The Perfect Potting Area

– Posted in: Garden Adventures


Every so often, when visiting a noteworthy garden, I see a potting area I envy. Like this one, in Modesto, CA, which doubles as a dog grooming station.

This lovely one, shoe-horned into a garden in Charleston, SC, has a sink. And I thought it was a luxury to simply have a hose bib!

This one is a bit over-the-top, but hey, if I could, I’d have a palatial potting area, too.

This one, at the Huntington Botanical Gardens, isn’t fancy, but it’s three-sided, which is convenient and efficient. Being able to sit on a stool would be nice, too.

Most gardeners keep tools in their potting areas they wouldn’t be without. This is in the garden of John Bleck, a Santa Barbara succulent collector and hybridizer.

My own potting area (click on the link for a 3-min YouTube tour) is alongside an exterior wall of my home, under the eaves. Tools I consider essential include long-handled tweezers, an artist’s brush, Joyce Chen scissors, chopsticks, a steak knife and a lazy Susan. In the video, I explain why, and also give my potting soil formula.

How about you? What’s your potting area like, and what tools would you not be without?

[In response to Steve’s comment to the effect of “show me the dirt!” here’s the potting soil bin of one of the above. You can see the back of it on the countertop of the “palatial potting area” above.]



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
17 Comments… add one

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Cathy January 4, 2012, 7:24 am

Your YouTube video is great! I love the idea of using kitchen tongs to hold and transfer spiny plants.

As for my “perfect” potting area, mine is still a figment of my fantasy daydreams, something I hope to have “some day”.

Until then, I spread newspaper on the large rectangular glass top dining table on our deck and try not to get too much dirt on the decking. The table is right outside the kitchen door, meaning I only have to travel about 6 steps for water.

There is a 3 foot overhang over the sliders to the kitchen and I park an outdoor serving cart there to hold new seedlings and protect them from being baked in the hot sun. I keep my potting implements in a plastic container with a secure lid on the bottom shelf.

I have a beautiful potting table in the garage that is totally unworkable as it’s not close to water (or anything else for that matter). It’s not at all functional. But it does look nice. 😉 (Someday I’ll have the perfect potting shed in which to locate it.)

I agree, Cathy, a source of water is key, as is bright shade for plants waiting to be potted and those resting afterwards. In my own potting area, I simply brush spilled soil off the table back into the sack or onto the ground, for which I keep a whisk broom handy. My side yard is bordered along the property line by mature Pittosporum tobira (Japanese mock orange), which I’ve trimmed to create a lacy canopy for a long, narrow nursery area, which also benefits from irrigation risers. So anything in transition goes there. — Debra

DAY January 4, 2012, 7:39 am

All share one thing: NO DIRT! (Soil, for the purists)

Cleaner than my kitchen countertop- did they power wash for the photo op?

Hi, Steve — Good point! I’ve added a photo of a potting soil bin—clearly an oversight not to have included one earlier. I just realized my brain is hard-wired to not show dirt in a photo if I can help it, which is ironic considering I’m a garden photojournalist. — Debra

Laura January 4, 2012, 10:06 am

I don’t have one! I normally use the stairs near my house entrance, wish make it really ugly if I don’t clean up right away. I envy those set ups and thanks for the tips on the succulents. I just ordered two books you wrote, succulents are my next obsession!

Hi, Laura, that’s wonderful! OMG, I just visited your blogspot, and you are an incredible photographer. Your shots taken from the mountaintop of the San Francisco Bay at dawn (or sunset?) are breathtaking. And you do gorgeous things with food, too. You could be a photo stylist. I’m looking forward to seeing what else you do in 2012! — Debra

Kathy January 4, 2012, 11:02 am

Beautiful clean potting areas… my area is similiar to yours, under the eaves of the garage. It has collected many of the tools at one time or other but the most important one to me is a pair of pruning snips. Next is the gardening knife (that used to be in a former life belong to a set) along with a good trowel and a marking pen. Nice pictures!!

Thanks, Kathy! Interesting to read what tools you find most important. I find it quicker to scoop soil out of the bag with an empty plastic nursery pot, rather than a trowel, which also seems less clunky when adding soil around the base of the plant. But I discovered that only when I couldn’t find my trowel! — Debra

Karen Chapman January 4, 2012, 11:33 am

I have to create space in my greenhouse – quite the challenge as the season progresses but I love the warmth inside on a cloudy day and there’s a certain earthy smell in a greenhouse which makes me smile!

Yes, much more challenging if you have to make space in an enclosed area. But as you described it, I could see it. The earthy smell made it real for me. — Debra

Sandy January 4, 2012, 11:42 am

Some pics of heaven! Thanks!

I like your idea of heaven, Sandy! Something only a gardener would say. — Debra

Shirley Kost January 4, 2012, 1:25 pm

I was lucky enough to have a photographer friend who was getting rid of his developing table with two sinks with drains! Being made of Stainless Steel, it will last forever!

