By Jeannine Romero.
The Escondido resident who helped to set the trend toward succulent gardens in San Diego ten years ago with her best-seller, Designing With Succulents, is now predicting that cactus “is going to be huge in the southland,” and that rocks also will be planted more effectively and more frequently.
Debra Lee Baldwin, garden writer and photojournalist, recently released her newly revised edition of Designing With Succulents and spoke to SDHS during the October 9th monthly meeting. She said that in the original book, she included only one cactus—a barrel cactus, which she said is “in some of the best gardens” and provides both contrast and a sculptural element. In the new edition, she included “quite a few” cactus varieties and has embraced them in her own garden. In fact, she believes that cacti will come into their own as a trend, “whether as a collection on a windowsill or a whole front yard.”
Illustrating her point, she shared a photo of a local modern home with a streamlined garden of Yucca rostrata, barrel cactus, and rocks. A garden like this, she noted, “only needs rainfall.”
Baldwin doesn't personally grow any of the “cruel, vicious ones” that grow tall, slender, and covered in spines, but those are her favorite cacti to photograph. With the proper level of background lighting, she said, photographing this type of cactus with thin white spines creates an attractive halo effect around the plant.
Baldwin noted that she took hundreds of photographs of local gardens and the hardest part of updating the new edition was paring down the photos for the book to 400 total. She included many photos of her own garden, where she has also added lots of hardscape. She said only about 20% of the first edition was kept in the book.
The current trend in waterwise gardens is the “new San Diego garden,” and it's perfect for the climate. Succulents, like Aeoniums, Crassula, and Aloe arborescens, are practical plants with waterwise and fire protective qualities. They are beautiful as well, and can be grown inexpensively. If you know someone who has the plants you want, you can get cuttings.
Baldwin advised gardeners to evaluate garden designs with the elements of contrast and repetition, and to try to add a sense of motion. You can get beautiful effects without even trying hard, she said, citing some of her favorites: Lampranthus 'Lemon Yellow', which blooms on and off throughout the year, Euphorbia tirucalli 'Sticks on Fire' with Blue Senecio (Senecio mandraliscae) flowing through, and aloe with orange blooms in mid-winter. Other favorites of hers include Graptoveria 'Fred Ives' and Aloe brevifolia, her go-to succulent to fill a gap in the garden.
Baldwin also reminded gardeners to consider that not all succulents are a blessing on residential properties. She said that euphorbias typically have an irritating sap, and that the Agave americana, or century plant, is common and prolific. It becomes huge, she said, and before you know it, four plants become 100, taking up expensive real estate in the garden.
Unique pottery and hand made pots by local artists are another garden favorite. Baldwin said one-of-a-kind pottery can add tenfold to your patio space.