Agave Holidays

– Posted in: Garden Adventures

Skiing angel copy

Every December I attempt to come up with a regionally appropriate photo for my holiday greeting cards. This one is my favorite. I was inspired by the way leaves of Agave americana “Medio-picta alba’ have a cream stripe that suggests a ski run. To keep the skiing angel firmly on leaf, I used a gumlike adhesive.

Opuntia resized copy

When I found little styrofoam squares wrapped to resemble gifts, I impaled them on the needles of prickly pear cactus. It was challenging to find a cactus backlit so the spines glowed, and to get close enough to a spiny plant to decorate it. The perfect clump was clinging to a steep, rocky slope, and I ended up lying on the ground, bracing one foot on the base of the cactus, and twisting so I could shoot up at it.

Puya resized copy

I put a cluster of marble-sized red glass Christmas balls in the center of a dyckia, a stiff-leaved whorled plant. I was trying to create the illusion that the balls were the dyckia’s fruits. But I made an amateur’s mistake: When you look at the photo, you can see my reflection.

Aloe Xmas balls copy

This is Aloe striata, commonly called coral aloe because the leaves are edged with a lovely line of orange. I was able to catch the plant backlit, so the orange glowed and echoed the warm red of the balls. This photo is on the cover of the current issue of California Garden magazine.

Agave americana resized copy

Glass balls on the tips of pointed leaves are a no-brainer.  The one above is Agave americana ‘Marginata’; the one below, Agave ferox.

Green agave resized copy

But when it comes to decorating agaves, I’ve yet to come up with anything I liked as much as what I discovered in a neighbor’s front yard one December: an Agave parryi decorated with a multicolored assortment of ping-pong-sized Christmas balls.  

Agave parryi resized copy

One year I bought a pair of diminutive Santas at a crafts store. First I had them garland Aloe ciliaris, which has dark green leaves toothed with white, and then a diminutive cholla, but I liked them best decorating a mini-forest of Crassula tetragona

Decorating10_resize copy

Cholla cropped resized copy

Related to jade (Crassula ovata), Crassula tetragona (below) has slender green leaves that grow at right angles to upright stems. The leaves are progressively shorter toward the ends of the stems, making the plants resemble pine trees.

Crassula Xmas resized copy

In addition to being a greeting card subject, this also served as a holiday table centerpiece.   It and the skiing angel composition are in the holiday section of my forthcoming book, Succulent Container Gardens, coming out next month from Timber Press.

I wish all of you a Merry Crassula and an Agave New Year!

My goal is to share the beauty of waterwise, easy-care succulents in gardens, containers and landscapes via blog postsnewsletterspublic speaking and workshopsphotosvideosmerchandise, and social media (Facebook and Pinterest). My books: Designing with Succulents, Succulent Container Gardensand Succulents Simplified. 

Debra Lee Baldwin
Award-winning garden photojournalist Debra Lee Baldwin authored Designing with Succulents, Succulent Container Gardens, and Succulents Simplified, all Timber Press bestsellers. Her goal is to enhance others' enjoyment and awareness of waterwise plants and gardens by showcasing the beauty and design potential of succulents via books, articles, newsletters, photos, videos, social media and more. Debra and husband Jeff live in the foothills north of San Diego. She grew up in Southern California on an avocado ranch, speaks conversational Spanish, and at age 18 graduated magna cum laude from USIU with a degree in English Literature. Her hobbies include thrifting, birding and watercolor painting. Debra's YouTube channel has had over 3,000,000 views.
Debra Lee Baldwin
Debra Lee Baldwin
26 comments… add one

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Lisa at Greenbow December 15, 2009, 8:03 am

What a delightful group of holiday inspiration. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you too.

Thanks, Lisa, I’m glad you enjoyed it! Debra

our friend Ben December 15, 2009, 10:11 am

GREAT post, Debra!!! You deserve an award. As a cactus and succulent enthusiast, I’m so inspired now, I think I’ll rush out to the greenhouse and start decorating…

Hi, Ben — I’d love to see what you come up with! Debra

Susan December 15, 2009, 12:02 pm

Love it! And I am sending all my Garden Variety readers your way!

Wow, Susan, thank you SO much! Debra

jodi (bloomingwriter) December 15, 2009, 12:16 pm

These are fabulous, Debra. You so win at making wonderful Christmas photos. They made me laugh out loud but are also beautiful.

