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Succulent Container Gardens

Succulent Container Gardens by Debra Lee Baldwin

Houseplants have never been my strong suit. I rarely get cyclamens or amaryllis to rebloom, and I even gave up my everblooming abutilon this summer. I simply could not get rid of scale. I had to put it out of its misery.

And yet I have kept succulents alive and in good shape for decades. My jade tree is over 20 years old. It survived being moved to my daughters’ houses while we were in China, and it survived a winter in our unheated Great Room which caused severe frostbite. However, with a little spring warmth, radical pruning and gentle watering it revived and remains beautiful and indomitable.

I also have an orchid cactus and Christmas cactus that are probably about 15 years old. Still alive and healthy, and blooming on schedule with very little help from me. So you can imagine my pleasure when I opened “Succulent Container Gardens: Design Eye-Catching Displays with Easy-Care Plants” by Debra Lee Baldwin ($29.95) published by Timber Press.

Who among us is not familiar with the sempervivium hen and chicks? This common succulent is only one of the 100 genera, 275 species, and 90 varieties of succulents that Baldwin presents, alone and in combination, in containers plain and fancy, large and small, indoors and out, in a book that will inspire everyone who has ever put aside the idea of keeping houseplants alive for more than a year or two.

Baldwin gives advice about how to choose attractive pots for various succulents, looking at form and color. It is the varied forms of all these succulent species that fascinates me. I may not have been familiar with the terms graptovenerias or pachyforms or aeoniums, but now I love the graptoveria rosettes, the amazing exposed root of the pachyforms, and the graceful string of pearls, a senecio. And we haven’t even begun talking about spiky cactuses or agaves or trailing sedums.

There are over three hundred photographs of succulents potted in every style from traditional, classical, whimsical and moderne. They can make a sculptural statement planted alone, or arranged in a miniature landscape.

I have always looked at group plantings of succulents and wondered about how to arrange them. Baldwin gives advice about planting mixtures, and most importantly for me, advised that any planting should be full. These plants grow slowly so to keep a container from looking kind of pathetic, enough plants, or a big enough plant should be put in at the very beginning.

My Garden, The City and Me

Baldwin’s book makes me want to run right out and buy a big potful of succulents, but Helen Babbs’ charming little book of essays, “My Garden, The City, and Me: Rooftop Adventures in the Wilds of London” ($18.95 Timber Press) sends me to the armchair in front of the fire with a cup of tea to imagine her life in London where she lives in a gritty neighborhood and builds a garden in the three square meters outside her bedroom door.

Babbs is a young woman who is very aware of the ways that nature inhabits even the busy metropolis. Her London is set firmly within the greater natural world of plants and wildlife. She plants a garden in the hope that it will provide encouragement and sustenance for the birds and butterflies, for bees and other pollinators that are so important to her life, the life of the city, and the life of the planet.

Her book begins with a seed swap while winter is still ruling, then takes us through the seasons, through the days when, all unaware, she steps on her new seedlings and to full summer when she writes, “The roof has looked at its prettiest florally over the last few weeks. The flowering tobacco has been joined by yellow evening primroses, prongs of purple lavender and deep orange nasturtiums. I recently inherited a courgette plant that has five fluorescent flowers now.”

Her descriptions of the Thames and London’s historic parks and the wildlife she finds there are equally poetic. She writes about a damp autumnal ramble on the famed Hampstead Heath. “A sudden downpour left the leaf fall slick and gleaming, and the lichen on the tree trunks fluorescing lime green. Glossy droplets balled on fat, pink berries. When the rain returned, tree canopies made protective umbrellas over our heads.”

You don’t have to be a lover of English novels as well as gardens to enjoy this book, but it won’t hurt.

As her first year as a gardener closes she cannot help thinking of the coming spring  and growing carrots growing in a pair of leaky red wellies and potatoes in a hessian sack. I can absolutely identify with that kind of dreamy planning.

Babb ends with a short list of Things to Read and a list of Places to Go. I, for one, would not mind following in her London footsteps.


Between the Rows  –  December 3, 2011

All’s Quiet

Life looks quiet here at the End of the Road, but looks are deceptive.  Yesterday I read and signed my book, The Roses at the End of the Road, at Boswell’s Books in Shelburne Falls. On my way home I stopped at a friend’s open house – and sold more books there! Tomorrow I will be signing books at Tower Square in Springfield, right outside the fabulous Festival of Trees exhibit. Expect some photos.

And inside the house work continues on my kitchen renovation. Fortunately, I can use the sink and the stove again! This is baking season.

It is also Giveaway Season. Tomorrow I celebrate four years of blogging, of learning, of meeting other skilled and helpful bloggers by giving away a copy of Debra Lee Baldwin’s inspiring and useful book, Succulent Container Gardens, and a copy of my own book.  Click here and leave a comment. You still have today and all day tomorrow to have a chance to win these two books. I will announce the winner, chosen at random on Wednesday, December 7.  Good luck.

Bloom Day – November 2011

Thomas Affleck

Between the fact that the weather has been so oddly warm, today at 7 am it is 55 degrees, and our efforts to prepare for a kitchen update, I forgot about Bloom Day – not that much is in bloom.  Still, I dashed out into the gray dawn. Certainly it is the end of rose season. Does this Thomas Affleck bloom still hanging on count?

