Read This: Designing with Succulents


When the Death Star trains its energy-sapping, plant-frying beam on central Texas each summer, I find inspiration in succulent gardens, which use heat-loving, water-thrifty agaves, aloes, cacti, and groundcover succulents to create a tapestry of colorful foliage. This summer I’ve been devouring the images and design ideas in Debra Lee Baldwin‘s book Designing with Succulents.

Filled with beautiful photos of succulent gardens (most of which Debra took herself), her book will have you plotting the removal of all your plants that rely solely on flowers for their appeal or that disappear into a pile of bare sticks in the winter. You’ll be itching to imitate the textural, Dr. Seussian plant combinations shown in colorful detail.

Her book is also meaty enough to cover growing conditions and cultivation of succulents, design principles, plant care, and cold-climate succulents. Alas, having to limit oneself to frost-tolerant succulents is hard to accept once you’ve seen the fantastic variety of tender succulents splashed across these pages. Ah well. We can’t all live in southern California, and those of us in subtropical zones, like Austin, can push the envelope by planting tender succulents in warm pockets in the garden—for instance, against a south-facing wall or in an enclosed courtyard. But we must also remember that some succulents can burn in too much sun. Many of the groundcover succulents, like sedums, echeveria, and sempervivum, actually do better with afternoon shade in our blistering climate.


Primed by Debra’s book, images of Jeff Pavlat’s succulent garden on “Central Texas Gardener,” and Jeff’s “CTG” conversation with host Tom Spencer about frost-tolerant aloes, I was raring to find some cool new succulents today when I went to Bob Barth’s semi-annual cactus and succulent sale at Oracle Gorge Nursery, which he operates out of his West Lake Hills home.

I got there at 11 am, and, boy, the place was packed with cactus hounds. I scored a large Aloe striata (in back), Mangave ‘Bloodspot’ (center), two freebies on either side of the mangave, and, from a separate trip to Barton Springs Nursery, a Dyckia brevifolia ‘Moonglow.’


I’m excited to try the ‘Bloodspot’ mangave, especially since I’ve been enjoying the fabulous ‘Macho Mocha’ mangave in my garden for several years. One of Bob’s assistants told me that ‘Bloodspot’ should have a little more shade and water than an agave, which is consistent with what the ‘Macho Mocha’ needs as well.


Little ‘Moonglow’ dyckia has a pretty, sage-green leaf, and it’s supposed to have a yellow-flowering bloom stalk in spring.


One of the freebies from Bob’s sale, Aloe ‘Winter Sky’, is probably frost-tender. I’ll have to stick it in a pot, I guess, or let it take its chances in the warmest pocket of my garden. What the heck—it was free.

All material © 2006-2009 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

21 Responses

  1. Nicole says:

    Those are beautiful and very sculptural plants. Designing with Succulents has been one of the major sources of inspiration for my planned new garden. And I got Aloe striata and Mangave ‘Bloodspot’ on my recent trip to San Francisco (along with several other succulents I will blog about).

    We are drawn to the same plants, Nicole! I hope they grow well for both of us! I can’t wait to see what else you got. —Pam

  2. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    I just love succulents and agaves. I don’t have many in my garden since I haven’t studied which ones do well here in my zone 6 garden. I always end up bringing home a small collection of succulents when I see them marked down in late summer. I just can’t resist those interesting textures and colors. I can’t wait to see where these end up in your garden.

    Me too, Lisa. I bought without much thought to placement this time. I’ll have to go out and see where I can squeeze them in. —Pam

  3. Gail says:

    Very nice Pam~It sure makes sense to garden where we are and with what nature hurls at us. Your summer has been brutal. The new plants will be excellent additions to your garden; can’t wait to see them in place. gail

    Now I just need a lovely 70-degree morning to get everything planted. Ha! That’s not going to happen anytime soon. :-) —Pam

  4. Kim says:

    I’ve just discovered succulents, if you forget I’ve had Neon sedum forever. Maybe it has me because it’s so prolific. But some of the other succulents, especially the lower growing ones have just captivated me. Last year I planted Sedum spurium ‘Fuldaglut’ (not a nice name, but a beautiful plant) and this year I added several more low growing ones. I love the texture they add to my perennial border, and I’ll definitely be adding more. Here in Maryland, we can get some pretty cold temps. The local centers sell what should do well here, but it’s obvious from the selection that succulents aren’t in high demand. I haven’t found that Whale tongue agave yet . . . . . . .

