet, see my book, Succulents Simplified, pages 162-169. One of seven sessions of my Craftsy class, Stunning Succulent Arrangements, is How to Make a Succulent Bouquet. Use this link to take the entire class (all seven lessons) at 50% of the regular enrollment price—$20 instead of $40.
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San Francisco Flower and Garden Show: Sublimation

An innovative display garden won multiple awards at the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show. Landscape design students Eric Arneson and Nahal Sohbati of the Academy of Art used the concept of sublimation (water going straight from solid to gas) as a metaphor for the California drought, i.e. “missing water.” Clever design ideas include weatherproof walls of wire cubes (gabions); rounded stones stacked below smaller ones hanging like bubbles from wire; a bench made of vertical 4x4s repeating the squares in the design; succulents planted vertically still in their nursery pots; and succulents combined with drought-tolerant ornamental grasses for appealing texture.

 
 


Debra Lee Baldwin, Garden Photojournalist, Author and Succulent Expert

Debra Lee Baldwin, Garden Photojournalist, Author and Succulent Expert

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