Are There Feral Agaves in Your Garden?

Agave americana bud imprints
You might assume I’m pleased whenever I see a new succulent garden in my neighborhood. Most often I am, but to be honest, I’m occasionally dismayed. I’m seeing a lot of Agave americana (century plant). This succulent seduces people with its gray-blue leaves (sometimes striped with yellow); its upright, fountainlike form; and its scalloped bud imprints (impressions leaves make on each other before unfurling). Plus, it needs no irrigation other than rainfall. Century plants that are knee-height are easy to obtain and make good-looking additions to any dry garden.

So, what’s not to love? Just wait. Century plants become enormous, are wickedly spined, and they pup (produce offsets from their roots). A LOT of pups. Moreover, when an americana blooms—which takes a couple of decades, hence the name “century plant”—it dies and will be an eyesore until removed. Below is one post-flowering, after its leaves had been trimmed to the trunk. Note the chopped-off flower spike and numerous pups ready to take Mom’s place.

agave-americana-post-flowering

Admittedly, the large succulents I’m most fond of in my own half-acre garden happen to be century plants. They really stand out, and serve as dramatic focal points and living sculptures. But I have room for them, routinely blunt their menacing tips with garden shears, and pay a gardener to remove pups.

Agaves in Debra Lee Baldwin's garden

My point (ha) is that before planting an americana, ask yourself if you’ll be OK with an agave the size of an VW beetle in that spot a decade hence; if you’re willing to dig up and discard its numerous offspring (which, if you don’t, will form an ever-spreading colony like the one below); if 5-feet-long, toothed, sharp-tipped leaves might be a problem; and if it can be accessed when the time comes to remove it.

agave-americana-colony

Got boulders? My neighborhood in the foothills north of San Diego is a big rock pile. Plop an americana in a natural basin amid boulders and voila: instant garden. Thus confined and set at a distance from children and dogs, the plant can’t cause trouble.

agave-americana-amid-boulders_a_r

Doubtless century plants are popping up everywhere because they’re quite common and free. Ask a neighbor for a pup, and he’ll hand you a shovel. Yet there are dozens, if not hundreds, of improved Agave cultivars—like popular ‘Blue Glow’ below—that stay manageably small, don’t offset, and look stunning in gardens and landscapes.

agave-blue-glow

True, pedigreed agaves aren’t free, but in most residential front yards they’re a much better choice than a feral americana, and will save you money, time and hassle in the long run. See them in my website’s Agave photo gallery and at nurseries throughout California and the Southwest. Also be sure to watch my YouTube videos: “What You MUST Know About Century Plants” (2:50), and “Six Great Agaves for Your Garden, with expert Kelly Griffin” (4:53).

six-great-agaves-for-your-garden_a_r

Succulent garden tools

My Must-Have Garden Tools for Spiny Succulents

The tools I use when working with spiky, spiny succulents include 12-inch tweezers, kitchen tongs, artist’s brush, chopstick, scissors, metal teaspoon, inexpensive garden gloves, and duct tape.

Long-handled tweezers are useful for removing bits of debris and topdressing from prickly plants and those with tight leaf axils—anyplace for which your fingers are too big or that you prefer not to touch. Amazon sells 12-inch stainless steel tweezers for around $13. Btw, I also own 10-inch tweezers, forceps and “planting tongs,” but I seldom use them.

I find kitchen tongs (around $6) handy for grasping and holding cacti, and planting small agaves with sharp tips.

Cactus tongs

Tongs are essential when potting up cactus and for twisting pads off of opuntias

If you’re handling a delicate plant (one with spines that might bend or break), wrap the tips of the tongs with foam rubber or pieces of soft sponge and secure with  rubber bands. (Sun causes rubber bands to deteriorate, so store your modified tongs in shade.)

Gloves for holding cactus

Duct tape wrapped around the fingers of gloves lets you pick up small cacti without getting poked.

I wear the gloves while a friend wraps them (or vice versa).

Wear the gloves while a friend wraps them (or vice versa).

