Read This: Succulent Container Gardens

It’s the perfect time of year to refresh your container plantings or create new ones. Here in Austin, where long, sweltering summers are the norm, I’ve learned to plant only succulents or cacti in my containers in order to avoid being a slave to the hose all summer. Luckily, like peanut butter and chocolate, succulents and containers are made for each other.

Containers provide good drainage, elevate small plants and make focal points out of larger ones, and can be moved indoors where winter freezes threaten. Succulents, for their part, provide year-round interest and fabulous form and can subsist on much less water than other kinds of plants even in the hottest, driest summer. Here in Austin, many of the smaller succulents (echeverias, sedums, etc.) require protection from intense midday or afternoon sun, and they may need to be brought inside or at least well covered when temperatures dip below freezing. I find them to be worth this sort of trouble, but even if you don’t you can treat them as annuals and pot up a succulent container to enjoy from spring through autumn.

If you plan to try your hand at a succulent container this summer, I highly recommend you read Debra Lee Baldwin’s Succulent Container Gardens: Design Eye-Catching 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 growing information, Succulent Container Gardens is a useful resource no matter where you garden because the focus is on containers, which can be protected in freeze-prone zones.

I learned much from this book, including how to match a pot to a succulent’s form or markings; how closely to space succulents in containers; what materials make good top-dressing for container plantings; how to propagate succulents; and how to create floral-style succulent arrangements.

While I don’t know Debra personally, I correspond with her occasionally online, and her knowledge of succulents and their growing requirements is impressive. I pored over the images and read this book from cover to cover on my driving trip to Florida last month. Yes, it was worth carrying a hardback on a vacation. If you have an interest in succulents and don’t know where to start, or if you want to add zing to your existing pots, you’ll find Succulent Container Gardens to be a valuable resource.

My thanks to Debra Lee Baldwin for permission to use these images from her book.

All material © 2006-2010 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

18 Responses

  1. Pam – I love Debra’s book! So far, I’ve created two succulent containers after reviewing her book. It’s a new plant addiction for me. I have more trouble finding interesting succulents here in my area. There’s one place where there are some agaves, but ouch…so, my first one is spineless (but not a wimpy plant).


  2. Jenny says:

    I bought the book several weeks ago. It is a beautiful book full of useful information on growing succulents with gorgeous illustrations. I have been busy doing a few dish gardens although my pots are nothing like the ones in the book. Mostly clay. Debra was kind enough to comment on the Southern California post I did in December and pointed me in the direction of Quail Gardens and succulent nurseries. I never tire of looking through the book.

  3. I love potted succulents! There is always something jewel like about them, especially in pots. You should check out Thomas Hobbs’ ‘Jewel Box Gardens’ for more eye candy of this sort.

  4. I just picked this book up at the library today! I’ve had it on hold for weeks…a testament to how popular it is in that it took weeks for my turn to come around. I can’t wait to “dig-in”!

  5. Bob Pool says:

    I only have two containers with plants in them and they are succulents. It is because I kill every thing in pots. When I buy new plants I get them in the ground as soon as possible so they won’t die on me. Texas summers just make succulents and cacti the smart choice for containers. The ones in your pictures look a lot better than mine though.

  6. Mamaholt says:

    OOOOO I love succulents too! I bought another book you recommended and loved it; can’t wait to get this one.

  7. I’m also loving this book, Pam. It arrived here a week or so back, and I’ve been ooohing and ahhhing and well, accidentally bringing home more succulents when I see them in stores. Something about them is both stunningly gorgeous and very soothing, and blue containers just make them that much more gorgeous. I haven’t finished reading the book yet but it’s here on my desk, waiting for me to go to bed (as is my cat, who has abandoned the desk and gone up to bed in disgust!

  8. Sylvia (England) says:

    Oh! Pam these are lovely pictures. What I like is the containers are full and have many different plants in them. I fell in love with the last one of the three pots. I do have some succulents here, mainly house leeks as they cope with our high rainfall and wet, cold winters (we get light frosts). People ask for low maintenance plants and these really achieve that, picking the flowers off when they are dead is about the only thing I do to mine.

    Best wishes Sylvia (England)

  9. Katina says:

    I love the blue and green glass pebbles in the pot. I need to try that.

  10. ella says:

    Oh thank you for this! I have scanned many book store shelves looking for the perfect book. (good info and pictures) only to be disappointed.
    I love succulents and have had great success with them. Unfortunately I lost many over the winter. It was heart breaking.
    I have many empty pots I need to fill now but before I do I will get this book!

  11. Gail says:

    Pam, She is good! Fantastic pots and wonderful succulent combos…and, it seems I am a total sucker for cute birds! The last photo is too cute! gail

  12. Tatyana says:

    So many great ideas could be taken just from the pictures!

  13. Jen says:

    I found myself staring at some beautiful succulents at Lowe’s the other day. My 3 year old grew impatient with my indecision so I put them back. I am now inspired to buy a few.

  14. Daricia says:

    I won (who me? yay!!!) this book about a month ago on Susan Reimer’s blog, Garden Variety. I haven’t received it yet, but I’m so looking forward to it! The photos are to die for – just gorgeous. I’m glad to know it’s full of good ideas, too.

  15. Diana says:

    Oh, sure — just feed my already out of control obsessions! I need a few more succulents to fill in a pot that is host to Autumn Joy Sedum that is as happy as it can be. But it needs two friends. That’s all I am giving myself permission to buy!

  16. Hi, Pam — Terrific summary of what Succulent Container Gardens is all about. Thank you! I especially like this phrase and plan to borrow it: “the focus is on containers, which can be protected in freeze-prone zones.” Debra

  17. Jan says:

    As soon as I heard about this book, I reserved it at the Library. I was #1 on the list, so I was the first person to read it. It’s great!!

    Cameron, have you checked if there is a Succulent Society in your area? Ours is having a big sale on the 31st. Can’t wait.

  18. Betty819 says:

    Thanks to Debra for allowing you to post these pictures and the front cover of her book. I have this really nice concrete bird bath that is beautiful and it takes 2 adults to lift off the top piece and we struggle, that’s how heavy it is, not to mention the bottom part, the stand. I’ve thought it would look neat to add some floating flower shaped candles in it at night. One of the pictures gives me a better idea of what to do with it. How deep does the soil have to be to plant succulents? It looks like she has a few succulents planted in a bird bath, with colored glass stones and some type of other lighted features. Could they be a floating candle that is shaped like a succulent? I’m checking online at the public library for this book. If they don’t have it, I’ll head to B&N to look at it. If I like it, I’ll buy from

    Betty, succulents don’t require a lot of soil, which is why they make good rock-garden plants. I would think 2-4 inches for many small varieties. I have some succulents in a chip-and-dip set, and they are happy in the shallow soil. Just be sure they have good drainage. —Pam