Succulent Plant-Pot Pairings

What comes first for you, the plant or the pot? For me it’s usually the pot. When a friend presents me with a special pot, it’s a given that I’ll plant it with succulents. But I don’t always know what will look good in it. So I ask the pot what it wants. I take it to the nursery, and walk the aisles with it, trying on plants. What I look for are  good scale and proportion; repetitions of shapes, colors or patterns; and (sometimes) an element of whimsy.

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Above: This was a gift from potter Don Hunt, whose work I collect, and who sells at San Diego’s Cactus & Succulent Society shows. Dots in the glaze, and the fact that the pot seemed to be asking for a trailing plant, inspired the selection of string of pearls (Senecio rowleyanus). I added beads for bling.

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Above: My friend and fellow succulent enthusiast Hanh (“Hannah”) Nguyen gave me this delightful frog pot. It seemed to want a warty plant, so I gave it a Haworthia emelyae var. comptoniana.

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Above: The more I looked at that haworthia, the more it reminded me of a bow on a package. So I decided to play with the idea, using a repurposed ceramic tissue container.  Wedged inside is a nursery pot filled with soil. My challenge now is to not overwater it. There’s not much opportunity for moisture to evaporate, so the plant risks having its roots and/or leaves rot.

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Above: Facebook friend and succulent designer Lydia Dunaway visited from Florida. We went to one of San Diego’s floral marts with Cindy Davison of The Succulent Perch, Laura Eubanks of Design for Serenity and blogger Candy Suter of Sweetstuff’s Sassy Succulents. Lydia purchased a marvelous pointy-leaved sansevieria (probably S. francisii). There were enough offsets for Lydia to divide the plant and give each of us one—a great way to remember her visit. This metal container, also from the mart, emphasizes the color and pattern of the plant’s overlapping leaves. A topdressing of green crushed glass and pebbles adds color and texture, and conceals the soil.

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Above: When my latest book came out in June, Frank and Susan Oddo of the San Diego Horticultural Society gave me this one-of-a-kind, artist-designed pot at the launch party.  When I took the pot to the nursery to try on plants, I kept coming back to this cactus, Mammillaria spinosissima (common name red-headed Irishman). Look at how it repeats the pot’s colors and patterns!

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Above: I splurged on this pot by Mark Muradian at a Cactus & Succulent Society sale. When I took the pot to the nursery, Euphorbia polygona practically jumped into it.

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Above: Cindy Davison knows I love Esther pots and got me this one from Pot-ted, a Los Angeles garden boutique. Once again Euphorbia polygona was the winner. The plant’s pale gray color and reddish-brown margins repeat the pot’s colors and lines. A topdressing of white stones dotted with bits of green and blue glass (also from Pot-ted thanks to Cindy) adds glitz.

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Above: Another Esther pot, this time a hostess gift from fellow author and designer-friend Rebecca Sweet (whose blog is Gossip in the Garden). I took it to a C&SS show to find the right plant. The sculptural shape of the gasteria, its size in relation to the pot, and its color all made it a good match.

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Above: Can you see how the scene on this handpainted Talavera pot inspired my composition and plant selection? Now there’s a pot with something to say!

Do you have any plant-pot pairings to share? I’d love to see them. Post them on Facebook, email me at Sunwriter7@cox.net, or blog about them and post the link in a comment below. No doubt your fellow GGW readers would enjoy seeing them, too!

Special thanks to Oasis Water Efficient Gardens, Escondido, CA and to GardenLife’s online succulent shop. 

My goal is to share the beauty of waterwise, easy-care succulents in gardens, containers and landscapes via blog postsnewsletterspublic speaking and workshopsphotosvideosmerchandise, and social media (Facebook and Pinterest). My books: Designing with Succulents, Succulent Container Gardensand Succulents Simplified.  www.debraleebaldwin.com 

About Debra Lee Baldwin

Debra Lee Baldwin gardens on "an inhospitable half acre" in Escondido, CA, near San Diego. She is an award-winning photojournalist and artist with hundreds of articles and columns to her credit. Debra's books are Designing with Succulents, Succulent Container Gardens and Succulents Simplified. www.debraleebaldwin.com.

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28 Responses to Succulent Plant-Pot Pairings

  1. Patrick August 7, 2013 at 5:57 am #

    These are sheerly brilliant combinations, Debra. And how wonderful every pot has a story. I think the Mark Muradian pot combo was my favorite.