There are gloves supposedly impervious to thorns and spines, but I’m not eager to spend money on an item likely to end up coated with glochids. These nasty little spines (found only—and almost always—on Opuntia cactus) stick to nearly anything…except the slick side of duct tape. Btw, you can also use the tape’s sticky side to remove glochids from your skin, should the unfortunate need arise.

Opuntia microdaysis

Opuntia microdaysis (bunny ears) is deceptive; its fuzzy tufts are glochids—tiny hooked spines that detach all too easily

I use pieces of aluminum window screen (sold by the roll for around $13, lasts forever) to keep soil from falling through the drain holes of pots. It cuts easily with scissors.

Succulent garden tools

I used these tools when doing my high-desert diorama for Garden Design magazine. View the video.

I wouldn’t be without a chopstick to settle roots of succulents. It’s essential whenever small nursery plants are tucked together so tightly, it’s not possible to manipulate their root balls to settle them.

An old metal teaspoon (the one in the photo was mangled by my garbage disposal) is perfect for funneling topdressing into gaps between plants. You can also use a funnel, but anything larger than coarse sand may clog it.

An artist’s brush is great for the finishing touch: cleaning dirt off leaves and spines. The tip of its slender handle can serve the same purpose as a chopstick.

All the links go to Amazon because their prices are as good as any, and as an affiliate, I receive a small percentage of sales that click-through from my website. I’m grateful if you obtain items that way, but it’s not necessary; most are readily available at hardware, department, or drug stores. 

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On Instagram, Nobody Cares About Your Dog

Now through July 9, I’m celebrating having attained 10,000 Instagram followers by giving away all four of my books! See details. 

Instagram is pure eye-candy, one luscious photo right after another. Captions tend to be brief or nonexistent. If you have a favorite topic, such as “echeverias,” you can scroll  through glorious echeveria photos simply by searching for #echeverias. Not only does Instagram give people like me opportunities to visually share our garden adventures and favorite photos, it’s terrific exposure for our brands. It’s also a great learning experience. In a nutshell, I live for “Likes,” and I continually strive to post photos that earn them. The screen captures below illustrate what I’ve learned—what works and what doesn’t—as evidenced by their number of likes (at the upper right of each).

Screen shot 2016-07-05 at 2.52.15 PM

I can post the most amazing photo and it won’t get many likes if it doesn’t show succulents. No surprise: Most of my followers are into succulents, so that’s what they want to see.

Screen shot 2016-07-05 at 3.36.52 PM

To paraphrase a popular saying: On Instagram, nobody cares about your dog. It doesn’t much matter how cute he is or how you pose him, he won’t earn many “Likes’ from people unless they own the same or similar breed.

Screen shot 2016-07-05 at 2.53.13 PM

When I do post a photo of a succulent, I aim for amazing. The quality of photography on Instagram is extraordinary. I enhanced this photo using filters provided by the Instagram app. The most interesting filter, IMHO, is “Structure.” Depending on the quality of the original photo, Structure can sharpen the image so that it practically pops off the page. A little goes a long way; photos that have been excessively filtered look unnatural and garish.

Screen shot 2016-07-05 at 2.50.22 PM

In terms of likes, my nice photo of a pachyveria earned a C+.

Screen shot 2016-07-05 at 2.52.00 PM

People quickly scroll past anything that resembles advertising. Who can blame them?

Screen shot 2016-07-05 at 2.50.40 PM

No matter how lovely, cactus is simply not as popular as nonspiny succulents.

Screen shot 2016-07-05 at 2.49.52 PM

People love anything they haven’t seen before, like this succulent-planted trash container lid I shot recently at Roger’s Gardens nursery.

Screen shot 2016-07-05 at 3.37.45 PM

But what they really go nuts over are innovative, well done succulent wreaths…

Screen shot 2016-07-05 at 3.36.01 PM

…topiaries…

Screen shot 2016-07-05 at 3.53.28 PM

…and short videos, especially if the description intrigues them.