Be still my beating heart ;+) — Debra

Jennie January 4, 2012, 1:40 pm

so many great bits of info that i’m going to have to watch it again and take notes. i adore all the potting areas but aren’t the elements hard on the wooden potting tables?

Great question, Jennie. The ones here are protected by paint or a mat. The one at the top isn’t wood at all, but an impermeable manufactured product (like Trex) that resembles it. My own potting area has a wood table that’s not exposed to the elements (except sun) because it’s under the eaves. — Debra

Margaret (Peggy) Herrman January 4, 2012, 3:04 pm

what inspiration! our greenhouse looks this fabulous, but my potting shed could use some help 🙂 thanks

I’m very glad to hear you found it helpful! — Debra

Kaveh January 4, 2012, 10:52 pm

Now that I am renting a house instead of an apartment a potting bench is definitely something I am planning on. I think I will put it in the garage though that is on the other side of the house from my future greenhouse I am also dreaming of.

Sounds good, Kaveh! I hope you have a hose bib or other source of water nearby. Really makes a difference. — Debra

Candy Suter January 4, 2012, 11:59 pm

I love this post Debra. I have a potting area. Right now it is under one of those temporary tent like covers with no sides. But I recently acquired another gazebo for free. All I have to do is order a new top. It will go over my potting area which is set in pea gravel. My table is an old, old secretaries desk. I keep it covered with a plastic table cloth but it has still seen lots of weather. The left front side had a door where you can pull out a shelf. (This is where the typewriter was kept). I keep my fertilizer, weed killer and other bottled items in that cabinet. On the right are 3 drawers. I keep tools, gloves and other items in these. I am really looking forward to putting up the new gazebo in the spring over this area. The inside has shelves unlike my other gazebo. And it will give more shade and keep the rain out unlike the cover I have now. I keep my dirt concoction in a very large gray rubbermaid container. Last year I put up some plastic shelves next to the tool shed which is next to this potting area. I use it to keep all my pots so I don’t have them piled in a heap like before. I have two other smaller plastic bins next to the desk. In these I keep rocks for top cover in one and in the other I have decorative items like shells, sand and colored glass marbles like in your video.

I should do a post on it in the spring when I put things back together after the winter. I have a questions for you. Where do you get your crushed recycled glass and where did you get your long handled tweezers. I ordered a long handled doctors clamp on ebay last year. It does help remove weeds and other things that are between plants. It really grips well!

Hi, Candy — Great description. I can really see it. In addition to CA Cactus Center, I’ve also seen crushed, tumbled glass for sale in bins at Potted and Rolling Greens, both in the LA area. I’m working on finding a good mail-order source—will know more later this week. Hopefully I’ll have good news for you soon. Re the tweezers, I bought them from a booth at the San Diego County Fair that sold medical supplies, but online, you can get them from suppliers of bonsai tools. Hope this helps! — Debra

Dixie January 6, 2012, 2:46 am

Now I’m jealous! My potting area is a little ditch behind a tree. I have a small garden, and use almost all the space for my succulents, so I have to make do with what I have. At least I have a nice selection of pots.

As far as tools go, I consider a trowel essential. Everything else is handy, but if I could only have one tool, it would definitely be a trowel.

Trowels are to gardens like scissors to kitchens: Nowhere to be found when you need them. I think I must have six, at least. If I were more organized, I’d color-code their handles with colored tape, one color for each place the trowel belongs: outside the back door, garden shed, lower garden, upper garden, and two in the potting area. — Debra

kris at Blithewold January 6, 2012, 2:47 pm

You inspired me to take a good look at our potting shed – the bench in particular (posted here: and gave me some great ideas to boot. Thank you!

Hi, Kris — I enjoyed your post and left a comment. Your potting bench has a nostalgic quality—it transcends utility. Wonderful to see. — Debra

Sheila Schultz January 7, 2012, 11:57 pm

The ‘over the top’ potting bench was definitely a bar when the space was designed… if not, it should have been! My only requirement is that the space is counter-top high, so much easier on the back.

Ha! Just goes to show, I’m so garden-obsessed, I never thought of that. Makes sense it’s a wet bar, when it’s needed to be. It’s adjacent to a large outdoor sitting area and just steps from the house. I wonder how many other gardeners use their wet bars as potting benches, and vice versa. — Debra

Hoover Boo January 9, 2012, 8:55 pm

I’m just not organized enough for that. I use my wheelbarrow and then dump the resulting mess out by the lemon tree. Maybe someday…

My friend Jeff Moore of Solana Succulents nursery uses the tailgate of his pickup. When he needs topdressing for pots, he turns around and scoops a handful of gravel from his driveway. View my YouTube video of him potting-up three dish gardens in five minutes.

Loree / danger garden January 10, 2012, 8:01 pm

Debra your post must have really settled into my subconscious because when I was out shopping last weekend I found the perfect potting bench!

Kallie January 12, 2012, 10:50 pm

Looks as thought some old materials were reused. I really love it! I hope to have a grand potting station one day. I think that is every gardener’s dream. Thanks for sharing!

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