The must-have mouse ears at Epcot Center’s International Flower Festival were green plush with a ladybug bow.
With a new book to launch, I accepted numerous speaking engagements this spring. The thing is, though, events are scheduled six to 12 months in advance. You check your calendar, and if there’s a blank date, you blithely scribble it in. But as the date approaches, OMG, there are SO many details to corral: Tailoring the presentation to the group and region, making travel arrangements, coordinating with the venue’s point person, creating an hourly itinerary, deciding what to wear, and packing for every eventuality. My “Business Packing List” is five pages long, single-spaced, and includes what I call a “pharmacy in a bag,” because you REALLY don’t want to get sick if you’re going to be far from home, shaking hands, hugging people, signing books, and being on stage where its verboten to cough, blow your nose or—God forbid—lose your voice.
This spring’s calendar pages, with speaking engagements starred.
Less than a decade ago, as a garden photojournalist and scout for Sunset, I never imagined the adventures that lay ahead. The flip side to attaining celebrity, though, is its challenges—especially if you’re not young, are your own worst critic, and have no paid staff. Peak experiences tend to be preceded and followed by an unrelenting grind. You’re “on” whether you want to be or not. You sleep in airports because of cancelled flights. You inadvertently insult truly nice people by gazing at them blankly, because they look like hundreds of others whom you’ve briefly met. You’re misquoted, plagiarized, copied and envied. Something invariably goes wrong at the venue: from having to do a potting demo one-handed because no lavalier (clip-on mic) can be found, to the location changing without anyone advising the speaker. (After receiving a frantic WHERE ARE YOU? text, I managed to arrive at the correct address as I was being introduced.) So, are you ready? Here are the highlights:
Feb. 28-March 1: At one of my San Diego Spring Home/Garden Show presentations I met succulent enthusiast and collector Matthew, 10. He found me via my YouTube videos, so it seemed right to make one of him.
March 3-6. Boca Grande Garden Club, Boca Grande, Florida. L-R: At a cocktail party in my honor; Nora Lea Reefe and me with her plush iguana; the beachfront estate where I stayed.
March 19-21: SRO audience at my San Francisco Flower & Garden Show potting demo. San Rafael landscape designer Gary Bartl used my succulent color wheel to channel Carmen Miranda.
March 22: Three of 60+ images I shared at the class I taught at the San Diego Master Gardeners Spring Symposium.
March 29-April 3: Epcot Center’s International Floral Festival, Orlando. Yes, I made TWO trips to Florida. Happily, my husband came along on this one. Lower right: Doesn’t the herb shop in Diagon Alley (at Universal Studios) remind you of Amy Stewart’s book, Wicked Plants?
April 12: My husband and I flew to Denver, then drove to Georgetown in the mountains for a memorial service. Back home, the three friends whom I dedicated “Succulents Simplified” to visited. One is the mother of my son’s best friend, who died tragically in March. My son and I spoke at the memorial service. Sadly, another’s husband has inoperable cancer.
April 17: I hosted a photo shoot at my home for an upcoming article in Country Gardens magazine. We used one of my husband’s suit jackets so the photographer could get a close-up of a succulent boutonniere being worn by someone. Only the model’s chin will show.
May 1-3: Succulent designer Berna Eren visited from Istanbul. I took her to consignment stores, garden boutiques and nurseries, and we made a video now on my YouTube channel.
May 9: I escorted Attila Kapitany of Australia, author of a dozen books about succulents, to the display gardens of Waterwise Botanicals nursery near me. Photo: Katie Christensen.
May 17-18: Inspired by designer Laura Eubanks, I made a succulent butterfly to wear in my hair at the Eco-Xpo Garden Festival in San Juan Capistrano, CA. During the event, I was interviewed for local television and created a mounded succulent arrangement. Photo of me by Susan Morse.
May 30-June 1: At Sunset Magazine’s Celebration Weekend Festival, nursery owner Robin Stockwell of Succulent Gardens and I gave a joint presentation as “The King and Queen of Succulents.” (It was Sunset’s garden editor Kathleen Brenzel’s idea—she’s in the orange T-shirt). Upper right: My booth at the Festival was next to that of good friend and popular garden author Rebecca Sweet. Susan Morse of the San Diego Horticultural Society (wearing a hat) came along to help. Lower right: With Davis Dalbok of Living Green Design, San Francisco. First two photos by Gary Bartl.
June 6-7: At the Succulent Celebration at Waterwise Botanicals in Escondido, CA, I enhanced my book table with a glass apothecary jar filled with colorful Aeonium ‘Kiwi’ rosettes. The wonderful thing about succulent rosettes is how they get by without water or roots; weeks later these looked the same. Lower right: During one of my potting demos, I planted a turquoise hanging basket from Pot, Inc. with echeverias, kalanchoes and Sedum nussbaumerianum (coppertone stonecrop).
June 14. In the home stretch! Potting demo and book signing at Roger’s Gardens nursery, Corona del Mar, CA. Photos: Susan Morse.
I have to say, creating this post has helped me realize how amazed and grateful anyone would be to have had these experiences. Moreover, I may not want to see the inside of another airport, but I haven’t lost my passion for succulents and for opening others’ eyes to the plants’ beauty and design potential. How I go about it, though, is going to change a bit.
Steps leading into the garden are being paved with flagstone.
I live near San Diego, a great destination in its own right and the veritable epicenter of all things succulent. In the past, I’ve declined requests from garden clubs for tours, explaining that the terrain is steep and getting it ready is time-consuming. But I’m now pouring my honorariums and royalties into the garden, getting it ready for guests and groups. Berna Eren sparked the idea: I figure, if someone wanted to come all the way from Istanbul, there must be others. The classes and workshops I hope to hold here will enable me and visiting presenters to inspire, entertain and educate others, and to share our mutual passion for gardening in general and succulents in particular. If this sounds like something you’d be interested in—as a participant or guest—I’d love to hear from you. Post a comment or send me an email: Sunwriter7@cox.net. And feel free to share this with anyone who might be interested!
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.