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It’s considered the height of rudeness to repost someone else’s photo without giving them credit. At first, I erred on the side of caution and didn’t repost anyone’s at all. Then someone told me about Repost, an app that automatically identifies a photo’s origin in the lower left corner. It’s a win-win: I got 3,306 “Likes” for Jen’s terrific photo, and Instagrammers who weren’t following her already probably did so after I posted it.

If you’re thinking, “Who’s got time for all that? I’d rather read a book,” be sure to enter to win all four of mine! (Btw, I save my very best photos for my books!)

 

 

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How I Get Rid of Gophers

Trapped gopher

A newly caught gopher (lower right) in my garden.

Over the past quarter century, I’ve trapped four to six gophers a year in my half-acre garden near San Diego. If I can catch gophers, so can you. Here’s how.

— Obtain at least four Macabee gopher traps.

— Tie one end of a string that’s several feet long to the end of the trap opposite its pincher-jaws. At the other end of the string, tie a loop.

— If you don’t know how to set the traps, watch a video that shows how. Tip: If you’re having trouble inserting the trigger wire into the little hole, use your thumbs to push down firmly on the wires between the trap’s open jaws, then thread the trigger wire up and into the hole with your fingers. As with any trap, be careful not to catch yourself!

— Dig down into the tunnel with a shovel. Aim to expose two openings, one in each direction, so you can catch the gopher coming or going. (Granted, two holes aren’t always possible. Gopher tunnels seldom go in a straight line, nor are they necessarily parallel to the surface.)

— Use a trowel to clear each opening of dirt and to create space to insert a trap. Sometimes it’s easier to reach into a hole with your hand and scoop dirt out, which also is the best way to discern if a hole does indeed lead into a tunnel. (If someone’s with you, snatch back your hand as though bit. No worries. The gopher won’t come near you.)

— Insert a set trap into each hole. I hold the trap by the string end and push the metal square forward with my thumb to keep the trigger wire in place, lest it become dislodged. (This will become obvious when you do it. Again, no worries—if the trap snaps, your thumb won’t be in the way.)

— Extend each trap’s string outside the hole and drive a stake through the loop into the ground. This ensures that you can find the trap later, that a squirming gopher can’t drag the trap deeper into the hole, and that you won’t have to reach into the hole to remove the trap. (Simply extract it by pulling the string).

— The more tunnels you open and the more traps you set, the better your chances…which is why I set four traps, minimum.

— Cover the trap holes, because if a gopher sees light, it’ll push dirt into the trap while trying to close the opening. I place palm-sized pieces of flagstone upright to cover trap holes, but nearly anything will work—just don’t let pebbles, leaves and dirt fall into the hole.

— Check traps the next day. If they’re empty, reevaluate their locations and try again. Keep doing this until you catch the gopher or it exits on its own (evidenced by no new mounds). Sometimes—rarely—a predator gets the gopher first: snakes go into tunnels; and owls, raptors, cats, and coyotes pounce on gophers as they emerge from their holes at night.

— Traps are too expensive to discard with a gopher. If you’re squeamish about such things, have someone who isn’t extract it from the trap. Shake the gopher into a plastic grocery bag, tie the top, and set it out with the trash.

“Gopher spurge” in the Euphorbia genus is supposed to repel gophers (the roots exude a gummy sap gophers don’t like) but I’ve always wondered why a gopher wouldn’t simply go around them!

Poison bait also is an option, but it has a shelf life, may possibly endanger pets and beneficial animals, and you don’t know for sure that you’ve caught the gopher because there’s no evidence (but maybe that’s a good thing). Use a metal bar to poke the ground around a gopher mound until the bar goes into a tunnel. Funnel bait through the hole into the tunnel. Cover the hole so light doesn’t enter.

Chicken wire protects the roots of an agave from gophers.

Chicken wire protects the roots of an agave from gophers.

