Plant-pot pairing at Oasis (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

How to Pick Succulents for Special Pots


You know you've created an effective plant-pot pairing if every time you look at it, it delights you. Ideally, it exceeds the sum of its parts. But how to make that happen? You're about to find out: Succulent plant-pot pairing---an art form in itself---is the topic of my latest video. In it you'll learn basic design principles that people tend to find pleasing, and that professional designers use routinely.

I learned to identify and describe these early in my career as a garden writer on assignment for Sunset and Better Homes & Gardens publications. In published articles and later in my books on succulents, I explained what made certain gardens or plant combos "work," and how readers could achieve something similar.

If you don’t have much space (who does?), pairing succulents with art pots is a great way to display both, lend sophistication to outdoor living spaces, and eliminate clutter.

Key design factors

Succulents tend to look best in pots that are earth tones and shades of red, orange, yellow, teal, gray-blue and lavender. Colors harder to pair are those seldom seen in the plants, such as black and certain blues (navy, royal, cobalt).

Aloe castilloneae @potterybypatrice

This pairing does everything right: Green leaves of Aloe castilloniae contrast with rust-red in the glaze (the complementary color). Reddish-brown dashes on leaves contrast texturally with the pot's smooth surface while repeating its speckles (as does the crushed rock topdressing). As for scale and proportion, plant and pot fit each other perfectly.

Plant Pairing at Oasis

Orange County ceramic artist Pat Roach and I met several years ago as a result of our mutual interest in succulents and our enjoyment in pairing them with one-of-a-kind, artist-designed pots.

Ceramic artist Pat Roach (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

Pat Roach of @potterybypatrice evaluates golden sedum at Oasis. See her collection of rare and unusual succulents and the pots she created for them on her Instagram page. There Pat also posts events at which she'll be selling.


Occasionally Pat and I do pairing at Oasis Water Efficient Gardens in Escondido, California. She lives 90 minutes north, so it’s a real treat when Pat visits and brings pots she’s made.
We may have a succulent in mind for a particular pot, but we don’t know for certain what will look best until we try it on, or rather in, the pot. Sometimes the best selection is unexpected, which is part of the fun.
We walk up and down the aisles with each pot, holding it alongside likely candidates, and bring the best back to a makeshift pairing area. In the video, I explain our thought processes, and why we eliminated (or went with) the plants we did.
Which pairings do you like best? Do you agree with our selections? Please tell us in the comments!

Pairing vs Staging

Selecting the right pot for a special succulent is an under-appreciated art form. I find  "pairing" soothing, akin to browsing in boutiques for items I never knew I needed yet can't live without.

Not that I invented pairing. Cactus & Succulent Society members have been "staging" prize succulents in art pottery for decades, with topdressings and---as Jeff Moore would say---"cool rocks."

The difference between staging and pairing is that with the latter, the pot gains stature. It's more than merely a frame for a plant. Neither pot nor succulent leads the dance; both sway in tandem. Should pairing be acknowledged as an art form, pot artists will likely be identified along with the plants.


Helpful Links

On this particular topic, I've written tens of thousands of words, taken loads of photos, and filmed over a dozen YouTube videos. Here's a short list of must-see's:



Succulent Container Garden (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

Succulent Container Design

Succulent Container Design Design ideas and must-dos for beautiful, easy-care potted succulents Here you’ll find info on succulent container design in articles and videos. Scroll down to see what interests you and best meets your needs. Click to see my gallery of 150+ floral-style arrangements! Succulent Container Gardens, How-To Welcome to the most comprehensive info…

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