Do your succulents ever speak to you? I woke up this morning, and this semp shouted, "Greetings, Earthling! Take me to your leader!"
On Saturday, I had the pleasure of attending the Cactus & Succulent Society of San Jose's annual show and sale. I went last year and enjoyed it, and the difference between how much I saw/knew/understood this year vs. last year was huge, which was kind of gratifying. I may or may not have stood around allowing people to solicit me for advice. It may or may not have made me want to write a book about succulents and/or transform into Debra Lee Baldwin. Just sayin'.
If memory serves, last year's sale favored cacti over succs, but this year's wares were fairly evenly divided between cacti and other succulents. Plus, I like cacti more than I used to, particularly rebutias, of which there were plenty. One vendor had air plants, and there were some "meh" plastic pots. That was my only real disappointment--I wanted to pick up some cool pots, and this wasn't the place to do it.
Anyhow, without further ado, here are some photos of my favorite eye candy from Saturday's show! Some of these won prizes, and others did not, but they all caught my eye. Enjoy!
Pebbles, sand, and rocks are all common "top dressings"--that is, materials spread on top of the exposed soil in a potted plant. In addition to making an arrangement more colorful and decorative, top dressings have the practical effect of making plants easier to water, keeping moisture in, and preventing leaves from touching wet soil, which can lead to rot.
But conventional top dressings can go for as much as $5-$15 for a tiny bag! So in this post I thought I'd share some of the top dressing "hacks" I've discovered through other succ-ers' recommendations, as well as my own experimentation.
The first place to look is in your very own kitchen! Small objects with interesting textures make the best soil covers. As you can see in the picture to the left, I've combined raw peanuts with an aloe seedling. Be sure to use unsalted peanuts, since salt will change the ph level in the soil and can actually kill a plant.
In addition to peanuts, I've experimented with wasabi peas (successful, and makes for some fabulous color combinations--just be sure to get the msg-free kind, which you can find at Trader Joe's), water chestnuts (which look cool but tend to decompose within a few weeks), M&Ms (yellow ones look especially nice, and the candy shell keeps the M&Ms in tact, so no worries about melting), and chia seeds (which were fabulous until the second watering, when the seeds began to sprout).
As you can see in the picture to the right, larger items can work as well--the key is to make them bold and bright. For this composition, I've chosen kumquats. I made this back in October because I thought the bright orange gave the aeoniums an autumnal feel. The kumquats don't decompose because being placed directly on soil causes them to "chlorophate," meaning that they retain their shape, smell, and color.
You might recognize this next plant from my last post, where I mentioned that it was labeled as "Euphorbia sp." I've come to suspect that this was a mislabeling, since it does not seem to contain the trademark milky white "sap" for which euphorbias are known.
In any case, though, it's a lovely plant, and I think it's made even lovelier by the addition of discarded pharmaceutical pills. Because I didn't know if the chemicals would harm the plants, I didn't place the pills directly on the soil. Instead, I first sprinkled a layer of conventional jade pebbles. Then I scattered random expired pills on top of the pebbles. The result may not be for everyone, but I think it's both colorful and whimsical!
I know this next suggestion is going to be a little environmentally controversial, but I'm going to put it out there anyway: plastic wrap. Not saran wrap--I'm not suggesting you go out and buy plastic specifically for top dressing; that would be wasteful. Instead, whenever you order anything from Amazon, just save the plastic insulation that comes with it.
And I know what you're thinking: but I'm supposed to recycle! Yes, sure, I know. But you can think of this as a form of recycling. The only caveat I should mention is that water runs off of the plastic, so to water plants with plastic top dressing, just lift up the plastic, water, and put the plastic back on.
This last one is going to strike you as a little weird, and perhaps even a little gross, but hear me out, succ-ers--not only does this work, but it's good for your plants. If you have a dog or a cat and feed them hard kibble, take just a small handful and spread it atop the soil of any potted plant. It has kind of a cool texture, and an effect similar to lava rock--but I haven't gotten to the best part yet.
