DIY succulent dish gardens

succulent dish garden

I spotted this beautiful succulent dish garden a few months back at Flora Grubb Gardens (they also offer classes if you want to make your own).

Unfortunately, we are still in the grip of this terrible drought. I didn’t plant anything new this fall, because a lot of the poor plants I planted the previous fall didn’t make it through the summer heat without enough winter rain to get them established. Suffice it to say most of my gardening this year will be succulents in containers.

1. The container:

Two of the best places I’ve seen for containers are Flora Grubb and The Botanist in Los Altos, Ca. Online, I’ve found gorgeous ones at: West Elm, Pottery Barn, Crate and Barrel, and Anthropologie. Terrain has wonderful things as well but they are just too expensive for me.

You can drill a drainage hole in the bottom or put a layer of small rocks or pea gravel on the bottom.

2. The potting soil:

Honestly, I just use whatever potting soil is cheapest. If you live in an area where you get a lot of rain, you should go with a cactus or succulent mix or save money and make your own with 3 parts potting soil, 2 parts sand and 1 part perlite, all of which you can get at your local nursery, Lowes, Home Depot, OSH, etc…

3. The plants:

You can see this container uses the Thriller, Filler, and Spiller method. I’m guessing the Thriller is Echeveria ‘Perle Von Nurnberg.’ Mix in some clusters of not more than four kinds of smaller echeveria. Make sure to vary color and texture: green, purple, silver, spiky leaves, fuzzy leaves, rounded leaves. Tuck some small sedums in two or three places around the edges where they can spill over.

Pack the dish or container completely full so that you don’t see any dirt. Succulents slow growers and ridiculously easy to repot when they multiply or outgrow their space. With these plants what you see is mostly what you get, so I like to move them around and arrange them in my nursery cart until I’m happy with my composition.

4. Care:

Succulents grow beautifully in full sun, part sun, and bright shade. Water once a week, less in cooler weather. You can feed them if you want, but you don’t need to. When they multiply you can snap off the babies and repot them. If the stems get too long, pull them up, snap them off close to the rosette, and stick them right back in the dirt.

Gardening tips from Flora Grubb Gardens

flora grubb gardens

I finally visited the world’s coolest plant nursery, Flora Grubb Gardens. There is so much inspiration here for creating stunning gardens and outdoor living spaces with low maintenance, water wise plants, and every kind of succulent under the sun (and lots of gorgeous stuff for indoor plants too). They also offer design services and classes, and the staff is unbelievably friendly, helpful, and knowledgable. Here’s what I learned from this visit:

  • Go for low maintenance plants that thrive in your soil, water, and light situation. Be realistic about how much time you have for watering and other gardening work.
  • Get your color and drama with foliage instead of flowers.
  • Your garden will feel bigger and be more functional if you divide it into spaces: living areas, passageways
  • Containers provide color and (flexible) structure. Use containers in a variety of sizes but in similar colors and materials.
  • Invest in large scale containers the way you would in hardscaping or furniture.
  • Use multiples: repeat plants, plant types, containers, and objects for a more cohesive look.
  • Plant and accessorize your vertical spaces.
  • Shop your local nurseries. While I do use the big box stores, there’s no substitute for a local nursery and the deep knowledge the staff has of the plants.

flora grubb gardens

Put a succulent on it

underplanting with succulents

File under more uses for succulents: underplanting and filling in.

Give your succulents a temporary job filling in blank spots between or under plants. Succulents can take some shade, especially if it’s only for a short time. And while they might not pair well with your ferns, they can take some moisture. I have succulents filling in right now in bright shade and heavy clay soil. Heavy WET clay soil, now that we finally, thankfully, have rain! Since they transplant so easily, you can move them around wherever they’re needed. Or you might decide to just leave them where they are since they look great with everything.

underplanting with succulents

Photographed at Sunset Magazine’s celebration weekend display gardens.

A low maintenance silver, purple, and black garden

silver and black garden

At Sunset’s Menlo Park gardens: a low maintenance, low water garden with year-round color interest.

Here, they’ve used bronze Phormium, Variegated Pittosporum, Aeonium ‘Zwartkop’, Lorapetalum ‘Purple Diamond’, and silver Thyme. These plants won’t need much more than the occasional light pruning.

The Aeoniums are a nice touch here – their forms are stunning, they add color and height, don’t take up any square footage, and soften the transition between the purple and silver. The cement, steel and celadon ceramic containers continue the color theme and can be moved around as needed.

Garden reading: Judy Kameon’s Gardens are for Living

gardens are for living

I’ve been a huge fan of Judy Kameon and her dramatic, laid back, low maintenance gardens and outdoor living spaces for years. I’ve also been on a simplicity kick, trying very hard to pare down and own less, but when I saw that her book had gone on sale I had to order it. This is the way you want to garden – and live.

More about styling your garden the way you style your home here.