Got a pot with no drainage hole? Drill it, plant it, enjoy!

Wrinkled skin and all, this green elephant pot caught my eye at Barton Springs Nursery a few weeks ago. As I looked it over, I noticed it lacked something important: a drainage hole in the bottom. A drainage hole is essential to a potted plant’s health, even its survival. Without a hole, a pot’s soil gets saturated when you water it, and the plant essentially drowns. Not good. Luckily, it’s pretty easy to drill a drainage hole, even in a ceramic pot like this one.

A masonry bit and an electric drill are all you need. Masonry bits, like all bits, come in different diameters. For drainage, a bigger hole is better, but it all depends on the size of your pot. I usually keep two sizes of masonry bits tucked in the package shown here, and the one I used is probably a 1/4-inch bit, not 1/8-inch. To ensure good drainage, I drilled three holes spaced an inch or so apart.

Turn your pot upside down to drill it. If the top is uneven, as with my elephant pot, have someone brace it for you so you can drill straight down (not sideways as shown in my quick-snap illustration). If your bit slips when you start drilling, stick a piece of masking tape on the bottom and drill through that. Don’t lean on the drill, lest you break the pot. Just apply regular pressure and let the bit slowly work its way through.

If you notice heat build-up during the drilling process, turn off the drill and occasionally wet the pot bottom to cool the ceramic, especially if the pot is thick and it takes a while to drill through. This wasn’t a problem with my thin-skinned elephant pot.

I decided on a ‘Dragon’s Blood’ sedum for the elephant because its rusty red and green coloring harmonized with the pot color. I put a couple of broken shards of terracotta in the bottom to keep soil from washing out of the new drainage holes. When I pulled the sedum out of its nursery pot, I found it was too big to fit in the little elephant pot, so I pulled off about a quarter of the soil on the bottom (taking off some roots in the process, but succulents are tough) and a little around the sides as well. I popped it in the pot and filled the gaps with a fast-draining cactus potting mix I bought at the nursery.

Finally, I topped the soil with a thin layer of pea gravel for a finished look and to keep soil from splashing out. For small pots like this, you can also use aquarium gravel or vase-filler pebbles found in the home-decor aisle of stores like Target.

Ta-da! You might think of it as a dragon riding an elephant.

Once you feel confident using your masonry bit, you’ll probably find all kinds of containers that can be turned into succulent planters. Years ago, I drilled this two-piece chip-and-dip set and planted it with a variety of succulents, accented with turquoise glass beads and chunks of blue slag glass.

It’s gone through various replantings over the years, but I still love it.

While rooting around in the garage for the masonry bit, I unearthed this old frog pitcher, and now I’m wondering if it would make a good planter. What do you think? Maybe string-of-pearls senecio dripping out of his mouth?

I welcome your comments. If you’re reading this in an email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment link at the end of each post.

Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

I’ll be speaking on April 30, noon-12:30 pm, in Cedar Park, Texas, at Hill Country Water Gardens & Nursery’s Lily Blossom Festival. My free talk is called “How to Garden Water-Wise, Not Water-Wasteful.” An old proverb reminds us that The frog does not drink up the pond in which he lives. Don’t be a water-guzzling frog! I’ll be sharing my tips for making a garden that is water-wise, not water-wasteful. Stick around after my talk for a book signing, with autographed copies of Lawn Gone! and The Water-Saving Garden available for purchase.

Come see me at Festival of Flowers in San Antonio, May 28, time TBA. Learn more about water-saving gardening during my presentation at San Antonio’s 19th annual Festival of Flowers. I’ll be at the book-signing table after the talk, with copies of both The Water-Saving Garden and Lawn Gone! available for purchase. Tickets to the all-day festival, which includes a plant sale and exchange, speakers, and a flower show, are available at the door: $6 adults; children under 10 free. Free parking.

Do you review? Have you read my new book, The Water-Saving Garden? If you found it helpful or inspirational, please consider leaving a review — even just a sentence or two — on Amazon, Goodreads, or other sites. Online reviews are crucial in getting a book noticed. I really appreciate your help!

All material © 2006-2016 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Leveling a pot and potting it up

Sunny and 65 degrees F, yesterday was flat-out perfect gardening weather, and I puttered, planted, and potted nearly all day. One of my last projects before I collapsed indoors involved a bit of rearranging and ground prep in order to pot up a ‘Sharkskin’ agave that’s been too shaded for its liking. Some agaves, I’ve found, just do better in pots, where you can give them excellent drainage, especially in winter when they risk rotting in chilly, damp soil. Aside from that, placing a pot in a garden bed creates an instant focal point and elevates a plant so you can appreciate its finer details. Also, potting the ‘Sharkskin’, a lethally spiny agave, would make the garden safer for our dog, Cosmo. I’d been snipping the tips off the lower spines, but I still worried he’d get poked in the eye.

