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Jim Gardner’s Succulent Showcase

At Jim and Jan Gardner’s home near Los Angeles, hundreds of varieties of mature succulents and low-water companion plants pack a colorful, well-thought-out landscape.

A retired MD, Jim’s the “succulent guy” at nearby South Coast Botanic Garden and an art potter as well.

For over 40 years, the Gardners have lived in Rolling Hills Estates on the Palos Verdes peninsula, which juts from the coastline like a burl on an oak. It’s a highly desirable habitat for people as well as plants, and a great place to view large specimens. Tropicals and succulents have thrived in this mild, maritime climate for as long as nurseries have offered them.

Palos Verdes peninsula, southwest of LA. The red dot indicates the South Coast Botanic Garden.

Jim is a self-described “biophile:” a person who enjoys interacting with nature’s life forms. “They stick to me,” Jim says of his collection of 1,300 potted succulents and cacti. Many are in containers made by Jim himself, who after 30 years in internal medicine at Kaiser’s South Bay Medical Center, became an artist-potter. His sought-after work is characterized by textures derived from organic items such as pine cones and tree bark. A long-time Cactus and Succulent Society member, Jim volunteers at nearby South Coast Botanic Garden. His pots are available at the gift shop and the annual two-day Cactus & Succulent Show in April.

Jim makes it look easy to grow 20-foot tree aloes, airy epidendrums and sofa-sized deuterochonias (a spiky, colony-forming bromeliad), but like any avid biophile, he’s made his share of mistakes. Years ago, for example, when applying herbicide to an invasive grass, Jim sprayed his succulent euphorbias as well. “They turned to mush,” he recalls wryly.

“Out in front,” he adds, “I trimmed the lavenders too vigorously and killed them, so that’s how these plants happened.” He gestures to a streetside garden lush with aeoniums, aloes and shrub euphorbias. Pavers that traverse the area appear grouted with dymondia, a low-water ground cover that withstands foot traffic. Other waterwise ornamentals include tower of jewels (Echium wildpretti), with conical, deep pink, 5-foot bloom spikes; and a trunkless burgundy cordyline with white flowers that suggest shooting stars.

As you can imagine, it was a treat for me to meet Jim and Jan and see their garden, a visit made possible by Jackie Johnson, president of the Peninsula Garden Club, where I gave a presentation on Designing with Succulents. Jim graciously provided IDs for the main plants in my best photos—well, the top 60—40 of which are below for you to enjoy. I’ve already posted on Instagram several short videos taken at Jim’s, but THE must-see is my newly released, 5-minute YouTube video: “Jim Gardner’s Succulent Showcase.”

Btw, Jim collects and hybridizes mangaves (Manfreda x Agave hybrids). You’ll notice these intriguing dotted and speckled succulents in some of my photos. Watch for a future newsletter about these increasingly popular succulents. See if they don’t deserve a place in your own collection!

And now…drum roll…here’s my annotated gallery of the Gardners’ garden. As with all the photos on my site, you’re welcome to download and use these, providing the photo credit remains intact.

 

Related info on this site:

Patrick Anderson’s Garden: It All Started with Aloes

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,” [Continue reading]

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 [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

 

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Succulent Extravaganza Highlights, 2017

Succulent Extravaganza Highlights

Members of the Succulent Fanatics 2 Facebook Group take advantage of a hanging frame planted with sempervivums and echeverias. A perfect photo-op!

Succulent Extravaganza Highlights ~ The 7th annual Succulent Extravaganza (Fri-Sat, Sept. 29-30) at Succulent Gardens Nursery in Castroville, CA drew about 1,000 visitors a day. Not bad for a relatively small wholesale/retail nursery out in the boonies 100 miles south of San Francisco. There’s an energy there, some might say a vortex, that whirls visitors into a state of enchantment.

Succulent Extravaganza Highlights

Debra Lee Baldwin and Hannah Eubanks

Hannah Eubanks, designer Laura Eubanks‘ daughter, was my assistant and took lots of footage of event highlights and my presentations. During the Extravaganza, Hannah posted short videos on my Instagram and Facebook pages. I’ll soon release longer, edited versions on YouTube. To be notified of new releases, subscribe to my YouTube channel.