The Sunset Western Garden book suggests protecting roots of young plants by lining planting holes with chicken wire. If you look closely at this photo taken in Patrick Anderson’s garden, you’ll see chicken wire around the agave. Gophers don’t go after many succulents, perhaps because the plants are shallow rooted, but they do like agaves. Below, my Agave americana ‘Marginata’ after a gopher ate the roots and up into the heart of the plant. Gopher-eaten agave Collapse gopher runs by slicing into them with a shovel, thereby making it less easy for a new gopher to use them. Gophers are antisocial except when mating, but if there’s a unoccupied network of tunnels, a new one will soon move in.

Keep open a run that leads into your yard from a neighbor’s. When the tunnel opening fills with soil, you’ll know a gopher is active. Clear out the dirt the gopher used to seal the opening, then trap the gopher before it enters your garden.

And no, it doesn’t help to put a hose down a gopher hole.

RESOURCES:

Macabee traps, set of four, about $25. (Five stars on Amazon.)

Videos produced by the University of California Cooperative Extension:

How to Set a Macabee Gopher Trap

Pocket Gopher: Finding Tunnel Systems

Pocket Gopher: Trap placement

Also on YouTube for your entertainment: Debra Discusses Gophers During a Potting Demo.

 

 

Agave victoriae-reginae
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Create a Soothing Succulent Sitting Area

If you enjoy gardening, you’ve no doubt experienced how it can be a form of meditation and a treat for all the senses. But have you considered how simply looking at certain plants induces a feeling of serenity? You can discover this by enhancing a sitting area with succulents that incorporate geometric patterns and spirals.

Agave victoriae-reginae

Stretched canvas print of Agave victoria-reginae ‘Variegata’

The eye never tires of following circular patterns. For example, I sometimes catch myself gazing at this canvas print, above, in my living room. It’s more relaxing than the TV.

There are many possibilities for an intimate garden of symmetrical succulents. Here’s a hypnotic euphorbia I enjoy near my outdoor dining table: E. polygona ‘Snowflake’.

Several more to inspire you…

 

Treat both mind and body

Silence may be golden, but it’s not always an option. A fountain is a great way to muffle neighborhood noise and attract birds that are relaxing to watch. When I sit in my home’s entry, I’m captivated by goldfinches that flit back and forth from a fountain across the driveway to a feeder under the eaves. Another auditory option is deep-toned, bell-like “Corinthian” wind chimes.

As for fragrance…my spring 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 go with incense or potpourri. Doesn’t the fragrance of, say, sandalwood for a breezy outdoor area sound wonderful?

To indulge the palate, enjoy my favorite fast and refreshing chilled drink: ice water with a few drops of mint essential oil.

Coloring a detailed line drawing also reduces stress, and a mandala (which means “circle” in Hindu) is a useful meditation aid. You’ll find succulent mandalas plus line drawings of your favorite plants in my coloring book for adults, Sensational Succulents. Here’s a page from the book that you’re welcome to download. Enjoy!

Related articles:

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Recently I embarked on an intensive, two-day hunt for the perfect succulent pillow. I wanted it for the love seat in my home’s 5×5 entry, where I keep 40 small, low-light succulents in a dozen containers. These are shades of…[Continue reading] 

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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…

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.

Succulent mandala

Why are Coloring Books for Adults so Popular?

I assumed that the stress-reducing properties attributed to coloring were overstated until, at the Succulent Celebration, I met a therapist who told me she recommends coloring to patients recovering from traumatic loss. “When your right brain is engaged,” she said, “your left brain is free to process data and solve problems.” I recalled that when devastated by a loss, I had stayed up all night doing a jigsaw puzzle. Creating order from chaos helped me corral my thoughts. She said that not only are coloring books more handy than jigsaw puzzles, the creative aspect of coloring is empowering because “you’re in charge of the outcome.”

Succulent mandala

A succulent mandala colored by Susi Torre-Bueno

Doubtless we’ll see more people coloring in airports, hospitals—maybe even the DMV—and wherever empty, uneasy hours are the norm. (After all, there’s only so much texting a person can do.)

Coloring mandalas is especially soothing, and Sensational Succulents has ten—including the one shown above.

Succulent coloring book

Want to see how the spiral in the center of a medusa euphorbia looks in blue, red and orange? Go for it!