Looking for a hot, sunny spot to keep my ‘Sharkskin’ happy, I decided on this corner between the deck and the hillside-garden path. A few years ago, I’d recognized the need for a focal point here and plopped a birdbath filled with green glass “water,” moved from my former cottage garden. In summer this space is livelier with fragrant sweet almond verbena (Aloysia virgata), Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha), globemallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua), and wall germander (Teucrium chamaedrys). At this time of year only the globemallow and wall germander are green.

Looking up the path, it’s a late-winter, straw-bleached scene of bamboo muhly (Muhlenbergia dumosa), butterfly vine (Mascagnia macroptera), and gopher plant (Euphorbia rigida). Oh yeah — plus the sad, shaded, little ‘Sharkskin’ agave.

After moving the birdbath out of the way, I got my tools and supplies together. That’s right: I don’t just plop a pot in a garden bed. If you do that, you’ll soon see your pot leaning to one side, sinking into the soft soil, and you’ll forever be futzing with it. But if you lay a compacted, level base for your pot to sit on, you won’t have to fiddle with it later.

I bought a bag of paver base (crushed gravel), a bag of paver sand, and a couple of 16-inch square concrete pavers from Home Depot. With a tamper (a heavy, metal plate with a wooden handle) at the ready, I grabbed my shovel and dug an 18-inch square 3 or 4 inches deep.

I poured the bag of paver base into the hole and used the tamper to pack it down firmly. Then I spread a few inches of paver sand and laid the first concrete paver, checking with a level and moving sand as necessary to ensure that the paver wasn’t sloping to one side. The first paver sat flush with the soil, which was fine, but I wanted a little more height, so I placed the second paver on top. Then I filled and tamped around the edges with the soil I’d dug out.

Next I heaved my beautiful new pot from Barton Springs Nursery (bought on sale just after Christmas) onto the pavers and checked one more time with the level. Perfect.

I put some chunky rock for drainage in the bottom of the pot, and then I filled it with a mix of gravelly pebbles (leftover from another project), decomposed granite, and Hill Country Garden Mix from The Natural Gardener. I dug up the ‘Sharkskin’, taking care not to impale myself, and potted it up. A mulch of decomposed granite finished it nicely. I hope it’ll be much happier here. I’m enjoying my new focal point.

Cosmo photobomb!

All material © 2006-2014 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Mementoes and memories in the garden of Rebecca Sweet: San Francisco Garden Bloggers Fling

Our 4th stop on the 2nd day of the San Francisco Garden Bloggers Fling was the Los Altos garden of designer, author, and blogger Rebecca Sweet. I’ve admired her garden not only on her blog, Gossip in the Garden, but in magazines like Sunset, so I already had an idea of the treat we were in for.

Although most of our conversations have been on Facebook and in the comments of our respective blogs, I count Rebecca as a friend. We met in person last fall at the Garden Writers Association symposium, and I found her to be as sunny as her blog persona and surname suggest, but with a hilariously snarky sense of humor thrown in to surprise you now and then. She greeted us with her trademark smile as we stepped off the bus.

Rebecca grew up in this house, and in 2000 she and her husband, Tom, bought the property from her parents. As she explains on the Fling website, she’s spent the past decade and a half “re-inventing the garden…[t]o create a secluded, private and deeply personal garden where one can lose themselves for hours….Consisting of several private spaces, infused with childhood mementos from both my own past as well as my daughter’s, my garden is less of a designer showpiece and more like a diary. It’s a place to play, experiment and show my personality — and I love it with all my heart.”

The first thing you see is a small, circular front lawn enclosed by a scrim of lush plants, which gives privacy to the cottagey ranch house.

With plenty of windows overlooking the garden, Rebecca and her family enjoy beautiful views.

Classic hydrangeas mingle with funky grevillea in the front garden, introducing you to the fun variety of plants Rebecca grows. Like most gardeners, she enjoys shaking things up and confided that she plans to rip out the small front lawn and replace it with a mix of agaves and other spiny, water-thrifty plants. A bold move — I approve! Nothing wrong with that lawnette though; it makes a lovely negative space in the center of a full garden.

While there was plenty to enjoy out front, Rebecca invited us into the back garden for refreshments on this surprisingly hot day. Strolling through the narrow side yard, I noticed the vertical gardening she’s doing, including this charming windowbox, and I recognized certain vignettes from her book Garden Up!

