Potting Workshop with GGW Winner Bonnie B.

– Posted in: Succulents

Garden designer Bonnie Barabas was the winner of the one-on-one succulent potting workshop in my giveaway here on GGW to celebrate the release of my latest book, Succulents Simplified. Bonnie drove to Escondido from Santa Barbara recently to meet me at Oasis Water Efficient Gardens nursery near my home, bringing with her several containers to pot up.


This one had a coir liner that was a bit shaggy, but since we didn’t have a new one to replace it with—and we agreed it looked a lot like a nest—we decided to keep it. In it was a large Aeonium nobile rosette, which I pulled out and set aside. Then we hunted for succulents that look like feathers. A surprising number do…like watch-chain crassula, for example. We agreed that Aloe variegata (which has the appropriate common name “partridge breast aloe”) was perfect, and positioned several of the plants in the container so they’d suggest wings. Bonnie has chickens, so I left it to her to select filler plants, because I couldn’t quite envision a chicken. She chose Echeveria ‘Black Prince’ and Crassula ‘Baby’s Necklace’.

I suggested that after she got home, she position Ms. Chicken alongside a feeder tray planted with succulents. In checking my photos to find an example to show her, I also found one of a succulent nest. Both are by Chicweed, a florist’s shop in Solana Beach, CA.

Chicken trough_JFR

Nest, finished

The temperature that day was in the high 90s, and fortunately Oasis provided a shade structure for our work table and chilled bottled water. Sweat beaded on my forehead and dripped off the tip of my nose, but I was having too much fun to care. Next up: a thrift store basket Bonnie bought because its soft colors go well with succulents. We took it into the greenhouse to see what might look especially good in it. It was at least five degrees warmer in the greenhouse. I drank half a bottle of water and poured the rest on my blouse.


The composition needed an upright element, and Bonnie liked the way that Euphorbia lactea‘s pale green echoed a color in the weave of the basket. I suggested adding the crested version of the same plant, Euphorbia lactea ‘Cristata’, for a subtle repetition. The selection was looking a bit cactusy at this point, so to soften it and add contrasting texture, Bonnie went with Echeveria ‘Lola’, arranged in multiples. Gravel topdressing will hide bare soil until the plants fill in. The basket has a wood bottom but no drainage, but it doesn’t matter; the soil will dry out quickly enough via gaps in weave, and water will drain through them as well. It’s hard to say how long this will look good…unlined baskets tend to have a short shelf life when exposed to soil, water and sun. An option would have been to line the basket with plastic to protect it.

Next, for an an artist-designed pot, we used the Aeonium nobile rosette and then filled in around it. Its shape, size and color went well with the container. The composition would be a gift, so we didn’t get crazy with our plant choices.


Among them are orange Graptosedum ‘California Sunset’ (which repeats the colors of the aeonium), Peperomia graveolens (ditto, and Bonnie loved its red leaves); string-of-pearls (always a winner, and a great trailer); and for contrast, Echeveria ‘Perle von Nurnberg’. This last may seem like an odd choice, but consider the composition without it; it wouldn’t be nearly as interesting.

After another drink of water and dousing (you’ll notice there are no photos of me) I considered what might look good in the plywood box Bonnie brought. She liked a display of flapjack plants (Kalanchoe luciae) alongside a crassula cultivar with magenta-edged variegated leaves, so we did a simple pairing. I think the combo looks terrific, especially with Bonnie holding it. Do you agree?


Debra Lee Baldwin
Award-winning garden photojournalist Debra Lee Baldwin authored the Timber Press bestsellers Designing with Succulents, Succulent Container Gardens, and Succulents Simplified. Debra is a regular contributor to Sunset and other publications, and her own half-acre garden near San Diego has been featured in Better Homes & Gardens. Debra specializes in showing how to use architectural, waterwise and easy-care succulents in a wide variety of appealing and creative applications. www.debraleebaldwin.com.
Debra Lee Baldwin
Debra Lee Baldwin

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10 Comments… add one

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Diane September 20, 2013, 7:07 am

Sweet in every aspect. Thanks!

Patti Turner September 20, 2013, 8:45 am

I enjoyed waking up in this succulent class! What a perfect way to begin this glorious day. Thank You “awesome succulent ladies” for sharing your ideas.

Cherie Smith September 20, 2013, 9:24 am

I love the chicken planter and feeders. I have a friend who has chickens, so will use some of your ideas and tell her where I got them! So whimsical! Thanks.

Donna Jones September 20, 2013, 9:32 am

Hi Debra, I love your succulent designs! I just drove down to Castroville to visit Succulent Gardens for the first time and I’m hooked! They recommended your new book and it’s like the succulent “bible”…I’ve recommended it on my blog post about Succulent Gardens here: http://www.theradishpatch.com Thanks for all the great information and design details you share with those of us new to succulents! Donna Jones

Mary Yee September 20, 2013, 9:42 am

Wow! I love this post–so interesting and beautiful. Thank you.

Lisa@YourEasyGarden September 20, 2013, 12:22 pm

Love ALL of these compositions, but the artist-designed pot really took my breath away. The string of pearls and the different-colored echeveria make it a masterpiece. Couldn’t stop looking at it..

Susan September 20, 2013, 3:26 pm

It looks like you both had great fun! Thank you for explaining the design process!

jeanne September 20, 2013, 3:55 pm

Love that last picture Debra – it almost looks like her top is made of succulents and she looks so pretty and happy holding her new container!

Candy Suter September 21, 2013, 1:21 am

Even in the heat it sounds like you had a wonderful time. And the compositions are so beautiful! I love them!

Karen Gruell October 1, 2013, 5:16 pm

How fun…beautiful. I wanted to pass along an idea that has worked for me for potting in wicker or any other vessels that would allow water/soil to drain. Take large jiffy peat pots and hold under water(warm water works best) for 15 seconds or so. The jiffy pot becomes pliable and can be torn or cut with scissors. You can then take your strips and form a “pot” that suits any shape, size, and depth you’re working with. I somethings double it if i’m working on something big. I started doing this about 3 years ago and my first ones are still holding in the soil/water while protecting the vessel. Also, the color of the peat does not stand out if you’re working with something like a wire container. Just thought i’d pass this along 🙂

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