    I wish my sedums were as prolific as yours, Kim, but I think the heat gets to them. I’ve lost ‘Angelina’ a couple of times, but I keep trying. It’s wonderful that they grow so well for you. They make such a beautiful groundcover. —Pam

  5. Shannon, another Austin gardener says:

    I was at the Cactus Sale at about the same time yesterday. I picked up some Queen Victoria agaves that I have admired from your previous posts and a few other interesting plants. Bob’s greenhouses had an amazing variety of plants. Fun stuff.

    He really does have an astounding collection, doesn’t he? You’ll love your Queen Victorias. They’re so beautiful as they mature. —Pam

  6. Cathy says:

    Could you put up a picture of your manfreda maculosa from last year? If you still have it, I want to see how it’s doing this summer. Mine is probably the best surviving plant of the whole yard. The thing is in a black plastic gallon pot from Great Outdoors that I bought back in May and never got around to planting. It gets about 3 hours of shade a day around noon under a crepe myrtle. It is thriving and I only remember to water it once ever 10 days or so. It not only doesn’t care about the heat or dryness, but it’s in a burning hot plastic pot all day and seems fine! As soon as I got it a few months ago I noticed it attracted all kinds of wierd bugs that don’t show up on my other plants. Strange orange and green pop art looking bugs. I want a complete manfreda / mangave collection!

    Thanks,

    Cathy in Crestview, Austin

    Hi, Cathy. My most recent picture of my ‘Macho Mocha’ mangave is from a June post; click on the link and scroll down until you see it. That post has another link to a post about the mangave in bloom. It really is a tough and beautiful plant. —Pam

  7. Great group you got yesterday! Baldwin’s book sounds great, too. The Austin Cactus and Succulent Society is having their annual sale this Labor Day weekend, Sept. 5th, 6th, and 7th from 10-5 at the Austin Area Garden Center at Zilker Botanical Garden. Can’t wait to find some goodies there!

    Bob Barth and his helpers are all members of the Austin Cactus and Succulent Society, so I’m sure they’ll be there too. Thanks for spreading the word about the sale. —Pam

  8. Amy Emerick says:

    I will definitely check out that book concerning succulents. I have never seen the ‘bloodspot’ mangave. I’ll have to keep my eye out for one. Thanks for the good info!

    I’d never seen ‘Bloodspot’ at the regular nurseries, Amy, but the ‘Macho Mocha’ mangave is readily available. I snapped up the ‘Bloodspot’ in order to give it a try in the ground. I’ll let you know if it’s worth pursuing. —Pam

  9. Hi, Pam — Thanks so much for mentioning my book. I wish I could have been there for Bob Barth’s sale—I’ve toured his greenhouses, and his collection is amazing. Lots of wonderful things going on in your area, and your club has terrific members. I love the lone star state! Debra

    Hi, Debra! I really enjoyed your book, even taking it with me on a trip to OK recently and going on about it to Dee from Red Dirt Ramblings. If you ever come to Austin to talk about succulents, I’ll be there! —Pam

  10. chrisf says:

    I love this book for practical suggestions, but if you want pure eye candy check out The Jewel Box Garden by Thomas Hobbs

    I have that one too, Chris. I don’t love the writing so much, but the photos are eye candy indeed. —Pam

  11. Jenny says:

    Great choices Pam. I love the succulents too and am sad to have missed yet another of Bob’s sales. Let’s hope that with all the heat more shops start carrying cold tolerant succulents.

    I would love to see that too. By the way, your garden is one that inspired me to love succulents, and I adore the way you pair them with loose, flowery perennials. —Pam

  12. Cindy, MCOK says:

    Oh, I like that Bloodspot mangave! When I had the flagstone patios installed, I moved most of my succulents to the courtyard. They get a bit more sun there but are more protected from the weather. I’d been thinking I need more … wish I could have joined you at Bob’s sale!

