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My Top Five Firewise Succulents

The horrific wildfires and loss of life in the CA wine country are a reminder of what we experienced here in San Diego County in 2007. My own home was blanketed with ash when I returned from being evacuated, and during three awful days, we didn’t know if we’d have a home to return to. This post is timely for fall, but in no way do I want to imply that succulents are THE answer, nor (God forbid) do I want to try to capitalize on others’ suffering by suggesting you buy a book. My sympathy and prayers are with the victims. Debra Lee Baldwin

Whether you live nearby or on the other side of the country, Sunset offers a few ways you can help. Go to http://www.sunset.com/syndication/california-napa-fires-how-to-help

 

It’s been a decade since wildfires devastated much of San Diego county. In Designing with Succulents (2nd edition, p. 107), I tell how my husband and I were evacuated, and how the succulent garden on the cover of the book’s first edition “saved” a home in Rancho Santa Fe.

From my Los Angeles Times article, “Did Succulents Save Her Home?” ~ “SUCCULENTS have soared in popularity recently because they’re drought-tolerant, easy-care and just plain cool to look at, and now there’s another compelling reason to grow them: They’re fire-retardant. During last month’s wildfires, succulents — which by definition store water in plump leaves and stems — apparently stopped a blaze in its tracks…” [Read more]

My top five firewise succulents are quite common and start easily from cuttings. If you live in a fire-prone, backcountry area, consider them one more weapon in your arsenal against wildfire and plant them around your property’s perimeter. As you can see, they combine to make a beautiful, low-water landscape. This garden originated entirely from cuttings:

  • Opuntia (paddle cactus), the thicker the better. If you wince at the thought of having cactus in your garden, look for spineless or near-spineless varieties. They do exist, and they don’t draw blood. Those rounded, upright pads make a nice counterpoint to more finely textured plants, succulent and otherwise.
  • Aloes. Mound-forming Aloe arborescens is the heroic succulent that “saved” the home of Rob and Suzy Schaefer during the devastating wildfires of 2007. It sends up orange-red, torchlike flower spikes in midwinter.
  • Aeoniums. There are numerous varieties of these rosette succulents. The best ones for fire resistance are multi-branching.
  • Crassulas. Plain old green jade didn’t burn during the wildfire that threatened the Schaefer home, but rather it cooked, and like the aloes, its leaves turned putty-colored and collapsed. If you think jade is boring, you may not be aware of its many cultivars. Some are striped cream-and-green; turn yellow-orange-red when grown in full sun; have silvery-gray leaves rimmed with red; or have intriguing tubular or wavy leaves.
  • Portulacaria afra (elephant’s food) is shrub-like, and yes, elephants really do eat it in South Africa. In fact, the plant benefits from being stomped on because pieces root readily. The variegated variety is less vigorous and more ornamental than the common green species.

 

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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

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Patrick Anderson’s Garden: Where It All Started

I wonder if Patrick remembers giving me a cutting of that red aloe (A. cameronii, at center right). I know l’ll never forget it! Photo from the second edition of Designing with Succulents 

Visiting Patrick Anderson’s garden in 1998 launched my interest in succulents. It was the first time I had seen a residential garden that featured large aloes and agaves. In my YouTube video, “Patrick Anderson’s Succulent Garden,” I take you on a tour of the residential garden that launched my love of succulents. You’ll see it as it looks now, nearly 20 years after I visited it on assignment for the San Diego Union-Tribune (read the original article, below)Patrick’s garden was, and still is, mainly aloes and agaves plus other succulents and low-water plants.

Patrick and I became friends, and he graciously proofread the first edition of Designing with Succulents, released in 2007. That book, which helped generate interest in succulents worldwide, had more photos of Patrick’s garden than of any other. Now, a decade later, the book’s completely revised second edition includes newer, arguably even better photos of his garden. (See them in the video. Incidentally, I chose classical background music because Patrick is an opera singer.)

A dozen great ideas from Patrick’s garden:
— Use low walls and terraces to create an inviting entry garden.
— Streetside, install a no-irrigation, rock-and-boulder landscape.
— Create a sense of adventure with curved, meandering pathways.
— Build an open-air room as a destination and focal point.
— Repeat a theme color throughout, such as “aloe orange.”
— Contrast the theme color with its complement (i.e., orange with blue).
— Use large, rounded, unplanted pots as accent pieces.
— Have your garden double as an outdoor sculpture gallery.
— Paint walls bold colors to create dramatic backdrops.
— Make hardscape and walls as visually important as plants.
— Position barrel cacti so they’re backlit by morning or afternoon sun.
— Create memorable vignettes that express your individual style.

