Two must-read books for succulent lovers: Succulents and Designing with Succulents


All you succulent junkies, listen up. If you love succulents or want to learn how to grow them, two newly released books by succulent-gardening trailblazers Debra Lee Baldwin and Robin Stockwell need to be at the top of your must-read list.

Let’s start with Designing with Succulents by “Queen of Succulents” Debra Lee Baldwin. This is a completely revised 2nd edition of the book she published a decade ago, when succulents were just taking off as “it” plants and interest in waterwise gardens was growing, especially in drought-prone regions. I gave the 1st edition a rave review when I read it in 2009, and I just finished the revised 2nd edition (2017, Timber Press), eager to see what had changed.


Photo by Debra Lee Baldwin. Design by Steve McDearmon of Garden Rhythms.

In a word, everything. Designing with Succulents, 2nd ed., doesn’t just have a new cover and an updated, photo-rich design. It also contains a trove of new information and 100 additional images. Thanks to Baldwin’s expertise on succulents from propagation to design, beautiful photographs, and personable writing style, the book retains its well-deserved status as the bible for succulent gardeners.


An Austin succulent garden. Photo courtesy of D-CRAIN.

I can hear you wondering: Is the book just for California gardeners and others in frost-free climates? Absolutely not. While those of us who experience winter freezes can’t easily transform our entire yard into a succulent garden — although see the D-CRAIN-designed garden in the above photo for warmest-part-of-Austin inspiration — we can still grow tender succulents in pots that we bring indoors or into a greenhouse for protection in winter. I have a potted succulent collection that I enjoy from spring through late fall, and they’re much easier to grow than thirsty annuals. Plus those of us in the Southwest and South can grow in the landscape plenty of succulents hardy to the upper teens or low 20sF, and Baldwin has growing info and design tips about these as well.


Photo by Kyle Short, courtesy of Debra Lee Baldwin. Design by Gabriel Frank of Gardens by Gabriel.

Aside from all the practical information, what I appreciate most about the book is the breadth of design advice — useful for any kind of garden but especially those incorporating succulents — and beautiful, wide-view (not just close-up) photos of gardens. Helpfully, in the final chapter, Baldwin also includes descriptive recommendations of 50 waterwise plants that pair well with succulents, since few of us will give over our entire gardens to these fleshy plants.


Surfer dude, former nurseryman-owner of Succulent Gardens, and most especially succulent proselytizer Robin Stockwell — aka “the Succulent Guy” (do all the succulent experts have nicknames?) — has also written an excellent book: Succulents: The Ultimate Guide to Choosing, Designing, and Growing 200 Easy-Care Plants (2017, Oxmoor House).

Stockwell brings an artistic sensibility to the use of succulents, writing:

“I thought of my nursery as a paint store, my plants as the paints, and my inventory as the palette with which to work. The designers and home gardeners who bought my plants were the artists; they chose plants as a painter does paints — for a specific garden that became their living canvas.”


Photo courtesy of Time Inc. Books/Jennifer Cheung

While he focuses mainly on the West Coast in terms of turning one’s yard into a succulent garden, Stockwell gives equal time to container gardening and even DIY projects involving succulents, which one can achieve no matter where you live — putting that artistic appreciation of succulents to good use.


Photo courtesy of Time Inc. Books/Thomas J. Story

He shows the many ways succulents can be used for temporary adornment, including in succulent wreaths, hair ornaments, cake garlands, gift toppers, planted beach rocks and driftwood, green-roof birdhouses, succulent-topped pumpkins for table centerpieces, and more, offering handy tips on creating these yourself.


Photo courtesy of Time Inc. Books/Marion Brenner

Creative succulent containers, like this arrangement of stacked pots, are fun and simple even for beginner succulent gardeners.


Photo courtesy of Time Inc. Books/Caitlin Atkinson

My only quibble with the book is that some (maybe all?) of the garden profiles that appear throughout the book have previously appeared in Sunset publications. It gave me a sense of déjà vu: hadn’t I read about these gardens before, literally word for word, and seen these photos? It was only then I noticed that Sunset garden editor Kathleen Norris Brenzel is credited on the title page, although not on the cover. I suspect these portions of the book are hers. While the repackaging surprised me, the garden profiles do nicely illustrate how to design with succulents, and most of them were fresh enough for me to enjoy again. They also include a handy “get the look” inset, with pithy advice for translating elements of each design into your own garden.

Overall the book is eye-catching with a clean graphic design, photo details called out with arrows and inset text, and information presented in easy-to-digest short paragraphs. At the back of the book, Stockwell lists his favorite plants, each one nicely photographed, as well as care and propagation advice.

