When my 5-year-old nephew came by my garden last summer, the otherworldly plants snaking out of my patio containers fascinated him. He wanted to feel them, but when I told him they were succulents, he drew his hand back fast and asked gravely, "What do they suck?" (Cuuuuuute.)
Succulents--a plant gang that includes cacti, the tender and showy echeverias, and cold-hardy sempervivum commonly known as hen and chicks, among others--so do not suck that I'm always amazed when I realize so many people I know and love haven't really noticed them before. For my money, succulents are the most exciting plants for new gardeners. As Debra Lee Baldwin says in her gorgeous new Succulent Container Gardens, "these are plants that allow you to be lazy" and still look amazing--just give them sun, drainage, and a little water every week or two, and they'll reward you by looking plump and happy.
Succulent leaves come in colors rarely found in the natural world (like frosty robin's egg blue and inky purple, pink, and red), in amazing geometric shapes that spiral or drape in green beads or fish hooks. Some look like candy, or have intricate patterns on their leaves. Some look like coral, and when the sun hits them, they seem to glow from the inside so your undersea scene looks surreal and sci-fi. The texture and color combinations you can mix up offer endless creative variety. They're so fun to play with! They're also among the easiest plants to propagate, so you small collection will be fruitful and multiply. And they're amazingly versatile, suiting style from minimalist to quirky to lusciously exuberant, as Succulent Container Gardens so gorgeously illustrates.
Designing with Succulents, Baldwin's previous book, is a seductive guide to integrating succulents into your larger landscape. But beginners seeking the satisfaction of starting small, apartment dwellers, and anyone in a climate that could kill the more tender varieties if they were left outside will be wowed by the planting possibilities (in pots and on walls) on display in Succulent Container Gardens.
It also offers ample inspiration for more seasoned gardeners, from design advice to info on rare varieties. The playfulness of Baldwin's prose is matched by her knowledge, making this both an accessible introduction and a valuable resource.
I've been obsessed with succulents for years, and as I paged through this book for the first time, I think I shouted some obscene expression of admiration every few pages. (Thank God I wasn't in public.) --Mari Malcolm