Succulents are OUT? Oh, No They’re NOT

Succulents are OUT? Oh, No They’re NOT
Spread the love

Guest rant by Debra Lee Baldwin, a rebuttal to Ivette Soler’s rant in which she expressed ennui about succulents and proposed that the plants’ popularity is diminishing.

If anyone ought to be sick of succulents, it should be me, having spent a decade studying and photographing them, and twice that long growing them. Yet succulents are endlessly fascinating—true fashionistas, they’re forever reinventing themselves and doing things other plants wouldn’t dream of.

For example, when deprived of water and even soil, many succulents continue to look the same for weeks, even months. Consequently, floral designers—always keen on fresh material with lasting power—are wiring rootless rosettes onto faux stems and using them in fancy-pants bouquets. Succulents are hugely popular in wedding florals. A trend, yes, but consider: It’s very green to repurpose a bouquet by pulling it apart and planting it. And the sentimental value! Squeal!

Succulents also can be glued to stuff. “I’ll put them on anything that doesn’t move,” says San Diego designer Laura Eubanks, who doesn’t just glue succulents to the moss-topped pumpkins she sells by the hundreds every fall, she hot-glues them. “It’s so much faster, and the plants don’t mind.” A pumpkin she made for a photo shoot at my home lasted four months; when the squash finally rotted, the succulents slid into the garden. Below: For her brother, Eubanks made a succulent toupee.

You know how aloe blooms are nearly always orange? Not any more. If you live in coastal California from the Bay Area south, where mild temperatures enable succulents to grow outdoors year-round, you’ll soon see cultivars that send up 2-to 3-foot-tall flower spikes in breathtaking blends of peach, cream, red and/or yellow. Here are two unnamed hybrids.

Because pots are fairly easy to shelter when the weather turns too cold, hot or wet, regardless of where you live, you can enjoy hundreds of varieties of smaller succulents, like dwarf aloes and agaves that don’t get much bigger than softballs. Echeverias, which resemble rubbery roses, come in green, silver, blue, pink and lavender. All that most succulents want is non-scorching sun, temps above 32 degrees F, fast-draining soil, an occasional splash of water and to be left the heck alone.


As for succulent gardens lacking elegance and restraint, well, it’s not a plant’s fault if it’s used poorly. This minimalist landscape is in my book Designing with Succulents.

I could go on and on…in fact, I do. I share my passion for “plants that drink responsibly” on Facebook (Succulents Simplified); in my quarterly News from the World of Designing with Succulents; on my blog and website, in articles for garden publications, at speaking engagements nationwide, and of course, in my books.
But don’t take MY word for it…

The annual Succulent Extravaganza near San Francisco is now in its fourth year; the Succulent Celebration near San Diego, in its second. Each is held at a large nursery over a two-day period and attracts upwards of 1,500 attendees.

A 2009 post on my blog, titled “Uh-oh, My Agave’s Blooming,” has had 14,500 views.

In June, 2013 the Succulent Fanatics Facebook group had 850 members. It now has 2,600. Shown here is the group’s founder, Laura Balaoro of San Jose.

Six months ago there were 200 Pinterest boards named “Succulents.” Recently, I quit counting at 1,200.

Forty-five succulent-themed videos on my YouTube channel have received more than 400,000 views in three years.

“From a grower’s perspective, the demand for succulents is not slowing. Our business has grown 20% annually since 2005. We’re also engaged in research that will result in new, improved, disease-resistant and stunningly beautiful hybrids.” — Ken Altman, founder and president, Altman Plants, Vista, CA (the largest grower of cacti and succulents in the US)

“Succulents of all kinds are the highest growth category in gardening, higher even than vegetables. This makes sense as folks do more gardening on patios and balconies, home sizes shrink, and the apartment boom continues.” – Rick Brown, grower and wholesaler, Florida Friendly Plants (suppliers of Home Depot)

“The catastrophic drought underway in the West—and our routinely dry climate—make succulents carefree jewels of the garden, and more essential than ever for adding color and boldness to water-sparing palettes.” – Flora Grubb, designer and owner, Flora Grubb Gardens nursery, San Francisco

“In Japan and Germany, where drought is hardly an issue, succulents are rising in popularity. Demand from Korea and China for succulents from Australia is at a record high. Succulents are not out—they’re out there!” – Attila Kapitany, Australian author, horticulturist and nurseryman

“Lack of water and smaller living spaces are not fads. Whereas trendy aspects of the succulent phenomenon may decline, the functional appropriateness of the plants is just beginning to be understood and tapped.” – Robin Stockwell, owner, Succulent Gardens, the largest Northern CA succulent nursery and site of the Succulent Extravaganza


Debra Lee Baldwin is an award-winning garden photojournalist who authored the Timber Press bestsellers Designing with Succulents, Succulent Container Gardens and Succulents Simplified.

Posted by

Debra Lee Baldwin

on February 11, 2014 at 7:39 am, in the category Guest Rants, It’s the Plants, Darling.


    • Frank Hyman
    • 1st January 1970

    Great work, I love a good reality-based rant. When I was a community organizer we used the shorthand OBU for folks who talked a lot but were in fact Opinionated But Uninformed. Nice job doing your homework Debra, hope to see more rants like yours in the future. Now excuse me while I pot up some more succulents for our spring plant sale.

    • CindyP
    • 24th February 1998

    I can’t bring myself to care what is “out” and what is “in” according to others opinions, except in how it can influence what is available for me to purchase. I buy and plant according to what I like, and what thrives in my garden. I will always love succulents-and hostas which I think were also bashed recently. It’s like woman’s fashion, buy what works for you, not what the designers say is in style. Hey, are succulents the new black?

    • kermit
    • 28th September 2008

    Succulents are the old black. Which, I note, has never gone out of style, no matter what the runway designers might say.

Leave a comment