Hi, Jodi, thank you for tweeting your enthusiasm for my Agave Holidays too. (In addition to visiting Jodi’s blog, do follow her on Twitter @bloomingwriter—her avatar alone is worth it). I hope you, your hubby and all those kitties are staying warm this winter in Nova Scotia! Debra

Crystal December 15, 2009, 1:49 pm

Very original! Who would have thought to dress plants in such Festive ware!

Hi, Crystal — I first got the idea when someone sent me a Christmas card from Hawaii showing palm trees decorated with Xmas lights. I thought, yeah, why should those of us in warm, snowless climates buy into the whole Currier & Ives thing? Christmas is universal, but snow isn’t. On the other hand, there are certain icons that “say” Christmas, no matter where you are. So I tried to combine the traditional with what’s appropriate for my region, and that makes a statement about my gardening niche as well. Debra

rebecca sweet December 15, 2009, 1:53 pm

Oh my GOSH! These are the best Christmas photos I’ve ever seen….PLEASE make them into Christmas cards so I can buy some!!

Hmm. I’ll give that some thought, Rebecca. Obviously it’s not going to happen this year! Debra

Mr. McGregor's Daughter December 15, 2009, 2:05 pm

LOL! I love it!

;+) Debra

Susie December 15, 2009, 2:49 pm

What a fun group of holiday photos, very creative!

Thank you! I’ve been enjoying the responses! Debra

Anna/Flowergardengirl December 15, 2009, 2:52 pm

Not only is it clever, it’s very tastefully done.

Ah, Anna, good point. This wavers dangerously close to being too cute and/or kitschy—something my publisher (Timber Press) was concerned about when I went into raptures over some miniature landscapes (i.e. dioramas) I found that used cacti and succulents. I came to my senses, and there’s only two of them in Succulent Container Gardens. I aim to be sophisticated without being snotty. And speaking of tasteful, I like your own Christmas tree, which I saw on your blog! Debra

Kylee from Our Little Acre December 15, 2009, 2:55 pm

Pam at Digging knows I drool all over the screen when she posts photos of her agaves, and now here I’m doing it again! Oh, I do hope my little hardy agave will grow up someday so I can decorate it like this! I love it!

Hi, Kylee — Agave parryi is quite hardy. I’ve seen it nearly buried in snow at the Denver Botanical Gardens. And there are all kinds of Opuntia (prickly pear cactus) that thrive in cold climates, providing they don’t get too wet. This sort of thing is ideal for containers, because they’re portable and can be enjoyed close-up. Use them as table centerpieces or place the pots in your entry or near a sunny window. Or even use one instead of a tree. I haven’t had a Christmas tree since the first year we lived here and I swore that never again would I dig pine needles out of the Berber carpet. But I don’t decorate a plant, rather I make a triangular “tree” of greeting cards on the wall next to the fireplace. Presents go under it. Debra

Scott Hokunson December 15, 2009, 3:00 pm

These pics are great! Especially the Agave parryi. Very festive and unique. Rebecca has a great idea about making them into cards!

Yes, and this year, those same neighbors have decorated a trio of Agave parryi the same way. I’m going to have to get over there with my camera. Debra

Kari Lonning December 15, 2009, 3:01 pm

As a New Englander, I find these photos especially wonderful. Wow, Christmas from a whole new perspective!

Thanks, Kari. That’s what I had hoped to accomplish. Truth be told, I’ve never experienced your kind of Christmas, having lived in Southern CA all my life. Actually, I’ve never seen snow falling. My Colorado-born husband says he’d love to show me frozen creeks. Thing is, I don’t like cold. I’m like a cat in a rainstorm: all I want to do is get inside, quick! Btw, when I confessed this on Facebook, New Hampshire garden writer and designer Lynn Felici-Gallant took a photo of a creek near her home for me. It’s a lovely shot, on her blog at — Debra

Les December 15, 2009, 3:31 pm

Not that I was in dire need, but these photos brought a big smile to my face, thanks!

My neighbor does something similar with their yuccas at Easter. They save all the pastel colored styrofoam egg cartons and cut out the part that holds the egg. They are impaled on the yucca tips for an instant tulip bush.

Ooh! I’d love to see a photo! Hmm. I’ve got yuccas… Debra

Lynn December 15, 2009, 6:36 pm

I echo all of the sentiments above, especially Kari’s. I so thoroughly enjoy your posts and images and this one is no exception. So fun and festive! Thank you for sharing. Happy holidays.

