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Why Grow Paddle Cacti? DLB’s 16 Reasons

Of the dozen or so types of cacti in my garden, I have more opuntias than any other. Also known as paddle cactus or prickly pear, Opuntia species have stems shaped like ping-pong paddles. New pads grow from older ones after rains drench the roots and help fuel new growth. Typically these new pads, and flowers that turn into fruit, form along the edge of the pads and orient themselves for maximum sun exposure. For garden plants, I prefer spineless or near-spineless varieties, like Opuntia cacanapa ‘Ellisiana’, O. ‘Burbank’s Spineless’ and O. ficus-indica. These grow from 3 to 7 feet tall.

I also have dwarf varieties in my miniature landscape, which I designed to suggest a Latin American mountain town. Photos of it and the specimen below are in my book, Designing with Succulents, 2nd ed.

Flowers of opuntias are spectacular, and open in succession. So although the blooms last only a day or so, the show lasts a week or more.

As with all cactus, opuntia spines are modified leaves. There’s a good reason to grow prickly varieties—whether Opuntia species or others, they’re breathtakingly beautiful when late afternoon or early morning sun backlights translucent spines.

Certain varieties, such as O. Santa-rita, have purple pads. It’s been my observation that these tend to attain their best color in desert gardens; here in Southern CA, the pads stay green with a purple tinge.

I grow an intriguing variety that has beard-like white filaments, but I recently had to trash much of the plant because scale insects snuck under the threads and colonized the pads unnoticed. I did manage to keep a few unblemished ones, which I treated with Safer soap and replanted.

Opuntias are easy to start from pads; simply slice or break one off and stick it in the ground. Knock one off, and where it falls it’ll form roots.

The egg-shaped fruit of opuntias is edible and a colorful garden enhancement.

Opuntias are unique among cacti in that they have two types of spines—needles and glochids. The latter often is nearly invisible, barbed, and will go home with you if you touch it. Glochids create fuzzy polka-dots on the paddles of Opuntia microdaysis. Beautiful…but beware.

Because cactus pads are moisture-storage organs filled with a mucilaginous gel and protected by a tough, waxy skin, they’re slow to catch fire. Opuntias not only make great firebreak plants in wildfire-prone areas, they’re efficient at conserving water and need no irrigation other than rainfall.

Tender new opuntia pads (nopalitos) are sold in Mexican markets. They’re good in salads and can be cooked as a vegetable dish that tastes like green beans.

Let me know what you think. I always enjoy hearing from you! ~ Debra 

 

Related Info

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Is Cactus the New Black?
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Succulent enthusiasts flock to the annual Cactus & Succulent Society Show at the Los Angeles Arboretum mid-August. It’s the largest of its kind in [Continue reading]
 
Recently in Baja I was showing off my knowledge of native succulents when one “got” me. The friend who was taking a video with my phone gasped when I unsuccessfully tried to set a 3-inch-long chunk of cholla (“choy-ah”) cactus back onto a boulder. It resolutely clung to my fingers [Continue reading]

 

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Spring in My Succulent Garden: Flowers Wow with Bold, Hot Hues

My spring garden’s most vivid blooms are those of succulent ice plants. Aloes, bulbine and numerous arid-climate companions are bright and beautiful from March through mid-May. Increasing temps tend to put the kibosh on delicate spring flowers. If you live near the coast of CA, you’ll enjoy a longer spring, but you may not get the sun and heat that makes many flowers blaze.

Spring is the season of flowers, so get outside and enjoy them. Soon enough, in summer, those hot colors will fade and your garden will go back to being mainly shapes and textures—which of course succulents do best. What many people  don’t realize is that flowers are ephemeral—they flash and fade, and then you’re left with foliage. (I like to say that sentence in my talks. Try it. The alliteration is luscious.)

Above: A normally uninteresting corner of my garden is stunning in spring because of all the flowers. Red ones at center are Sparaxis tricolor, a bulb from South Africa. Easy-grow shrub daisies (Euryops pectinatus) echo the yellow margins of Agave americana ‘Marginata’—which though nearly engulfed, still makes a bold statement.