Learn more:
— View my 6-min. YouTube video: Patrick Anderson’s Succulent Garden
— See additional photos in the pages of my books. 
— Read the article that re-routed my career: Gardening in the Big Leagues (below).

The original article ~ Gardening in the Big Leagues

I’m proud to note that this article won a prestigious award for newspaper feature writing from the Garden Writers Association of America. Enjoy! ~ Debra

Originally published in the San Diego Union-Tribune, Jan. 31, 1999

Text and photos by Debra Lee Baldwin

Fleshy green monsters in Patrick Anderson’s Fallbrook garden look like they might snap him up if he turns his back. They’re giant succulents, and Anderson’s half-acre hillside showcases hundreds of unusual ones. “I like their huge, sculptural forms,” he said during a tour of his garden in January.

Patrick Anderson

Anderson is an active member of the San Diego Horticultural Society, and is known to local garden clubs as a lecturer who specializes in the great gardens of Europe. “I give slide presentations, and like to think I offer trenchant commentary,” Anderson said. “I’m a student of garden history and design, so I put European gardens in that context.”

Yet his own garden specializes in plants that wouldn’t survive in Europe, much less in most of the U.S. They prefer heat, poor soil and — because their leaves store water, camel-like — a dry climate.

Showiest among them are aloes and agaves, giant succulents with an attitude. Punks of the plant world, they produce blooms big as baseball bats, in colors calculated to shock. Hundreds of bullet-sized flowers sheathe bloom stalks. Leaves have sharp tips and clawed edges.

Yet Anderson’s armed-and-dangerous flora do have an otherworldly beauty. This time of year, aloes pierce the sky like exotic torch bearers, hot orange against cool blue.

Aloe ferox and coral tree

And the way they sprawl like squids or explode upward like fistfuls of knives make them the darlings of architects. Imagine a Volkswagen-sized artichoke growing against a stucco wall: One plant a landscape makes.

Succulents come in all sizes, and grow easily in frost-free areas. They need no fertilizer, and only a little water in summer and fall. They’re green year-round, and don’t require pruning. Even so, cultivating the behemoths among them is not for the faint of heart.

“I wanted to use desert-climate plants in a lush way,” Anderson explained as his footsteps crunched on a gravel pathway near plants aflame with flowers. “And to create a tropical-looking garden that would survive without water.”

A dasylirion’s thin, slender leaves suggest spraying water.

Anderson paused at a fountain-shaped Agave americana, commonly known as century plant. Each pointed, tapered leaf was the size of a small shark, and toothed like one, too. Using garden clippers, he snipped a wicked tip that protruded into the pathway.

“With these spines and jagged edges, this is the agave from hell,” he said. “But look at its symmetry. Isn’t it magnificent?” He continued, “I can’t stand it when people cut back an agave so it looks like a pineapple. If you’re going to grow something like this, you’ve got to give it plenty of room. I won’t buy a succulent unless it’s labeled. I have to know how big it’ll get.”

Many people confuse agaves with aloes, he added. “Both are succulents and grow in a rosette form, but that’s where the similarity ends. Aloes are Old World plants, from South Africa, Madagascar, the Saudi peninsula and the Mediterranean region. Agaves are New World plants from the Americas. Leaves of agaves are fibrous; those of aloes are filled with gel.”

Agave americana and Aloe vera

He pointed his clippers at a smaller plant topped with yellow blooms. “That’s Aloe vera, also known as Aloe barbadensis. It’s the best known aloe because of its medicinal uses. And over there, by the lily pond…” he gestured downslope to a succulent supporting a candelabra of coral-orange spires… “is Aloe ferox. It’s used in South Africa as a purgative.”

“Aloes are in the lily family, yet agaves are the ones that behave like bulbs,” he continued. “Agaves send up stems that bloom, and then they die. Aloes don’t die after flowering.” And, Anderson added with a smile, “an aloe won’t kill you if you fall into it.”

Agave shidigera

Anderson’s fondness for plants began in childhood. “My grandmother was a wonderful gardener. She had roses and perennials — the traditional old Irish garden.”

He grew up in San Gabriel, and a neighbor who traveled the world gave him cuttings from unusual cacti and succulents. “But I had to leave them behind when we moved to Lake Arrowhead.”

Anderson majored in theater arts in college, then worked in the corporate world as a human resources director. In 1988, he and life partner Les Olson transplanted themselves from congested Los Angeles to a two-acre ranch in north San Diego county.

“We didn’t move all at once,” Anderson explained. “For the first few years, we were here only on weekends.” They still maintain a home in Pasadena, enabling Anderson to perform with a choral ensemble in that area (he also sings with San Diego’s Pacific Camarata), and to volunteer at the Huntington Botanical Gardens.