Thanks, Lynn, and thank you too for taking that great winter photo to show me! (Everyone: Visit Lynn’s blog.) Debra

Christine B. December 15, 2009, 6:52 pm

Brilliant and funny, thanks for the holiday photo tour! I wish I could convince an agave to survive for me up here in Alaska.


They’ll grow indoors, Christine, providing they get lots of sunlight. Debra

Blackswampgirl Kim December 15, 2009, 7:49 pm

Ooooh… I LOVE that idea–and those photos! Now I want to shuffle my plants around so that my big blue agave is in the front of the lineup, and I can put Christmas decorations on it. Too fun. 🙂

By the way, how much of a pain was it to take those red ornament/”fruits” out of the middle of the dyckia? That could be a hazardous adventure… lol.

Hi, Kim — Ha! Dyckias are indeed hazardous, with stiff leaves serrated like knives. Debra

Nicole December 16, 2009, 8:41 am

These are just way too cool! I esp like the first 6 pics. Will try that in my new garden next Christmas.

Hi, Nicole — Happy to have inspired you! Debra

Jean at Dig, Grow, Compost, Blog December 16, 2009, 1:55 pm

Those are just so cute, especially with the little santas and skier. The agaves remind me of the little town of Balmorhea, Texas, where the agaves that line their main road have large red ornaments on the tips. Great photos by the way.

Thank you, Jean. How cool that you’ve seen something similar in Texas. It is a simple, eye-catching idea, isn’t it? Debra

ryan December 16, 2009, 3:18 pm

It’s brilliant.

Purr. Debra

Loree/danger garden December 17, 2009, 4:56 pm

Thanks for providing a bright spot in a grey day.

Hi, Loree — Nice snaps of your variegated Agave americana on your blogsite. I hope it makes it through the cold snap OK! Debra

healingmagichands December 17, 2009, 10:24 pm

What a great idea! I have an aloe that I move inside every winter and I believe that it will serve as the center piece for our holiday party on Sunday. I have plenty of time to figure out a great way to decorate it, thanks to your inspirational post.

I have to say that the agave decorated with multicolored balls is probably my favorite, but the skiing angel is right behind that one. What a great idea.

Trust me, it makes going to the crafts store a whole new experience when you’re hunting items to decorate an agave. Debra

Dee/reddirtramblings December 18, 2009, 11:05 pm

Debra, you crack me up. I love this. I especially liked the skier and the other worldliness of the agaves with bulbs. Merry Christmas.~~dee

Bob Tanem December 21, 2009, 5:15 pm

What fun and what imagination. Love the pics.

High praise coming from a garden radio show host. Thanks, Bob! Debra

Christine December 22, 2009, 11:02 am

Oh my gosh, way to get your craft on! This is brilliant!

Thanks, Christine. But what should I do next? Spray paint a cactus? I’m fresh out of good ideas! Debra

healingmagichands December 23, 2009, 12:27 pm

Dearest Debra, it didn’t just make the craft store a different experience, it made my own box of christmas decor a new experience. I had a party on Sunday and your post inspired me to decorate in the garden, something I have never done before. Plus I decorated my indoor aloe plant and it made a wonderful table decoration. I posted a couple of photos of the results in my post today. I hope you forgive the shameless self promotion and take a little visit.

Thanks for the inspiration and opening up a new way to “be” in the world for me! Thank goodness all my outside decor is waterproof — it is raining today! Ozark weather. . .don’t like it? wait five minutes. It’ll change.

Your party looks like it was so much fun, with gooey, yummy treats. Love the shot of the kitty curled up after reclaiming the chair. I’m very pleased to have inspired an Ozark gardener! Debra

healingmagichands December 24, 2009, 2:19 pm

You have no idea just how inspired I got! Check out this post.

I had no idea just how much fun it was to get out and decorate the garden. I have so many ornaments now that I have a hard time stuffing them on one tree. Lots of them can stand the rigors of the outdoors, though. My eyes have been opened and you may have created a monster!

I am hoping the weatherman is right and we are going to get a few inches of snow tonight, because if that happens that little Alberta spruce is going to be very photogenic.

Merry Christmas, Debra!

I love your enthusiasm! Consider yourself hugged. Debra

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