Monday, February 25, 2013

Pensive Tuesday: Beauty Versus Health

Today's Pensive Tuesday is part gardening meditation and part book review. The book I'm really enjoying right now is "Succulent Container Gardens" by Debra Lee Baldwin (2010).

Ms. Baldwin has designed some of the most eye-catching, unusual succulent displays I've ever seen. Some of the trends she writes about got me thinking about Garden Fashion. This author clearly knows succulents and cares about the health of her garden. But there are trends in gardening that definitely put beauty before health.

For example, check out these two pots of mesembs:

The top pot is arguably more interesting and beautiful from an aesthetic point of view. But if Lithops were substituted for those Argyrodermas, there would be trouble. Argyrodermas grow so slowly that the tight packing and large river rocks might not bother them too much in the short term. But folks reading the book might only have access to other mesembs that need more space. Lithops particularly need space and air to releaf without rotting. So some of these projects are a bit, "Don't try this at home," you know? You need a lot of detailed knowledge of a species to know what you can get away with in decorating. Nobody wants the succulent equivalent of foot binding!

So how to be aesthetically amazing while keeping your plants in top shape? Baldwin gives an example of how to balance beauty and health when it comes to a wall full of agaves. This is just gorgeous.


Each plant has its own light and air, its own pot and soil, and can be watered and cared for with relative ease. And it's a dazzling display that highlights the beauty of the plant and the garden.

Ironically, if you go back to the cover of the book, you'll see one trend that has me dismayed--cramming lots of different species tightly into one large pot. This is part of the "disposable garden" trend so common to big box nurseries. The idea is, well, of course it's not healthy for the plants and they'll soon rot, but hey, just throw it out and get a new one. I see people buying these almost every time I shop at one of the home improvement stores. Kind of like those orchids meant to be thrown away after they bloom. I can't condone this practice. What do you think of "disposable gardening"? Fortunately, the book has relatively little of that sort of thing. Most of the displays shown are built to be long-term.

Overall, I highly recommend taking a look through the book. You'll most certainly ooh and aah over some of the imaginative and beautiful display ideas for our favorite plants. And you'll have some ideas of your own, for sure! As for me, I'll temper my aesthetic gardening ideas with some serious thought for the health and longevity of the plants.


  1. Hi Marla. I really have no imagination when it comes to gardening in pots. This book looks great. Thank you for the suggestion.

    The idea of "disposable gardening" is repellent to me. I have always believed that plants have their own peculiar kind of sentience. Just throwing them out almost seems like murder.

    I was quite sick a couple of years ago and received many of the so called "disposable" phalaenopsis as get well gifts. These plants were, for the most part, potted incorrectly and obviously were meant to be discarded after they bloomed. I have kept them all in the house in the winter and outdoors in the summer. Some dropped leave but re-grew them. A few have bloomed over and over again. People keep giving me these plants and I am running out of space in my house during the winter months. I would"regift" them if they would only bloom when I needed them too! No one seems to want a phal without flowers.

  2. Hi, Gail!
    Disposable gardening is indeed dreadful. It means no respect for the life under your care; that life is there only for a person's pleasure, to be discarded when that person gets bored. So a very unwholesome attitude to life is being encouraged by "disposable gardening". I'm glad your phals are doing well! I was gifted with a disposable phal and tried to keep it going, but it was too ill from rot and scale to grow anymore. So I'm sticking with succulents!