    One always needs more succulents, I’ve decided. I wish you could have been there too, Cindy. You’d have loved it. —Pam

  13. Victoria says:

    Thanks for the review, Pam. I’ve now ordered the book from Amazon. I see Debra Lee Baldwin has another book coming out in January (here in the UK, anyway) on succulent container gardens. Sounds like one for you and me!

    Yes, I saw some advance publicity for that book too, Victoria. Another great topic for people who love to grow succulents. —Pam

  14. Germi says:

    Hey Pam! Long time no visit! I’m catching up on all my favorite blogs today – and here you are up to your old tricks, reviewing the BEST books!
    I ADORE this book, think Debra is a wise succulent FairyGodmother, and I am very very proud of having a picture of my garden included! You’ll be able to tell because it includes my orange tile wall!
    I haven’t been able to go plant shopping lately, so I am drooling over your purchases with vicarious pleasure – Aloe striata is one of my favorites! The orange candelabra flower is a showstopper – I want a big clutch of them in my garden. Sigh. One day!
    Lovely to stop by, as always!

    I saw your orange tiled wall in Debra’s book, Germi, and recognized it immediately! Your garden is so famous that I’ve seen pics of it in magazines and books, so it didn’t surprise me at all to see it here, though I should have mentioned it. I can’t wait to see how the aloe does in my garden. If it gives me a big orange candelabra, I’m going to want more, more, more. —Pam

  15. Loree says:

    Debra’s book is in my personal library and I turn to it frequently. I was also lucky to hear her speak at the Yard Garden and Patio show here in Portland right after this book came out. Even though a lot of what she plants is out of my zone I still gets tons of inspiration just leafing through the pages. Of course now tonight I will have to go back to it and find Germi’s garden!

    Your purchases are fabulous! I am just learning about the Dyckia and have a couple – I love them! They are very tough.

    I keep meaning to ask you if the leaves on your Mangaves are extremely easy to break off. I can accidentally do it with even a strong squirt from the hose! I feel so bad every time it happens and wish I didn’t keep doing it!

    Hi, Loree. Yes, those mangave leaves are kind of fragile. I’ve not broken one with a squirt from the hose, but I’ve cracked or broken them by leaning against the plant while weeding around it. It just kills me when that happens! —Pam

  16. Michelle D. says:

    That’s a book that I have wanted to glean for awhile.
    My garden is compiled with about 50 % succulents and the other half is subtropicals and odds and ends.

    Looks like you scored some nice plants for your garden.
    The few dyckias that I have are blooming right now- nice orange to yellow flowers.

    You are living in the perfect climate for making succulent gardens, aren’t you, Michelle? Lucky, lucky you! —Pam

  17. Jean says:

    Pam, you make me crazy showing all these beautiful succulents! I’m just too afraid to put them in the ground here (although I was brave enough to try the Agave multifilifera and so far, so good). We get such torrential rains sometimes (just last week, 2″ in less than half an hour). So I’m living my succulent fantasies through your purchases. Thank you! ;-)

    You’re envying me my succulents, and I’m envying you your rain, Jean. If only we could share some of our bounty with each other, eh? —Pam

  18. Diana says:

    Pam — You’re so right — I AM plotting for removal all over the place this year. Especially since this seems to be the wave of the future here in Central Texas. You plant acquisitions are great — can’t wait to see where you plant them and who their neighbors will be.

    We Austin gardeners are facing hard decisions on what kinds of plants we’re willing to slave over with water hoses to keep them alive each summer. Who knows—maybe we’ll get a super wet summer next year, and our succulents will suffer. But I’m betting on a future of hot, dry weather rather than rain. Not that I’m happy about that, but you have to plant for the weather you have, not the weather you want, right? —Pam

  19. Sierra says:

    Where can I find a list of succulents that I can plant successfully in the ground in Austin, TX?

  20. […] Displays with 350 Easy-Care Plants, a follow-up to her inspiring—if California-centric—Designing with Succulents. Beautifully illustrated with Debra’s own photographs and chock full of smart design tips and […]

  21. Sharon says:

    I have this book and it’s great. I’m wondering if anyone can tell me what the ground cover is called that’s just in front of the lamp. I’ve looked and looked but can’t find it. smolinari@myastound.net Thanks.

    Sharon, the caption on page 19 identifies the ground cover as Sedum anglicum. —Pam

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