  2. Lisa at Greenbow August 7, 2013 at 6:21 am #

    Wow, these pots are inspiration for sure. I don’t have the type of nursery around here that has succulents like this to choose from. I drool when I read your posts about succulents. This post does make me think about how usually I get the pot first and then start searching for plants to coordinate with the pot.

  3. Jayme B August 7, 2013 at 7:33 am #

    So beautiful! Thoughtful pairings indeed!

  4. Donna August 7, 2013 at 9:12 am #

    Thank for the wonderful ideas! I’ve only recently become intrigued by succulents and love to pair them with unusual containers, most recently an antique strainer! Now, I’ll be on the hunt for the perfect succulent pots!

  5. Micheal Romero August 7, 2013 at 10:19 am #

    Nice pairings. I always enjoy reading about how the plants are chosen for the pots.

  6. Cindy Gray August 7, 2013 at 10:20 am #

    Wonderful article! Love the pots and the plants! I am glad to know someone else’s pots speak to them when they need planted.( and here I thought I was special)

  7. Peter/Outlaw August 7, 2013 at 10:57 am #

    Stunning and inspirational (nice way of saying I want to steal your ideas) plant/pot pairings! Thank you! Now, about these conversations you have with pots, do you talk with other inanimate objects? Do they answer? Let’s explore your childhood a little, shall we? :)

  8. Christina Salwitz August 7, 2013 at 12:36 pm #

    Gorgeous as usual Debra! I do the same thing too- sometimes I leave the pot sitting there empty for a while until the “right” plant calls to it. ;-)

  9. glenda stone August 7, 2013 at 1:14 pm #

    I have never thought about mating a pot with a plant before. It’s an eye opening form of art and I am sure to change my way of shopping now. Thanks.

  10. Donna August 7, 2013 at 3:03 pm #

    It takes a lot to impress me, Debra, and you’ve done it again. Love the pairings.

  11. Dianne August 7, 2013 at 3:35 pm #

    To be completely honest, I never used to give a thought to my pairings of pots and plants. I used whatever I had on hand, and then wondered why some just didn’t look quite “right”. Now I get it!!! You have opened my eyes and my mind as well….and I thank you profusely for the lesson. Your pairings are exquisite and make it obvious why the pairings of both the right pot with the right plant can make a rather usual potted plant look unique and make a beautiful statement at the same time. Now I need a store near me where I can get both great succulents (there are none anywhere in my area) and amazing pots (ditto). I live in the boondocks with only Walmarts and the like around. This is my new mission – finding both when I’m out shopping in new areas. I know I’ll “stumble” across a pot that will inspire me and then the right plant will show up as well. (Faith?) Thanks again for your outstanding style and making the obvious look unique to us beginners. You certainly are a garden angel.

  12. Cynthia, aka Gaia gardener August 7, 2013 at 5:56 pm #

    I have traditionally not particularly been attracted to cacti and succulents, nor do I generally do well with potted plants – but this post may have just made a believer out of me! I love the combinations that you’ve come up with!

  13. Shirley F. August 7, 2013 at 6:01 pm #

    The combinations are so inspiring and I love all those pots. There are so many items like the tissue container at thrift shops it’s fun to think of the possibilities.

    I posted a photo of my latest creation on your succulents facebook page.

  14. Susan August 7, 2013 at 6:18 pm #

    These are stunning Debra! Nice to have a succulent nursery to shop in!

  15. Shirley Kost August 7, 2013 at 6:25 pm #

    Love all your combos, Debra! I picked up three small pots from Mark, love his pots, at the SFFGS last year. They are still waiting for the right succulent to call! Will post when I plant them.

  16. Diana Clark August 7, 2013 at 8:21 pm #

    These pairings are even better — way better — than wine and cheese pairings. And, coming from me, that says a lot. Honestly, I nearly fell off my chair when I came to the Esther pot planted with Euphorbia polygona. Perfection, indeed. The thing is, when you pair the exact right pot with the exact right plant, the sum is so much greater than its parts. Something magical happens. You’ve gotten it just right with every one of these, and I so appreciate your sharing the results. Eye candy.

  17. Colette August 7, 2013 at 10:36 pm #

    Usually they said it’s good to talk to the plants like that there is some energy helping

    them to grow and look fresh. That’s a good idea also to communicate with the receiver (pot).