California poppies pop in spring. These bright orange annuals reseed every year. Behind them is Drosanthemum floribundum (rosea ice plant). Adding contrasting form is spineless opuntia. Almost incidentally, fruit on citrus trees repeat the poppies, and elevate their color to eye level.

Scilla peruviana, returns every March. It produces large, purple-blue snowflake flowers and then disappears for nine months. It was planted by the previous owner and I don’t do a thing to keep it going. But like all bulbs, it leaves behind droopy, messy foliage which you need to leave because it feeds the bulb for the next g0-round.

And as for ice plant, don’t plant just one variety. Combine several—not curbside, though, lest they cause an accident.

Related articles:

Succulent garden design essentials

How to grow succulents

Debra’s own garden 

My succulent meditation garden

YouTube video: Debra Lee Baldwin’s Succulent Garden in Spring.

Flowering Plants in My Spring 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

 

Debra Lee Baldwin in her succulent garden
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Debra’s Own Garden

My goal with my own garden is to create a three-dimensional art form that serves as a backdrop for videos, photo shoots and casual get-togethers. Whether in books, photos, videos or presentations—or with plants, rocks, and sweat—I’m invariably about entertaining and sharing in equal measure. It’s one way I define joy.

Debra Lee Baldwin in her succulent garden

Yours truly in the lower garden with “Big Blue.” Photo by Craftsy.


Debra's Garden

My steep, terraced half-acre garden as viewed from my house. 

Succulent rock garden

IMHO, a garden can never have too many rocks. This sloping bed is home to dwarf aloes and haworthias growing in a pumice-rich mix. 

Succulent lily pond by Debra Lee Baldwin
My dry pond has thin, nearly spineless cactus pads I ordered from Florida (!). The “water lilies” are graptoveria rosettes. 


Succulent tapestry garden

One of two succulent tapestries by designer Laura Eubanks.

Related articles:

My succulent meditation garden

Spring in my succulent garden

Succulent garden design essentials

How to grow succulents

I’ve filmed numerous YouTube videos in my garden. The most popular shows how to replant an overgrown bed:Debra shows how to trim and replant succulents

If you REALLY want to come see my garden, I do occasionally give private tours for visiting VIPs. Email me. 

My garden is also featured in my book, Designing with Succulents (2nd ed.).

 

 


 

Favorite Photos from My Garden

Certain photos that I’ve taken in my garden over the years continue to be my favorites—some for their color, others for composition, whimsy or subject. I hope you enjoy them, too.

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I never tire of observing how what’s on the pot is the same as what’s in the pot.

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Above is the photo of my garden that publications request the most. They really like those maroon aloes. (It’s because they’re dying. Our secret.)

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I’m a sucker for great shadows.

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This diminutive stapeliad looked great in this thrift-store pot even before it bloomed. I ask visiting children, “Is the fish eating the plants or throwing them up?” Girls invariably say the fish is ingesting; boys, the other option.

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More fish.

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And an ant.

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Echeveria flowers in windowsill vases.

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This is the floral-style arrangement I made for “Stunning Succulent Arrangements,” the online Craftsy class I teach.

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When I discovered Euphorbia mitriformis, I fell in love. That shape! Those stripes!

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This, of course, is all about color. The orange plant isn’t a succulent—it’s coxcomb.

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This fenestraria surprised me not only with a flower, but also by its sepals’ perfect star.

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My favorite miniature landscape, from my book Succulent Container Gardens.

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The background looks like a poster, but it’s actually plants. I love the repetitions of form and the complimentary colors of orange and blue!

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When someone gave me a little stamped-metal box, I knew it would make a great treasure chest for an undersea themed terrarium.

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Speaking of undersea, doesn’t this haworthia look like it’s undulating out of a shell?

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Love the textures and the lighting—Mexican feather grass and variegated Agave americana.

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These aeoniums look metallic, sort of like vegetable steamers. Great sheen and symmetry.

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Ah-choo!