Container Gardens of Succulent Succulents (pardon the pun)

| September 10, 2011 | 0 Comments

Barb Strona offers gardening tips.

By Barb Strona

Late last spring the Mission Hills Garden Club’s “Event” was to learn how to plant an attractive potted succulent garden. Debra Lee Baldwin, renowned succulent expert, first demonstrated how to plant using various pots and plants. Whether you begin with a particular pot you like or you begin with plants you like, you must coordinate plants and pot in several areas: color, texture, shaped, size, growing pattern, and water needs.

Baldwin likes to frequent second hand shops for interesting containers to use for her plants. Baldwin showed us how all these elements combine in her first example. She lined a basket with plastic in which she had punched holes. (A removable plastic insert with holes might be easier as it can be lifted out of the basket for watering. Standing water can lead to root rot and death.) The basket was a blend of muted greys, beiges, and greens. The mix she uses is roughly half cheap potting soil and half ground pumice. “Fatter succulents need more pumice.” Succulents withstand drought by storing water in their leaves; thick leaves hold more water. Pumice is used in horse stalls and is purchased from feed and grain stores. Perlite works like pumice but is more expensive. Baldwin mixes the soil and pumice thoroughly, lightly waters the mixture and blends it again. In larger diameter pots she may create “berms” or mounds to add interest and a more natural appearance.

Holding up several plants of various hues, we saw how well some plants fit into the basket and how others were not as effective. Baldwin suggests, “Try them on with your container as you would clothing.” She chose a couple of large rosette-like plants as a focal point. Repetition is one of the elements of good design. “Do NOT,” she warned, “buy one of each plant you like.” Then she added some smaller plants with similar shape. In addition, she planted some small plants that might become carpet-like or even hang over the edge of the pot. Some plants have very descriptive names such as the Euphorbia obesa.

Baldwin likes to cram the plants in. Most succulents are slow growing and may go over a year without needing to be “fluffed” as Baldwin calls it. Fluffing is either replacing or pruning plants which no longer fit the overall appearance of the container. To “accessorize the container,” she covers bare spots by sprinkling pebbles or glass using color to augment her creation.

Proportion is as important as size, color, shape, and texture. If you have a tall container, you may want to choose a tall, bulky plant. You may want to use a single plant in lieu of a variety.

I noticed the principles of planting succulents is not unlike Sogetsu, a style of Ikebana or Japanese flower arranging. I suppose good design is classic.

We then trooped down to the succulent shop. Since most of us had brought containers from home, we busily tried to keep Baldwin’s advice in mind. Once we had made our choices, we returned to an area outside where we went to work. I don’t even LIKE succulents, but I grew very enthusiastic. This is fortunate considering the water issues we have.

The following day, I “fluffed” my existing succulent containers and installed the new one on our balcony.

If you haven’t joined the Mission Hills Garden Club, it this is the perfect month to join. Active memberships don’t expire until September 30, 2012. With your membership you may attend the informative monthly meetings free. Even when I think I’m going to hate the topic; I have no interest in it, I am always pleasantly surprised. My list of things that interest me has grown exponentially in the 11 plus years I’ve been attending.

We also have special events planned. Some are free; some have a small charge; some such as trips to Hawaii or British Columbia are not-so-cheap! While we have nice weather, we have wine in the garden or coffee in the garden at various homes in the community. We also receive a 10 percent discount at Mission Hills Nursery and at Urban Seed in Old Town. We put on the Garden Walk, our major fund-raiser. You meet really nice people and you may be as involved or uninvolved according to your personality and schedule. It really is fun and well worth the $35.00 annual fee for a single or $50.00 for two in the same household.
Come to our first meeting after the summer hiatus at 4070 Jackdaw, Mission Hills Chuch of Christ, from 6 to 8 p.m., September 28. Tiger Palafox of Mission Hills Nursery and of television fame will tell us what to do in the fall.

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About the Author ()

Barbara Strona is a native Californian who grew up in the Mid-West and Los Angeles. She and her architect husband, Carl, came to San Diego in 1968 and have lived in Mission Hills since early 1971. Barbara received a Bachelor of Arts from Scripps College with a major in English, and a minor in Art. She attended UCLA graduate school and received a General Secondary Credential. She taught English in Los Angeles, Pennsylvania, and at Point Loma High School. She has been a Realtor specializing in residential sales since 1984. Her passions include her job, reading, writing, foreign languages and foreign countries, animals (feathered or furry), theatre, and her family: husband, two adult children and two grandsons.