Although the greenhouses themselves, viewed from outside, are about as pretty as quonset huts (which they resemble) there’s true magic inside—rows and rows of perfectly grown echeverias, aloes, kalanchoes, haworthias, sedums, sempervivums and more.

Succulent Extravaganza Highlights

Much of the fun of returning year after year is seeing old friends and making new ones. The staff is friendly and welcoming, plant enthusiasts come from near and far, stellar speakers like Brian Kemble of the Ruth Bancroft Garden share their knowledge. Nursery founder and fellow book author Robin Stockwell was there, as were many delightful members of the Facebook group “Succulent Fanatics 2” founded by San Jose designer Laura Balaoro.

Succulent Extravaganza Highlights

Laura Balaoro of the Succulent Fanatics 2 Facebook group, with her snorkeling-themed succulent display

Laura’s also known for her stunning succulent decorated hats. (See my article about her in Country Gardens.) I think she outdid herself on this one, don’t you?

Succulent Extravaganza Highlights

Laura Balaoro’s sea-themed, succulent decorated hat

 

Succulent Extravaganza Highlights

A barn door’s peeling paint makes a great backdrop for this sempervivum-planted square

Succulent Extravaganza Highlights

All sizes and shapes of containers suitable for planting are available at the nursery. They seem to have the best selection of wooden ones anywhere.

 

Succulent Extravaganza Highlights

IMHO, the nursery’s potted succulent gardens were better than ever this year

Also at the 2017 Extravaganza, I launched my new book, the completely revised and updated second edition of Designing with Succulents. We sold out the first day.

Succulent Extravaganza Highlights

Audiences for my presentations were enthusiastic and engaged.

Succulent Extravaganza Highlights

A speaker’s dream! SRO!

When it seemed the Extravaganza couldn’t get any better, my book’s publisher Timber Press provided a succulent-decorated cake!

Succulent Extravaganza Highlights

The cake, by Sweet Reba’s of Carmel, CA, combines succulents with books

Related info on this site:

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Why Cactus is Popular

Long a pariah plant, cactus is gaining popularity. You could even say that in the gardening world, “cactus is the new black.” Here’s why spiny succulents are catching up with smooth ones, notably in art, home decor, clothing and gift items. 

A little perspective: The first edition of my book, Designing with Succulents (Timber Press, 2007) showed few cacti—mainly golden barrels. A decade later, the completely revised second edition devotes 15 pages to numerous varieties of prickly succulents in gardens large and small.


Golden barrels backlit by the sun

Not surprisingly, succulent aficionados initially drawn to echeverias and other rosette succulents with streamlined, sculptural forms naturally progress. Plus they want something new. Cacti meet the aesthetic requirements and also have an edginess that makes them “not your grandma’s succulents.” There’s a surging interest in succulent oddities as well, resulting in windowsill gardens with a vaguely extraterrestrial look.


Collectible crested cacti on display at a nursery

Membership in the Cactus & Succulent Society of America (CSSA), founded in 1929, is at an all-time high. Longtime members of CSSA clubs nationwide seem bemused by the growing interest in succulents as landscape plants. But then, members are collectors. Clubs host shows and award trophies to rare, perfectly grown potted specimens. These widespread events are open to the public and free, so they’re often where people see exotic succulents first and in the flesh.

Large cacti that are spherical, cylindrical or jointed are popping up far from their native desert Southwest. Forward-thinking California landscape designers are creating focal-point beds consisting of rocks of all sizes (another trend) and with dramatic succulents with translucent spines. These living sculptures, breathtaking when haloed by early morning or late afternoon sun, require no irrigation other than rainfall.

You needn’t live in a hot climate to grow cacti in-ground. On page 112 of the second edition of Designing with Succulents, I share this good news: “More than fifty types of Opuntia and a dozen varieties of Echinocereus will grow where temperatures drop below 0 degrees F, according to members of the Ottawa Cactus Club, who have grown and tested them in their gardens.”


My makeshift cactus tools include grippers with pieces of foam rubber attached to the tips with rubber bands and rubber gloves wrapped with duct tape

Whoever introduces flexible gardening gloves impervious to spines and glochids will likely make a fortune. Regardless, if they haven’t already, tool manufacturers will see an uptick of interest in long-handled tweezers, calipers, hemostats, narrow-bladed scissors, and other items that enable gardeners to groom and handle cacti without actually touching them.