Hardy peach chrysanthemum

An unexpected stop at Wilder Hill Garden in September sent me home with this beautiful mum, identified only as Hardy Peach.  It endured snow and rain, but I think it is still ‘blooming.’

When I timidly began participating in Bloom Day I was assured that ‘buds count.”  Budded now, you can see that this Thanksgiving cactus will be in full bloom on its name day. Unfortunately not much is blooming in Heath in mid-November. I even gave up on my abutilon, defeated by scale.

I look forward with pleasure to seeing other blooms, indoors and out, all over this great land and give thanks to Carol at Maydreamsgardens for giving us this gift every month.


Spring Surprises!

Orchid Cactus

My orchid cactus lives in our main living space so it does not get the proper conditions to put on a real bloomin’ show, but every once it a while it gives us a glamorous surprise.

I was out in the garden enjoying the sun, and the breezes which meant no pesky bugs. While I was weeding the Herb Garden I saw that the chervil which self seeds several times over the summer is already up. And then I saw . . .

that the dill had self seeded as well.  Dill often self seeds, but the plants are so small and fine that I often clear out the bed, with the seedlings without seeing them.

Hooray for spring surprises.

Spring Showers

It is so warm and showery out today that I couldn’t resist putting some of the houseplants on the piazza for a little trimming and showering. See how green the grass is?

A Surprise

Van Sion Daffs

I picked these Van Sion daffodils myself,

and son Chris and Michelle brought these beautiful tulips to put on the Easter dining table,

but the surprise came when I went to water the houseplants and saw that the little geranium plant I salvaged last fall had suddenly sent up a lovely blossom that was all but lost in the dead foliage of the jasmine.  A surprise is always welcome when it is so pretty and pink. Can you see it?  There is a full geranium blossom hidden in there.

Foliage Follow-Up

Scented geranium

I don’t have any unusual foliage, but I had to participate in Foliage Follow-Up this time because of all the vigorous growth I have seen over the past month. The days are longer and the plants have woken up. My scented geraniums are full of new foliage.

This pelargonium is from  a cutting I took. I think I’ll move it to a regular pot  in a couple of weeks.

Jade tree

This jade tree is over 20 years old, but last winter I left it in an unheated room that was no longer getting escaped heat from the living room.  The new insulation kept us warmer, but the jade tree was badly frozen and damaged. I was ready to toss it, but my husband said it was too historic.  I cut it back and look at it now. Lots of new branches and glossy fat foliage.  It lives in our semi-heated bedroom.


This graceful jasmine loves being outside in the summer  and puts out lots of growth. In the fall I bring it into my semi-heated Sitting Room where it slowly goes to sleep and shrivels. But  look now!  New growth at the tips of some branches.  Still I’ll have to give it a good trim in the spring before it gets back its full strength.

I still have a couple of pots of daffodils that are all foliage. I wonder if they will bloom before the daffodils in the garden?

Pam Penick at Digging has lots more foliage.  Thanks, Pam

Bloom Day March 2011

Narcissus bulbocodium conspicuus

You must all know that the abutilon is blooming this Bloom Day, as it always is.  The only other blooms I have are  Narcissus bulbocodium conspicuus, and Baby Moon miniature daffodils from Brent and Becky’s bulbs.

I brought the more floriferous pot to church on Sunday and left them there in the hopes that there would still be a good amount of bloom for next Sunday. It is wonderful to have such a sign of spring to share with the congregation.  The Baby Moon daffs are just starting to bloom, but even all the tall grassy foliage is encouraging.

The forced tulips and the grape hyacinths have gone by, but one of my two amaryllis has a bud that is finally swelling, and I have hopes that the other will soon give signs that a bud is forming.

Baby Moon miniature daffodils

I thank Carol of May Dreams Gardens for dreaming up Bloom Day. Go visit and see how flowers are beginning to creep across our national landscape.

I Am Fascinated

After Bloom Day, wanting to preserve the tulip blossoms as much as possible in order to use them Sunday at church, I moved the pot of Pieter de Leur into the sitting room which is very cool. This is where my few houseplants live all winter. The jasmine dries up slowly over the season, but when I cut it back it always revives with the arrival of warm weather.

I have been fascinated watching these forced bulbs as they open and closed, affected in some ways by the time of day, and somewhat more predicably by temperature and amount of sun. I don’t know exactly what I have learned, but I feel I have been able to observe the mystery of growth in a whole new way.

Blooming on February 15

Pieter de Leur

On this Bloom Day I have slightly more to show than usual.  The large tulip blossom in the photo is just about ready to fall apart, but you can see three more blossoms will carry on.

These grape hyacinths are sharing a pot with the little hoop daffodil. The revelation for me is how much foliage comes along with the grape hyacinths.  I have another tiny pot of muscari on the windowsill by my bed. All the bulbs for forcing I have used are from Brent and Becky’s.


There is no more dependable bloomer in every season that the lovely Abutilon or parlor maple. One attribute I have never mentioned is that this plant is ‘self-cleaning.’  I don’t have to prune off the spent flowers, they drop of their own accord. All I have to do is keep the floor swept.

Thank yous to Carol at May Dreams Gardens for inventing and hosting Bloom Day. Logon and see who else has flowers, even while the snow lies deep on the land.