Most high-quality dry pet food is supplemented with vitamins and minerals to keep our furry friends healthy. Water helps these vitamins and minerals act as fertilizer.
After multiple waterings, the kibble will begin to soften and decompose. It may look a little gross at first, but over time and multiple waterings, it will turn lighter in color and form an attractive "crust" over the top.
The picture to the left is the same plant and the same kibble top dressing from the picture above, taken after six weeks of once-weekly waterings. To achieve the clay-brown hue you see in this composition, I prefer to use Iams. If available, choose a low-sodium variety with mineral supplements. (It's healthier for your pets, too!)
So what do you think, succ-ers? Have you ever tried any of these creative top dressings? Maybe you have some suggestions of your own? Did you read this all the way through without remembering that it's April Fool's Day? Haha!! Gotcha!
Yesterday, my girlfriend, a couple of friends, and I went to the San Francisco Flower and Garden Show in San Mateo. And I have to be totally honest, succ-ers: I was a little underwhelmed. Not because there weren't a lot of plants there (there were), and not because the display gardens weren't great (they were), but mainly because there was so dang much for sale that had only peripherally to do with gardening. At times, it felt like more one of those outdoor "festivals" where people sell various wares at small booths. Items for sale included BBQs, freestanding hot tubs, bar soap, and paintings (not of plants, nor gardens) on silk.
All of which is *not*, by any means, to disparage the show or the folks who were selling things there. I was just expecting more plants--well, let's be honest--more succulents. And to be fair, my visit did not coincide with the succulent-relevant seminars held by succulent luminaries such as Debra Lee Baldwin and Robin Stockwell, and I'm sure those were terrific.
A few highlights. Agave attenuata "Kara's Stripe" was featured in the "hot plants" room. Judging from the array there, I understood "hot" to mean "newly popular" rather than "best for hot climates." And there were a lot of gorgeous bonsais there, too, several of which were many decades old, and truly amazing.
Succulent Gardens was one of only two succulent-specific vendors present, and they had a predictably terrific array of plants and books. In addition to picking up a few plants such as the unnamed euphorbia pictured, right (which I would have sworn was a hoodia, but there were a bunch of them, all labeled "Euphorbia sp.," which just goes to show that I still have a lot left to learn). I also had a chance to say hello to the lovely Tiffany Polli, the SG Retail Manager, knows a great deal about succulents and has a wonderful sense of humor to boot. At last year's show, Succulent Gardens displayed the famous globe.
The other mostly-or-solely-cactus-and-succulent purveyor, Sticky Situation, was new to me, and had come all the way from Tucson, Arizona to show their wares. I picked up two very cool gymnocalyciums from them a g. mesopotamicum (cresting!) and a g. friedriechii. Check out that amazing purple color!
Sticky Situation also had the most drool-worthy plant I saw at the whole event: a huge crested myrtillocactus geometrizans (pictured below). Hmm... My birthday's coming up in a couple of months... anyone wondering what to get me? Look no further!
There was a smattering of other cool succulent-related stuff (check out the succulent display wall below, for example) but for the most part, I think I'm going to need to keep an eye out for cactus and succulent shows, since they're probably more likely to have the kinds of plants and pots in which I'm most interested.
I put this planting outside a couple of days ago, and the color has just taken off! Thought I'd share it with you. And now... I'm going to go outside and play with my plants!
My girlfriend and I took a trip to Sonora over Valentine's Day weekend. In addition to binge-watching "House of Cards," hiking at Glory Hole, and drinking marvelous tea, we ventured to a place called K&L Cactus. I had no idea what to expect, but my girlfriend gamely agreed to drive an hour out of our way to middle-of-nowhere Ione, CA.
Oh my gosh. It was SO worth the trip. K&L Cactus consists of two enormous greenhouses positively bursting with incredible plants. K&L's proprietor, Lorraine (pictured below in one of her greenhouses; I'm the one on the right), is not only a very kind, interesting, and cool person, but is stunningly knowledgeable about succulents and cacti. She talked patiently with me as I peppered her with questions and wandered slowly through her beautiful greenhouses.