Not that I expect garden-club ladies to ever be enthralled by cacti. This subsection of succulents appeals mainly to a new generation of gardeners: people in their twenties and thirties who have the gardening gene (they’re fascinated by plants and cultivation) but who want to do it their own way. Look for young green-thumbers to take an interest in formerly ignored fat plants, reveling in the eye-of-the-beholder beauty of mammillarias, euphorbias and more. (The more treacherous, the better, especially those with eyebrow-raising names and forms.)


Sure it’s cute, but how exactly does spineless cacti help world hunger?

I’ve saved the best for last: It’s likely that research begun by famed hybridizer Luther Burbank (1849-1926) on spineless varieties of Opuntia (paddle cacti) will start up again in earnest, with the goal of creating a dependably smooth-leaved hybrid that’ll grow nearly anywhere. Many in this large genus have pads as thick as oven mitts, and juicy tissues capable of sustaining the plants during prolonged dry spells. Tender young pads, a dietary staple in Latin America (nopales), are notably high in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other beneficial nutrients.

Burbank envisioned spineless opuntia as an economical alternative to cattle feed. Despite harsh conditions, the plants grow from fallen pads. They thrive in poor soils and need far less labor than grains. Forget silos; simply leave pads on the plants until needed. But never mind cattle. Call me crazy, but I think spineless opuntia offers a significant way to combat world hunger. And due to its wealth of antioxidants, possibly cancer too.

Cacti are just one direction in which succulents are trending. With 400 photos and entirely revised and updated text, the celebratory, tenth anniversary, second edition of Designing with Succulents presents hundreds of innovative, practical, and eye-catching ways to use and enjoy these appealing and remarkable plants. Learn more at www.debraleebaldwin.com and www.timberpress.com.

Related info on this site:

April 13, 2018 — Cactus as a design element is trending, popping up on pajamas, place mats, wallpaper and more. As awareness of the plants grows, cliche images of “cactus” as saguaros and prickly-pear will give way to… [Continue reading]
I Come Out as a Cactus Lover
When profiled by Garden Design magazine, I took the opportunity to come out as a cactus lover. Well, I had to. They asked about trends in the world of succulents. I believe my… [Continue reading]
My goal in creating this cactus curio box was to elevate these textural, glowing orbs to the status of jewelry or artwork. Cacti are succulents with simple shapes, and none illustrate the plants’ elegantly elemental geometry as well as spherical varieties. To showcase the beauty of these… [Continue reading]
When I addressed the Tucson Cactus & Succulent Society, I made the mistake of saying I don’t recommend that anyone grow cholla. “Could there be a more unfriendly plant?” I asked the group. Well, you’d think I’d insulted the entire state of Arizona…[Continue reading]


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Announcing the Second Edition of Designing with Succulents!

 

Available for pre-order now. Ships Aug. 27, 2017

When publisher Timber Press proposed a celebratory 10th anniversary, second edition of Designing with Succulents, I figured all I’d have to do is change a word here and there and add a few photos. So I agreed to what seemed like a reasonable deadline—six months. But as soon as I dove into the project, I realized so much had changed that a complete rewrite and almost entirely new photos were in order.

To meet the deadline, I worked 12-hour days and weekends, often in pajamas with uncombed hair, too much coffee, and a dog that needed to go out. With the guidance of a terrific editor—Lorraine Anderson—I ripped the book open, pulled out its innards, rewrote the text, and agonized over the photos. It was so difficult to winnow the selection to 400!

How can I express my pride in this second edition of Designing with Succulents? It’s like birthing a child (except that was easier). It’s my magnum opus. Above all, it’s my gift to you—to anyone—intrigued by these elegant plants and their potential to enhance gardens and landscapes.

And don’t you just love the cover?

The second edition of Designing with Succulents is available for pre-order now. It ships August 27.

Obtain a signed copy from me at the annual Succulent Extravaganza at Succulent Gardens nursery in Castroville, CA (near Santa Cruz), Sept. 22-23; or at the San Diego Horticultural Society meeting Oct. 9. I’m speaking at both events.

The cover of the original edition of Designing with Succulents

Learn more about the book that launched worldwide interest in succulents: the first edition of “Designing with Succulents,” released in 2007.