Find out more in my earlier post: Announcing My New Succulent Coloring Book! 

Sensational Succulents

Amazing shapes and magical patterns

“What could be better inspiration for artists than the intricate rosettes and fractal-like patterns found in so many succulents? They are vividly-colored and have varied gradations in tone, making them an ideal subject for that grownup coloring trend I’ve come to love. Sensational Succulents, a new coloring book from the queen of succulents Debra Lee Baldwin and illustrated by Laura Serra, has 75 images from Debra’s books that have been transformed into line drawings, ready for you to color. The paper is thick, and unlike many coloring books which have so many lines that it’s hard to do anything freehand, the outlines of the succulents give just enough room for us to take some artistic license in shading. She even has instructions on her website for transferring the illustrations to watercolor paper, if you want to get creative in another medium.” — Genevieve Schmidt, North Coast Journal (Northern CA)

Succulent coloring book
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Announcing My New Succulent Coloring Book!


Baldwin_Coloring Book_Cover_resized

I’m proud and pleased to announce the release of my latest book: “Sensational Succulents, an adult coloring book of amazing shapes and magical patterns” published by Timber Press. The line drawings, based on my photos, are by illustrator Laura Serra.

Succulents beautifully illustrate nature’s artistry. By immersing yourself in the patterns and geometry of succulents, you’ll discover yet another reason to enjoy the plants, and gain greater insight into why you love gardens and gardening.

All photos used for the coloring book are on my website so you can refer to them, if you like, when selecting which colors to use.

Graptopetalum resized
Graptoveria 'Fred Ives'
I used the line drawing of Graptoveria ‘Fred Ives’ from the book and the photo that inspired (shown above) it to paint the watercolor I’m holding below.

DLB w watercolor resized

I also made a 4-minute video that shows how I traced the image onto watercolor paper, masked white areas of the photo, applied washes, and painted one leaf at a time by dropping in dabs of color.

IMG_6711resized

Adult coloring books are popular because they offer hours of stress-relieving, creative fun. Sensational Succulents is filled with a huge array of plants that inherently have geometric patterns—in fact, succulents are known for them. Illustrations appear on only one side of a high-quality paper that supports a variety of mediums, including pencils and markers.

I hope you’ll discover the relaxing pleasure of coloring via my new book.

Postscripts ~

Sunset magazine recommended the book in their “Best of the West” column:Sunset item

This example is from the book’s back cover:

IMG_6049_cropped_resized

I used colored pencils for this one. The book’s page on my website has the line drawing for the same image, which you’re welcome to download.

Succulent coloring book

 

“What could be better inspiration for artists than the intricate rosettes and fractal-like patterns found in so many succulents? They are vividly-colored and have varied gradations in tone, making them an ideal subject for that grownup coloring trend I’ve come to love. Sensational Succulents, a new coloring book from the queen of succulents Debra Lee Baldwin and illustrated by Laura Serra, has 75 images from Debra’s books that have been transformed into line drawings, ready for you to color. The paper is thick, and unlike many coloring books which have so many lines that it’s hard to do anything freehand, the outlines of the succulents give just enough room for us to take some artistic license in shading. She even has instructions on her website for transferring the illustrations to watercolor paper, if you want to get creative in another medium.” — Genevieve Schmidt, North Coast Journal (Northern CA)

 

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Succulent Garden Design Essentials

Nancy Dalton’s award-winning succulent garden in San Diego is an outstanding example of smart landscaping for Southern California’s arid climate. Enjoy it’s many pleasing and practical aspects and keep these dozen ideas in mind as you design and plant your own garden.

  1. Repeat colors and forms. By combining agaves with yuccas, the designers used similar-but-different plants to create continuity. The Yucca rostrata at far right repeats the dark green starburst shapes of slender-leaved agaves at middle left. These in turn echo an intriguing aspect of each other: white filaments that curl from leaf margins.Succulent landscaape

2. Incorporate textural plants. Texture is both what’s seen up-close, like fuzzy red kangaroo paw flowers, and what’s viewed from a distance, like the mounding jade at middle right and ‘Sticks on Fire’ beyond. Also highly textual are barrel cacti and any plant that shimmers in the breeze—like the Yucca rostrata at left.

