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.

Edibles, outdoor living, and more at Sunset Gardens at Cornerstone Sonoma


While touring the Cornerstone Sonoma gardens in Sonoma, California, a couple of weeks ago, I enjoyed a two-fer. Sunset’s Test Gardens relocated to Cornerstone in 2016, and after a year of growth they’re already looking amazing. A glowing vertical garden of sempervivums, planted in the orange Sunset logo, greets you as you enter.


Sunset, publisher of Sunset Magazine, sold its longtime Menlo Park location in 2014, leaving behind its beloved display gardens, which I toured during the San Francisco Garden Bloggers Fling in 2013.


Sunset’s new gardens at Cornerstone were designed by Homestead Design Collective, whose co-founder Stefani Bittner is a fellow Ten Speed Press author. She’s co-author of The Beautiful Edible Garden, a terrific book about designing edible gardens that not only taste good but look good year-round.


The Sunset gardens consist of 5 distinct spaces: Flower Room, Farm, Cocktail Garden, Gathering Space, and Backyard Orchard. I explored the Farm garden first, drawn in along a basil-lined path through round trellis arbors by TerraTrellis. A wood-framed greenhouse stands at the end of the path, with meadowy plants visible through its glass walls.


Inside, a few simple pots of succulents adorn the airy space.


Along the path, sour gherkins dangle enticingly from one trellis.


A double axis means that when you look back, you enjoy an enticing view that way as well. This way the path leads to…


…the ready-for-lounging Cocktail Garden: “In this drinkable garden, everything growing can be mixed, muddled, or blended into tasty libations. Culinary bay, pineapple guava, pomegranates, and lavender make the foundation plantings, and a hop vine (whose dried flowers add the bitter note to beer) makes a beautiful, robust trellis climber. Potted specialty citrus and mints show our readers who are short on space that they can still grow a bounty in containers.”


Pomegranate against blue sky


Leaving the edible gardens, I admired prairie-like flowerbeds of grasses and pollinator favorites like Echinacea purpurea (this cultivar is ‘White Swan’) and Verbena bonariensis.


‘White Swan’ echinacea and tall verbena. The grass looks like bamboo muhly, but I’m not sure.


A burgundy-leaved crepe myrtle stands out against bright greens and yellows.


A classic and crowd-pleasing combo of purple coneflower and tall verbena.


A serpentine decomposed-granite path leads through the flowers and grasses to the Backyard Orchard garden, where a beautiful galvanized-wire sculpture of a tree makes a striking and appropriate focal point.


Tree of Life, the creation of New Zealand sculptor Regan Gentry, represents a California chestnut and was originally the centerpiece of a Cornerstone garden called Ecology of Place.


When that garden was removed to make way for the new Sunset gardens, the sculpture was left in place, glinting in the sunlight above verbena and surrounded by the orchard’s new fruit trees.


There’s a sense of movement in those swirling silver wires.


Next is an easy-care foliage garden in Gathering Space, “an updated take on an outdoor living room, inspiring us to move the party outside.”


This looks like a distinctively California garden to my eyes: upscale picnic table on a golden decomposed-granite patio, olive trees, and silvery and chartreuse low-water plants. ‘Platinum Beauty’ lomandra (I’m planning to trial this one soon!) edges the bed behind the picnic table. I think that’s ‘Beyond Blue’ fescue around the olive tree.


I wonder if this could possibly hold up in our climate. Our unrelenting hothouse summer is often the deal-breaker for those dry-loving and high-country plants I covet.


Here’s a pretty touch: star-shaped Aloe striata (hybrid) planted amid the blue fescue.


This, however, could be an autumn scene in Austin: Gulf muhly in flower with purple coneflower and tall verbena. Beautiful! We won’t see flowering like this in Austin for at least another month, starting in early October, so it was a treat to enjoy it in August.

Up next: Gary and Deborah Ratway’s garden and acclaimed nursery Digging Dog in Albion, CA. For a look back at the remarkable conceptual gardens of Cornerstone Sonoma, 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 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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