You’ll savor both books, and they’ll teach you everything you need to know to start growing or get better at designing with succulents. Whether you can grow them in-ground or in winter-protected pots, succulents are beautiful, addictive plants. And it’s OK to feed this addiction — it’s a healthy one!

Disclosure: Timber Press sent me a copy of Designing with Succulents and Oxmoor House sent me a copy of Succulents for review. I reviewed them at my own discretion and without any compensation. This post, as with everything at Digging, is my own personal opinion.

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.
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Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Get ready for fall garden tours in Texas! The Garden Conservancy is sponsoring Open Days tours in Fort Worth on Oct. 8th, San Antonio on Oct. 14th, and Austin on Nov. 4th.

Get on the mailing list for Garden Spark Talks. Inspired by the idea of house concerts, I’m hosting a series of garden talks by talented designers and authors out of my home. Talks are limited-attendance events and generally sell out within just a few days, so join the Garden Spark email list for early notifications. Simply click this link and ask to be added.

All material © 2006-2017 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

A narrow side yard lives large in the garden of Rebecca Sams and Buell Steelman


I don’t think I planned a family road trip from San Francisco to Portland just to have an opportunity to swing through Eugene, Oregon, to visit the garden of Buell Steelman and Rebecca Sams, the husband-and-wife design-and-build team at Mosaic Gardens, whose work I greatly admire and recently wrote about for Garden Design. But then again, it’s possible.

Rebecca and Buell graciously invited us to stop by and see their garden last month, even though 1) they weren’t even going to be there, 2) their garden was newly exposed due to the cut-back of a neighbor’s tree, and 3) their poor plants had just endured an unusually long heat wave with little watering. Knowing that their garden is beautiful because of its compelling structure, not just the plants, I wasn’t worried.


And I wasn’t disappointed. Rebecca and Buell’s garden is essentially a long, skinny side yard that slopes sharply downhill from their house. They tackled this difficult space by creating a series of rooms linked by axis views to focal points. Like running your fingers along a string of beads, you enter their garden via a garden room — a gravel foyer — at the top of the slope, pause, look ahead to a focal point, advance toward it, pause in the next garden room, look ahead to the next focal point, and so on.


Each focal point, like this stock-tank pond (yes, one of the inspirations for my own), draws you forward but also gives you a reason to stop and look around, enjoying the mosaic of beautiful plants that Rebecca and Buell have created.


Stone stairs lead you down into the garden. Cascading sempervivum grows in the crevices of the stone retaining wall. Above, a frosty blue conifer cascades on a larger scale.


A wider view, with Japanese forest grass flowing like water alongside the steps.


Now we’re in the pond garden, a sunken space not visible from the street. The stairs where we entered are visible behind the pond. Atop the slope, strategically placed trees screen neighboring houses from view.


Stepping back a few paces, down a short flight of steps, here’s an even wider view. The gravel path flows around the pond so you can view all sides. The narrow spaces around the pond are densely planted with columnar trees, shrubs, and perennials to create layering that makes those beds feel deeper.


And look at the gorgeous plants! I asked Rebecca to ID this combo for me. From left to right: Cotinus ‘Grace’, a sport of ‘Conica’ Picea glauca, a mystery fern (“This thing is a wonder. Gorgeous, even in drought with a blast of midday sun. We don’t recall where we got it, but we’d love to find more. If someone knows this one, please tell me!”), Rhododendron ‘Yak x pak’, Corydalis lutea, and Galtonia candicans, aka summer hyacinth (“the best plant that no one grows — we love it, and so do the hummers”).


Looking across the pond, your eye travels along a path, past a brick BBQ and the stairs to their back deck, to a chocolate-colored pot framed by a living arbor. The pot stands out against a corrugated, galvanized-steel fence.


A closer look. A horizontal bamboo fence adds an Asian flavor to this area, and white hydrangea glows alongside the path. Espaliered trees arch over the path to create a living arbor.


Past the arbor you enter an edible garden, which jogs left into a small back yard. Asparagus was blooming here…


…and grapes dangled from a wire trellis fence.


A gateway in the trellis fence allows access to another garden room — an orchard of fruit trees, anchored by an approximately 4-foot-diameter stacked-stone sphere that Buell made.


I love this.


Apples were ripening in the orchard.


Returning through the garden, here’s another look at the espaliered arbor…


…and artichoke.


Back at house level, a long, narrow porch leading from the driveway to the front door is adorned with a collection of potted succulents massed for impact.


Other potted plants add interest to the edge of the gravel “foyer” garden, with fabulous skinny conifers visible in the background, growing along the property line and creating the illusion of greater depth.


River stone as art object in the garden


Another look from the top of the garden into the sunken side yard.


Eucomis flowers


Rattlesnake master (I think) and red dahlia


How do you approach the garden from the street? Via this almost secret-garden stone stair, through touchable grasses, conifers, and perennials. How could anyone resist taking a peek?