Award-winning succulent front yard in Southern California

3. Sculpt the terrain with berms and valleys. Mounded soil is more interesting than flat and height enhances drainage. Tip: Bring in several yards of topsoil amended with pumice and mound it atop your former lawn or a difficult-to-dig area of compacted dirt. The succulents you plant in fresh soil will quickly take root and thrive.

Agave multifilifera in the front yard succulent garden.

4. Group plants with varying heights and sizes. In Nancy’s garden, Euphorbia tirucalli ‘Sticks on Fire’ serves as a backdrop for medium-sized succulents such as barrel cacti and variegated elephant’s food (Portulacaria afra ‘Variegata’). Low-growing blue Senecio mandraliscae and Othonna capensis complete the high-medium-low vignette.

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5. Position plants according to water needs. Those most prone to rot, such as cacti from to the desert Southwest, tend to do best atop a berm that allows water to drain away from their roots. Finer-leaved succulents tend to dry out more easily and will be happiest around the base of the mound or in a swale. See my article, “How to Water Succulents.”

6. Grow rangy non-succulents in pots. Instead of in the ground, Nancy’s herb garden occupies large terracotta pots near her kitchen door. This keeps the plants under control (some, like mints, are invasive) and makes them easy to water, tend, harvest, and replant.Pot grouping of herbs

7. Add a fountain. The sound of splashing water on a patio or adjacent to a garden sitting area blankets neighboring noise and  enhances even a small yard’s sense of privacy. It also attracts songbirds.

8. Put complementary colors to work. Succulents come in all colors, as do glazed ceramic pots, so have fun with them! Here, Nancy contrasted blue and orange. Coppertone stonecrop (Sedum nussbaumerianum) in the bed serves as a ground cover, frames the focal point, and flows around pots of Kalanchoe orgyalis (copper spoons) at left and Agave colorataFountain surrounded by succulents

 9. Display dynamic succulents against walls. Nancy lent interest to a white stucco retaining wall with three brightly-glazed pots. They contain a tall, columnar cactus, a clustering euphorbia, and star-shaped Agave lophantha ‘Quadricolor’. Find more ideas in my book, Succulent Container Gardens.

Pot grouping in Nancy Dalton's succulent garden

10. Showcase the symmetry of succulents. Small agaves look great in pots that frame and call attention to their elegant, geometric shapes.  Here, Agave victoria-reginae graces a hexagonal pot near Nancy’s front door. Agave victoriae-reginae in a pot

 

11. Include a dry creek bed. In a drought-prone climate it’s soothing to suggest the presence of water. To create the look of rushing water, designer Michael Buckner lined Nancy’s dry creek bed with cobbles turned sideways. Such enhancements can channel water from gutters into the garden and provide access to hard-to-reach areas. See the section in Designing with Succulents on dry creek beds, pp. 56-59.

Cobbles appear to be rushing water

12. Top-dress bare soil with crushed rock. It may seem minor, but this often overlooked aspect of design makes a huge difference. A layer of gravel lends a finished look, discourages weed growth, and helps hold moisture in the soil. See my articles, “Ten Reasons Why You Really Need Rocks” and “Why Top Dressing is Essential for Succulents.” 

Special thanks to Deeter-Buckner design for these “before” photos of Nancy’s front yard:

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Nancy Dalton’s s garden won the city of San Diego’s drought tolerant landscaping contest and was on the San Diego Horticultural Society’s Spring Garden Tour. Located in Carmel Valley, the garden has a mild, frost-free 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 herself is knowledgeable about plants and is a hand’s-on gardener.

Download my list of Succulents for Coastal Southern California Gardens.

See my YouTube channel playlist, “Great Succulent Gardens.”

See Nancy’s garden in my video, Design Ideas from an Award-Winning Succulent Garden

…and in my book, Designing with Succulents.