I've been to a lot of succulent and cactus places, and K&L is easily in my top two or three. If you prefer the meticulous labeling, easy-to-read pricing, and impeccable organization of a place like Flora Grubb, K&L might not be for you. But if you're like me and love a sprawling jungle of a nursery every bit as much, you've got to make the pilgrimage to K&L. It's easily worth the trip just to meet Lorraine!
I spent so long in the greenhouses that my girlfriend eventually retreated to the car with the dog and played games on her iPhone (talk about a good sport...). But before she did, she unleashed her formidable photography skills on K&L. The pictures in this post were all taken by her. Enjoy the eye candy!
My only regret is that, starving grad student that I am, I couldn't afford to spend more money there! Still, I took home several goodies, and I'm hoping this post will throw some more business Lorraine's way. I know I have a lot of readers in the Davis/Sacramento area, and Ione is only an hour away from you. Call K&L and set up an appointment to visit--it's well worth it!
Succulents never go out of style. This myriad of plants, many with juicy leaves, offers hassle-free care plus longevity. They are stunning to look at in pots, but less explored in flower bouquets. Now that Valentine’s day is just a few days away, here are some ideas for incorporating succulents into your Valentine flower bouquet:
Step 1: Remove dirt from the succulent. Clean the roots, if you wish to leave them intact. (Either way, the recipient will be able to replant it, since succulents grow from cuttings.)
Step 2: Get about six inches of floral wire and carefully thread it through the succulent stem. Make sure to start at the highest point of the stem.
Step 3: Attach a floral stick (or something similar), using floral tape to secure it and adjusting the stick to the height you want your succulent to present in your bouquet.
Step 4: Assuming you want some non-succulents in the mix, create a bouquet of choice flowers. If you're not sure on what flowers to use, take advice from Simon Richards, M&S floral guru: “Two simple rules are to either combine tonal shades of one color or choose vibrant clashes such as cerise, purple, and yellow.”
Step 5: Secure the bouquet with more floral tape, starting from the topmost part of the bouquet. Apply thicker tape as you approach the end of the arrangement.
Another tip: Try to create a balanced look. If you're using both succulents and non-succulents, the number of succulents should not overshadow the number of flowers. Nor would a single succulent be advisable, since other flowers would dwarf it. Succulents with rosette shapes are particularly lovely--echeverias, ghost plants, and the like.
Here are some gorgeous examples of succulent bouquets on Pinterest.
I went to the Arizona Garden at Stanford yesterday to do some reading, and it was absolutely gorgeous! I thought I'd share some of my favorites.
So... what have YOU all been up to lately?
Greetings, Succ-ers! Happy New Year! It's been a looong while since I've written anything for you, regrettably occupied as I have been with thus-far unsuccessful job applications and canine histiocytic sarcoma. But here I am to play a game! A GAME! YAY!!!!
Okay, the name of this game is Guess What This Succulent Was Before Everything Froze. Below, you'll find pictures of eight different kinds of succulents and all of their names, but I have cleverly switched the names around. Think you can rearrange them into the correct order?
Yeah... It's been a frosty winter here in Northern CA. And although I managed to get most of my succulents indoors before the frosts started hitting, I didn't quite make it to all of them, and these poor things are among the casualties.
I promise that my next post will be a little less sardonic. ;) And in case anyone's interested, here are the answers to Guess What This Succulent Was Before Everything Froze:
I've had a lot of stress in my life lately. A dog with health problems, some intense job interviews, and the attendant prospect of moving somewhere that's really hard to grow succulents.
So, what do we do when we get stressed out, succ-ers? We garden. (At least, my mom and I do, so maybe it's genetic.) And the detail-oriented-ness of my gardening is inversely correlated with the amount of relaxation in my life. Which is why I used a whole bunch of teeny, tiny baby succulents and small cuttings to create this last week, in a vertical gardening frame:
...Which was really fun. Here's a close-up:
Yes, there's a color/type pattern. No, I don't know if all these cuttings will survive.
What is the MOST DETAIL-ORIENTED planting you've ever done? Send me a picture; I'll put it on this blog.