A gravel driveway leads to a garage, but knowing they wouldn’t be parking in it, and wanting to create more of an entrance and drop the cars slightly out of view, Buell and Rebecca dug out the driveway, put in a low retaining wall, and repaved the drive with gravel so that it sits about a foot lower than the entry garden. Isn’t this a nicer spot to come home to than entering through a dark, cramped garage?

My thanks to Rebecca and Buell for sharing their beautiful garden with me! I do hope to meet them one day, too.

Up next: Our day trip along the Columbia River Gorge to see waterfalls and mountain views — a tribute to an incredibly scenic area that is now tragically on fire. For a look back at our visit to the dormant volcano and sapphire lake of Crater Lake National Park, click here.

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.
_______________________

Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Get ready for fall garden tours in Texas! The Garden Conservancy is sponsoring Open Days tours in Fort Worth on Oct. 8th, San Antonio on Oct. 14th, and Austin on Nov. 4th.

Get on the mailing list for Garden Spark Talks. Inspired by the idea of house concerts, I’m hosting a series of garden talks by talented designers and authors out of my home. Talks are limited-attendance events and generally sell out within just a few days, so join the Garden Spark email list for early notifications. Simply click this link and ask to be added.

All material © 2006-2017 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Oxblood lilies popping up after Hurricane Harvey


Hurricane Harvey dumped nearly 10 inches of rain on my garden between last Friday and Sunday, and high winds littered the ground with leaves, twigs, and ball moss. A Texas mountain laurel fell over in the sodden soil, and we lost power for 6 hours. A weather event, but nothing compared to the walloping that Houston, our neighbor to the southeast, is still enduring. My thoughts have been with friends and family there, some of whom narrowly escaped having floodwater in their homes.

The first fall rains usually come in September and coax oxblood lilies and hurricane lilies out of the ground, to bloom in a sudden dash of red. Although the rains came early this year, sure enough the first oxblood lily opened yesterday, springing out of the sedge lawn just 24 hours after the rain stopped.


This is a stray that remained in the front garden after I dug the rest out and moved them to the back. Deer enjoyed snacking on them, you see. This one will probably be a munched stem the next time I look.


But others are popping up in the back garden, and I look forward to the big show.


Here’s the Texas mountain laurel that toppled over after the storm, one of several fallen mountain laurels I saw around town. The drought-tolerant, smaller trees like this one seem most dismayed by the heavy rains. My son helped me stake it yesterday, and I hope it’ll recover its balance. The inland sea oats at its feet are dressed for fall, their tan oats dangling like fish on a line.


The waterlilies don’t mind the rain, of course.


Peachy pink ‘Colorado’ is always blooming.


I found this dead cicada on a waterlily pad in the pond, perhaps a casualty of the storm. It’s been a big year for cicadas in Austin.


Very much alive and enjoying dinner was this argiope spider in the front garden. I’ve seen a number of these this summer, although some have disappeared, leaving behind torn webs — victims, perhaps, of bigger and hungrier creatures. Such is the circle of life.


Before the rains, I was enjoying a nightly show of datura blossoms.


On a recent night there were at least 25 white trumpets glowing by moonlight.


Beautiful and fragrant


I was away on a road trip from early to mid-August. Right before I left I took a few photos that I didn’t have time to post, so here they are, better late than never. This is a collection of sun-loving cacti and succulents on my deck. The galvanized potting table from Target goes well with the galvanized cattle panel railing on the new deck. On the bottom shelf, shaded somewhat from the Death Star’s high-beam, are my Moby spawn, aka pups from my dearly departed whale’s tongue agave. They’ve grown quite a bit this summer.


I wait all summer to see my pond crinum bloom, and I nearly missed it — but not quite! It started blooming the day before we left, and I enjoyed it for 24 hours and then came home to a wilted flower stalk lying in the water.


And in the side garden that I don’t visit every day, a ‘Purple Pillar’ rose of Sharon, a trial plant from Proven Winners, was putting on a good show too. Maybe the Harvey rains will encourage a rebloom.

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.
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Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

The Austin Cactus & Succulent Society hosts its Fall Show and Sale on September 2 & 3, from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, at Zilker Botanical Garden (2220 Barton Springs Road). Come see rare and beautiful cacti and succulents and shop for plants and handcrafted pottery. Admission is free with paid entry to Zilker Botanical Garden ($2 adults, $1 children and seniors).

Get on the mailing list for Garden Spark Talks. Inspired by the idea of house concerts, I’m hosting a series of garden talks by talented designers and authors out of my home. Talks are limited-attendance events and generally sell out within just a few days, so join the Garden Spark email list for early notifications. Simply click this link and ask to be added.

All material © 2006-2017 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

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