Succulent topiary dancer (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

See Succulent Topiary Musicians & Dancers

At this Southern CA destination garden, life-sized topiary figures of Mexican mariachi musicians and dancers wear colorful, ingenious costumes planted with succulents.

Succulent topiary dancers at the Mexican garden of the San Diego Botanic Garden

Topiary dancers in the SDBG's Mexican garden

The skillfully made, well-maintained figures are worthy of a Rose Parade float. But they're not in Pasadena; instead, 100 miles south at the San Diego Botanic Garden.

Succulent cuttings used for the figures suggest hair, pearls, lace, ruffles, and patterned fabric.

Succulent topiary mariachi figures have hats and instruments made of brass

Hats and instruments are made of brass. This guitar player's curly hair is ripple jade.

Nonsucculent embellishments include faces of terracotta clay; and musical instruments, sombreros, aprons, mustaches and trays made of brass.

Topiary Expert & Designer Pat Hammer

Topiary artist Pat Hammer with Debra Lee Baldwin, 2021

Pat Hammer and yours truly, 2021. Pat passed away in 2023.

Famed topiary artist Pat Hammer originally created the eight figures for the Philadelphia Flower Show in 2003. Back then, she planted them with ivy.

Ivy topiary mariachi figures

At the show, they revolved on a circular platform while lively mariachi music played in the background. In 2005, when Pat became its Operations Director, she donated the figures to the San Diego Botanic Garden.

Succulent mariachi topiary trumpet player at the entrance to the San Diego Botanic Garden's Mexican garden

A life-sized mariachi trumpet player announces the entrance to the Mexican garden. Burgundy-red aeoniums enhance the front of his outfit.

Pat found succulents ideal for San Diego’s dry climate, and the plants' many colors, textures and forms served as a continual source of inspiration for her.

Do watch my topiary how-to video featuring Pat. In it you'll see her demonstrate and explain her groundbreaking technique. It takes place at her Samia Rose Topiary in Vista, CA, two years before she passed away. Note: At present the heirs are not selling topiary frames and supplies mail-order, but you can find a good selection at Amazon (affiliate link).

SDBG's Topiary Team

Botanic Garden volunteers continue to maintain the topiary figures. They tuck succulents into gaps with long-handled tweezers then hold them in place with U-shaped wire florists pins. The cuttings soon root into the moss and fill in.

How to plant a succulent topiary (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

How to plant a succulent topiary: Poke a hole in the packed moss with a chopstick or pencil, insert the stem of a succulent cutting (use long-handled tweezers if need be) and hold it in place with a U-shaped wire floral pin.

Pam Jara, a 10-year volunteer on the "topiary team," says visitors often ask how they’re made. Typical of Pat's designs, the figures have stainless steel wire frames tightly stuffed with sphagnum moss and wrapped with fishing line.

A topiary dancer's head reveals the frame, moss and fishing line in an area waiting for plants to fill in (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

  The top of this topiary dancer's head reveals its frame, moss and fishing line. This bald patch (ha) is an area waiting for new cuttings that will soon fill in

Which succulents work best?

Visitors also ask volunteers how they know which plants to select.

Labeled plants used in life-sized, succulent topiary dancer at the San Diego Botanic Garden (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

I've labeled this photo to show you which types of succulents the topiary team has found work best over the long run

For trousers, skirts, headdresses, and bodices, they use various jades, sedums, senecios, echeverias, aeoniums and kalanchoes.

For hair they might use stacked crassulas, trailing ice plants, various jades, or rhipsalis.  On skirts, star-shaped aloes suggest bows made of rick-rack ribbon.

Orange and red succulents used for topiary dancer at the San Diego Botanic Garden (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

Plenty of sun, please. Sedums and crassulas revert to green if not in enough light

Ripple jade serves for curly hair, ruffles and petticoats. Sunny hues of orange, red and yellow come from yellow jade, sedums, burgundy and ‘Kiwi’ aeoniums, and graptosedums.

Senecio rowleyanus flowers

Senecio rowleyanus in bloom

No surprise that Senecio rowleyanus, commonly called string-of-pearls, makes a great necklace.

Succulents not ideal are those with spherical or cylindrical leaves that pop off their stems easily, and those with barbed edges or sharp tips---such as cacti and agaves.

Soft-leaved Agave attenuata makes a dramatic bow on a figure's succulent topiary dress

Agave attenuata bow, lower right

An exception is soft-leaved Agave attenuata, which makes a large and dramatic bow.

When You Go

Do visit the San Diego Botanic Garden’s other succulent areas when you're there, such as the undersea-themed display at the south end. It takes about half a day to tour the 37-acre former seaside estate. Must-see's include a new conservatory, fountains, water gardens, a waterfall, exotic tropicals, and a bamboo forest.

For other succulent destinations in the San Diego area (and beyond), see the comprehensive list and descriptions here on my site.

Related Info on This Site

Succulent Show in San Diego

Succulent Nurseries and Destinations

In San Diego and Beyond… Nurseries, public gardens and destinations in North America’s “epicenter of all things succulent” Planning your visit You might easily spend a week or more touring San Diego’s terrific succulent nurseries and destinations. Each has a distinct character, so as you winnow your selection, do read the descriptions and see the videos.…

Succulent topiaries by Pat Hammer

Succulent Topiary Tips, Care and How-To

Expert Pat Hammer shows step-by-step how to make a succulent topiary beginning with a moss-filled wire frame and cuttings. Pat shares design, DIY, watering, pruning, long-term care, and helpful tips.

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