  18. Amy Beam August 7, 2013 at 11:10 pm #

    I love that first picture. I can see why you collect her work. I have a planter that I got recently that I didn’t know what to do with and I put an aloe cutting in it and it seems perfect. It may end up getting too large, but I can easily take a cutting and replant. See here: http://ohtheplacesyoullgrow.com/funky-modern-planter-with-aloe/

  19. Candy Suter August 8, 2013 at 1:15 am #

    You are so good at this! These are pure perfection my friend. And I am happy to see you have added a couple of cactus to your collection. Look out they can be addicting too. And you will love the beautiful Red headed Irishman! They can get big though so watch out.

    And I really love your potting of our shared succulent from Lydia. Love the pot, love the plant, love the glass! Love it!

  20. Pam/Digging August 8, 2013 at 9:21 am #

    I just bought my first Esther pot at Flora Grubb during the Garden Bloggers Fling. Love them! You’ve given me some good ideas for the perfect plant for it.

  21. Liz Keller August 8, 2013 at 7:30 pm #

    I always enjoy your articles but this recent plant/pot parings is outstanding! The beautiful pots perfectly pared with the wonderful succulents is fabulous! I keep revisiting it and want to go hunting and gathering.

  22. Jess H August 9, 2013 at 4:24 am #

    I love your succulent plantings Debra! These are so inspiring – I can’t wait for Spring to arrive so that I can start potting up the ideas I have swirling around my head thanks to this post :)

    Here is a planting I made up last year: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mjholland/8731633384/in/set-72157622333225027/

    :)

  23. Debra Lee Baldwin August 9, 2013 at 11:39 am #

    Thank you! Your responses delight me, and several made me LOL. I know many of you through your blogs and as Facebook friends, so I’m familiar with your own design aesthetics. The fact that you enjoyed mine truly pleases me.

    Candy: I’m not too worried about the red-headed Irishman cacti getting too big. I mean, where are they going to go? Seriously, sometimes rotund cacti look wonderful when crowded. We’ll see! (Provided I don’t overwater them. I lose a lot of cacti that way.)

    Diana: Your description of how the sum can be greater than its parts (“something magical happens”) is what I strive for. But magic is an elusive quality. Mainly I apply the design principles in my books and hold my breath.

    Peter: LOL. Re having conversations with other inanimate objects, occasionally I assume my husband is awake and listening and then discover he isn’t.

    I wish all of you enjoyed the amazing resources I take for granted here in the Epicenter of All Things Succulent: Southern CA. But interest in succulents continues to sparkle outward from here. I notice it in the emails I receive, not only from far-flung parts of the US, but also internationally. Where there’s a market (i.e. demand) a supply is sure to follow. At present, Home Depot and Lowe’s are stocking succulents that originated here in my area, and many of the plants are marvelous cultivars. Fingers crossed they’re not watered within an inch of their lives! Makes me shudder. Many of the same plants also are available via mail order at GardenLife.com.

    As for great pots, garden boutiques and Cactus and Succulent Society sales can be wonderful resources. Pots can be an investment, but just think: you’re putting a collectible plant into a collectible pot—twice the impact for the same space on your deck or patio. I generally limit myself to one fabulous pot per show, and I’ve yet to regret it. Much better than having a mish-mash, and the deck outside my living room is now an outdoor art gallery.

    Btw, I’ll be at the biggest C&SS sale in the country at the Los Angeles Arboretum mid-August. Come shop with me! And bring your camera. I’m planning on going Saturday, August 17. Would be fun to meet in person! Email me if you’ll be there too, Sunwriter7@cox.net.

  24. Joanna August 12, 2013 at 9:26 am #

    Very interesting plants. I like cacti.

  25. Kristle's Garden August 12, 2013 at 10:45 am #

    simply beautiful! Love it

    btw, does the pot need to have drainage holes? Thanks

  26. John August 14, 2013 at 7:14 pm #

    Love these pairings! Such unique pots, they all look beautiful!

  27. Denise August 15, 2013 at 3:01 pm #

    I am absolutely in LOVE with the frog planter, and I so love succulents…perfect pairing!
    *Any chance you can share info on the frog? My Grandson would go nuts over it.

    Thanks!

    ~D

  28. Debra Lee Baldwin August 28, 2013 at 12:19 am #

    Ah, the frog. Well, I think Hanh got it at Ross. No telling if they have more.