Located east of Pasadena in San Marino, “the Huntington” is famous worldwide for a 12-acre dry-habitat garden showcasing more than 5,000 species. National Geographic’s “Guide to America’s Public Gardens” describes it as “a naturalistic wonderland of often bizarre plants, accenting their architectural shapes and pronounced textures.” These attracted Anderson like a moth to a night-blooming cereus, and inspired his own garden.

“I love theater, and these plants are about as theatrical as you can get,” he said.

Aloe speciosa

As a Huntington volunteer, Anderson continued, “I work in plant propagation, specifically for plant sales.” This entails nurturing seedlings, cuttings, and “pups” taken from the base of parent plants.

Does Anderson have an ulterior motive in step-parenting unusual specimens? You bet.

Half his collection originated at what he calls the “mother of all plant sales,” held annually at the Huntington the weekend after Mother’s Day. The rest came from “like-minded friends,” or nurseries specializing in tropical plants, cactus and/or succulents.

View my 6-min. YouTube video (2017): Patrick Anderson’s Succulent Garden

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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.

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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

How rain benefits succulents
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How Rain Benefits Succulents

 

How rain benefits succulents

Don’t be surprised if after a good rain, your succulents look brighter and more vibrant. Rain provides dissolved minerals and washes away dust that inhibits photosynthesis. It dilutes and flushes salts and harmful chemicals that have built up in the soil from tap water and provides nitrogen essential to growth, especially during electrical storms. It’s odd but true: Lightning nourishes plants.

To make the most of precious rain, collect it in buckets and use it to water house plants and in-ground succulents beneath eaves. When rain is forecast, move your container-grown patio plants where rain can soak them. (Once the storm is over, return them to their earlier location, lest sun scorch leaves or if frost is a possibility.)

Succulents do best in regions where annual rainfall is less than 20 inches.  Excessive amounts can cause roots to rot, especially if soil stays soggy. Prepare for this by growing the plants in coarse, fast-draining soil, on a slope or atop a berm.

how rain benefits cactus

 

My blog post, Succulents and Too Much Rain, A French Solution describes a French botanical garden’s simple but effective method of protecting its cactus collection.

Opuntia appears to dance

Of all succulents, cacti seem to respond the most dramatically to rain. No surprise; they’ve been waiting all year for it. If they weren’t rooted, they’d probably be dancing. Opuntia (paddle) cacti that have been doing a whole lot of nothing for months rapidly grow new pads that can double the size of a young specimen in a matter of weeks. It’s as though the pads were water balloons being squeezed; the resulting bulge is a new leaf.

how to protect succulents from excess rainfall

And then there are ribbed cacti…those that look like round or columnar accordions. You can almost hear their crenellations pop and stretch as they plump with water. They’re such simple plants—not much more than balls or bats—and yet the way they grow is amazing. The process of becoming engorged with rainwater exposes more of their skin to the sun, enabling photosynthesis, which equals energy, which in turn fuels new growth. In the heat of summer, those same ridges and valleys deepen, shading and protecting the plant.

Now that succulents are hugely popular, I’m occasionally asked how to grow them in tropical climates that have a great deal of rainfall. It’s like asking how to grow monkeys in Alaska. Sure it’s possible, but is it worth it? By definition, succulents have the quality of succulence: juiciness. They’re expressly designed to get by without a lot of rainfall. The flip side is that they don’t survive well with it. So grow them in containers, and move them under shelter when the weather turns too wet. Even then, in humid climates, they may mildew. In which case, move them indoors, provide lots of sunlight and fresh air, and keep a dehumidifier going.

Frost protection for succulents

Rainstorms are often followed by clear, windless nights, during which the temperature may drop near freezing or below. Many succulents are frost tender, meaning that at 32 degrees, the water in their tissues crystallizes, expands, and bursts cell walls. This can turn leaves to putty, irreparably damaging the plants. You can gain several life-saving degrees by covering your succulents with sheets, lightweight fabric, or frost cloth. But not plastic, which can cause more damage than it prevents.

Frost burned aeoniums

If your succulents have been damaged by frost, they’re not necessarily goners. Learn more about this in my recent posts: Oh, No, My Succulents Froze! and Frost Damaged Succulents? Here’s What to Do. Notice the damaged tips on these aeoniums? No need to do anything. In a few months the older leaves will dry and fall off, and the rest will be hidden by new growth.

 

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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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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Debra on Garden America Radio

On Garden America Radio, I spoke with hosts John Bagnasco and Sharon Asakawa about how aloes provide midwinter color in the garden and how they can serve as nectar sources for endangered monarch butterflies (it helps if you plant milkweed, too). Listen to the full interview below!

 

Debra Lee Baldwin on Garden America Radio

 

I welcome your questions or comments!

 


 

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