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.

Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, part 2: Succulents, Ocean Trail, and Dahlia Garden


In my last post I showed you the Perennial Garden and Heath and Heather Collection at Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens in Ft. Bragg, California, which I visited in early August. Today let’s continue the tour, starting with the Succulent and Mediterranean Gardens.

My first thought upon seeing this beautiful garden of agaves, cactus, and other dry-loving plants was, Not fair! How is it that they can grow cool-summer plants like fuchsia and heather and heat-loving desert plants? The gardening world lacks justice, but I enjoyed the scene all the same.


Both succulents and Mediterranean plants appreciate good drainage, and mounded and gravelly planting beds keep their feet dry — a trick we can use in Austin too, to keep desert plants from drowning in rains like Hurricane Harvey just delivered.


Spikes and hot color!


Variegated agave and a winecup-looking flower, with Australian peppermint willow (Agonis flexuosa ‘Jervis Bay Afterdark’) in the background.


Aloe, aeonium, and pig’s ear (Cotyledon orbiculata) succulents


Agave stricta, I think, and its fish-hooked, black-flowerbud bloom spike


A closeup of the agave flowers. Most agaves bloom once and then die, going out in a blaze of glory.


Houseleeks (Sempervivum calcareum) in bloom


On the Mediterranean side of the path, Australian beauties like grevillea spread their feathery foliage and curlicued, peach blossoms.


Touchable texture


Now at last we were ready to take the ocean trail to the Pacific, a half-mile walk through an extensive natural area populated by deer. This rustic gate made of branches helps keep deer out of the main gardens.


The ocean trail leads through a lush wooded area with ferns and a trickling stream. Crocosmia were growing wild here.


Farther along, a coastal pine forest of craggy trees makes an essential windbreak that protects the main gardens from the punishing wind and salt air of the ocean. I spotted a trod-on flower, pressed into the trail as if pressed between the pages of a book.


It was a pleasant stroll to reach to the coastal bluff offering views of the Pacific Ocean. In winter and spring you can spot migrating gray whales, I read. The trail meanders through a coastal prairie atop the bluff before circling back past an event lawn and then to…


…the Dahlia Garden, which was in full bloom in early August. The garden is located outside of the deer gate because dahlias are deer resistant, according to the garden’s website. I used their photos to try to identify the dahlias I photographed, starting with peachy-orange ‘Marmalade’.


‘Victoria Ann’ dahlia


An unknown pink ball dahlia


‘James Albin’ dahlia


‘Honka’ dahlia


An unknown red


‘Gonzo Grape’ dahlia


‘Victoria Ann’ dahlia


‘Crossfield Ebony’ dahlia


‘Ryan C’ dahlia


Hot-colored beauties


‘Bright Star’ dahlia


More ‘Bright Star’


Unknown red dahlia


More ‘Ryan C’?


A bee doing a split to get in there.


Unknown yellow


Unknown red


Unknown pink and white dahlia


‘Sterling Silver’ dahlia


Shades of red


One last closeup of these gorgeous flowers


Heading back to the main gardens, I spotted some naked ladies (Amaryllis belladonna), pretty pink-flowering bulbs I’d seen blooming all along the coast at the ends of driveways and by mailboxes, clearly a popular passalong plant.


Prehistoric-looking Gunnera manicata was in bloom too, its low-growing flowers resembling spiky ears of corn.


Back in the perennial garden, my daughter found a bench to lounge on, surrounded by lush foliage including…


Melianthus major ‘Antonow’s Blue’


Richly colored flowers dazzled my eyes.


Helenium ‘Mardi Gras’


‘Harlequin’ French marigold (Tagetes patula ‘Harlequin’)


Bidens ‘Beedance Painted Red’ and Bidens ferulifolia ‘Goldmarie’


A yellow Helenium and dark-blue salvia


Lavender-headed alliums atop mossy green stems


If you’re smitten with a particular plant in the gardens, you might be able to find it in the on-site nursery, which is appealingly displayed.


I longingly browsed but did not buy for my Death Star-blasted Texas garden.


In the gift shop, I was thrilled to find a copy of my book The Water-Saving Garden for sale. Thanks for carrying it, MCBG!


Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens wowed us, and I’m so glad we were able to visit during our road trip.

Up next: Supersized trees in Redwood National Park and a hike in Fern Canyon. For a look back at part 1 of my visit to Mendocino Coast Botanical Garden, including the colorful Perennial and Heath/Heather gardens, 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.
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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.

Read This: Potted: Make Your Own Stylish Garden Containers & BOOK GIVEAWAY!


I’m crazy for Los Angeles garden shop Potted and its colorful, modern accessories for patio and porch living and gardening. I’ve made two pilgrimages to the store (here and here) when passing through L.A., and I’ve ordered from and received gifts from their online store (yes, you can shop from home in your jammies!).

Over the years of crushing on their shop, I’ve enjoyed getting to know the two inventive women who own and operate Potted, Annette Gutierrez and Mary Gray. These dynamos of creative energy are continually coming up with their own designs for planters, tiled tables, and garden decor that they produce and sell as Potted Exclusives, among which their Circle Pot may be best known.


And now they’ve put their creativity on paper by publishing a Potted-loving DIYer’s dream book: Potted: Make Your Own Stylish Garden Containers. In this colorful and well-illustrated paperback, Annette and Mary share 23 original, DIY-able planters that they dreamed up and show how to create them from readily available materials like concrete cinderblock, PVC pipe, plastic trash cans, attic gable vents, paint cans, and spray paint.

Take this stacked cinderblock planter with a colorful stripe of glued-on tile, for example. They suggest using leftover tiles from a kitchen or bath remodel or sample tiles purchased from a tile store. With step-by-step instructions and photos to illustrate each step, they make construction look totally do-able and fun.


Here’s another of my favorite projects: a spray-painted PVC-pipe “bracelet” to dress up a plain nursery pot. As the authors point out, small PVC pipes are inexpensive and easily cut, painted, strung together with wire, and wrapped around an existing pot. The beauty is that you can customize the colors to harmonize with your porch decor or house colors. This is a fun idea for inside or outside.


I also love the cleverness of this idea: spray-painted metal gable vents from a building-supply store turned into wall planters with the aid of DIY plastic backing to protect the wall and hold soil. The authors used cheap plastic placemats for the backing material. Imagine how cool this would look planted with succulents.

The 23 planter ideas shown in the book are organized by basic material: concrete, plastics, metals, terra-cotta, and organic materials like fabric, rope, and decoupage. You can follow the instructions to duplicate their examples, or, as the authors point out, you can mix-and-match ideas from the various projects to create your own totally unique planters. The book is sure to give you some fun ideas for dressing up your patio, porch, or living room, and it’ll show you how to look more creatively at everyday items that can be turned into something only you have thought of.

GIVEAWAY

And now for your chance to win the book! Annette and Mary are offering one lucky reader a free copy of Potted: Make Your Own Stylish Garden Containers, and to be entered in the giveaway all you need do is leave a comment right here on this blog post. The winner will be drawn randomly at 11 pm CDT on Friday, July 14th, and announced here on Saturday.

Thanks for reading and commenting, and good luck!

Update 7/15/17: Congratulations to #13 Jenny Young, who is the winner of Potted! Thank you to everyone who entered. This giveaway is now closed.

Photographs by Potted with Sydney Michael and Amanda Brooks.

Disclosure: Timber Press sent me a copy of Potted for review. I reviewed it 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.
_______________________

Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

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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