Although narrow, the side garden is as inviting as the main garden thanks to a brick path, eye-level succulent wreaths and windowboxes, and this umbrella-shaded patio set. A glimpse of the back garden, half hidden by shrubbery, beckons you forward.

You enter the back garden under a wooden arbor shading a gorgeous, sea-green, tile-top table.

Antique brick laid in a herringbone pattern makes a classic floor for a comfortable seating area near the back door.

Gazing out on her garden, I was immediately captivated by a mint-green aviary alive with chirping canaries and finches. An enormous, fuchsia bougainvillea clinging to the corner of the house tried its best to steal the show.

At its feet, along a narrow, gently curving brick path, a line of blue-green echeverias makes a stunning border.

A variegated euphorbia and other yellow-tinged plants harmonize sweetly with the echeverias.

And just look at this vignette: such wonderful texture and color contrasts. And I love the metal gate accent and the succulent wreath on the wall.

Looking across the rectangular lawn, you see a pair of steamer chairs on a circular paver patio. Intimate seating areas like this abound in Rebecca’s garden.

Following that path with your eyes to the far end of the garden, you spy another small patio, even more inviting than the first. The privacy fence here and throughout the garden is completely obscured by shrubs, vertical trees, and vines, making for a green backdrop that psychologically enlarges the garden. Rebecca’s daughter’s old play set is just visible to the right; Rebecca plans to remove the swing portion and garden up this section.

Continuing on the path by the aviary, you come to an outdoor sink and countertop, adorned with a mix of succulent planters.

An arbor along the path offers entrance to the back of the garden, largely screened off by shrubs. Passing through the arbor you enter a surprisingly generous patio space anchored by this shed-turned-design-studio. With husband Tom’s carpentry expertise, Rebecca transformed her parents’ old, slant-roof shed into a dreamy work space that doubles as a “chick shack” for relaxing with friends. (Here’s Rebecca’s post about the shed remodel.)

By the door, potted ivy and other plants hug the foundation and brighten the scene.

Along the side, recycled windows that open outward add even more charm.

Inside, pale yellow walls and a peaked roof give a sense of airy spaciousness to the tiny room. A cushy sofa, a couple of wicker chairs, and a coffee table provide a place to put your feet up.

Along the back of the room, a long countertop offers work and display space, with curtained storage beneath.

A small desk provides space for Rebecca to draw garden designs for her clients. I don’t know how she keeps this room so uncluttered since it serves as a work area. I could take a lesson there.

Windowsills serve as artful display space for Rebecca’s collections and mementoes, like these tiny crocks filled with tillandsias.

On the wall hang charms and pretty cards, along with framed copies of her magazine articles. Rebecca has an eye for display. You could spend hours discovering all the charming details amid the vignettes she’s created.

The brick path leads around back of the shed/office, where you find this potting bench all dressed up with more of Rebecca’s pretty decor.

On the back wall of the shed hangs a collection of old tools, some of which belonged to her father, others to her grandfather. What a great display idea and one that can keep a loved one’s memory alive. I carry a small measuring tape that belonged to my grandfather, and whenever I pull it out and see his initials on it, I’m reminded of him, though he’s been gone for 17 years. So I love that Rebecca has saved her grandfather’s tools to remember him by.

This vignette really grabs me, especially since it’s tucked away in the back of the garden, where you have to explore to find it. Rebecca found an old mantel, dressed it up with seashells, and anchored it against the back fence. A plantable head adds gravitas, while potted ivies spill from the mantel shelf. Where the fire would be, were it indoors, Rebecca cleverly planted flame-shaped sanseveria. You can’t help exclaiming with delight when you discover it.

I like this: filling a too-large plant holder with pinecones.

My friend and fellow Austin blogger Diana with Rebecca’s cute dog

Following the brick path back toward the house, I stopped to admire the steamer chair seating area.

I think this is a variegated octopus agave (Agave vilmoriniana) underplanted with echeveria — fabulous!

A golden-leaved plant in front picks up the golden stripes of the agave.

Tiny succulent pots mingle with telephone glass insulators on the side-garden patio table.

A last look back at Rebecca’s garden reveals another beautiful surprise: a jacaranda in full purple bloom. I saw lots of these tropical trees in Santa Barbara earlier this summer, but they’re not often found, Rebecca told us, in the Bay Area.

We saw many lovely gardens on the Fling tours, with beautiful plant combinations in every one, but Rebecca’s garden is one of my favorites thanks to her talent with vignettes and the personality she’s infused into every corner of her garden. Thank you, Rebecca, for sharing your garden with us!

Up next: The Testa-Vought Garden, designed by Bernard Trainor, perfectly designed for outdoor living and entertainment. For a look back at the grand estate garden of Filoli, click here.

All material © 2006-2013 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.