Succulent Container Gardens

As a sequel to her successful Designing with Succulents, Debra Lee Baldwin has written a colorful and informative treatment of these popular plants as container subjects. Based in Southern California, Baldwin has years of experience working with, and writing about, succulents, cacti, and mediterranean-climate plants. This new book contains more than 300 inspiring photos illustrating basic design tenets, plant information, large container displays, and cultivation of these water-wise plants.

Part One examines what showcases the plants best. Considering repetition, color and texture, scale and proportion, in combination with the choice of containers, will enhance the sculptural beauty of the plants. Baldwin showcases classic containers, unusual art pots, and surprising containers-a child’s toy fire engine, a rusty flour sifter, or a muffin tin. Accessories and top dressings are also important; she suggests that tumbled glass, gravels, or pebbles set off the plants and help unify a gathering of containers.

For containers, Baldwin provides excellent lists of smaller agaves, euphorbias, ice plants, and strange pachyforms with built-in water tanks. Sedums fill and drape and add color to compositions. Companion, non-succulent plants can provide additional color, form, and texture to complement succulents.

In Creative Designs and Displays, Baldwin inspires us with ideas for using succulents in small, even vertical spaces, for large groupings of containers, for rooftops, balconies, stepped displays, repurposed birdbaths—even an old purple bathtub. Rapidly becoming popular in California are vertical gardens with dozens of small succulents planted within a frame and hung on a wall. She also provides full directions for creating appealing living wreaths and topiaries with succulents.

As Baldwin notes, succulents are forgiving when neglected. Forget to water for a few weeks? Not a problem. The biggest plant killer is soggy soil; avoid it at all costs. Cuttings can sit for weeks before planting. Direct sun can be harmful, especially at mid-day. Frost-tender succulents can be brought inside when temperatures drop to freezing. If you get impaled with tiny cactus spines, paint the area with rubber cement, let it dry, and then pull it off, taking the spines with it. Tips like these, scattered throughout the book, make this book a useful and encouraging guide for growing succulents.

A slightly longer version of this review appears in the April 2010 issue of The Mediterranean Garden, journal of the Mediterranean Garden Society.

Bracey Tiede, Master Gardener
San Jose, California