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, . Bonnie drove to Escondido from Santa Barbara recently to meet me at 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 , 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?


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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
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