Photo: Steve Bender

When your wife who has never gardened before suddenly announces she wants you to help her put together her first container garden, you should put down your beer and say yes. Not only will you nurture an interest that will forever enrich her life, it will probably persuade her not to end yours. With those thoughts in mind, I took Judy to the garden center to look for plants and a pot.

This project HAD to be successful, lest Judy lose heart and return to those dark days of painting portraits of our cat. Therefore, the plants had to meet three criteria:

1. Interesting and attractive

2. Cheap

3. Not die within a week after being planted

After due consideration, we settled on succulents.

emYowza! A tray of small succulents. Photo:

Succulents are plants that store water in their leaves and stems and, thus, require much less watering than other plants. There are hundreds of kinds for sale in myriad shapes, sizes, and foliage colors, and many also sport pretty flowers. They come in small sizes and most grow slowly, making them ideal to mix together in a pot. We chose an aloe, a sedum, a 'Flapjack' kalanchoe, a couple of echeverias (hen & chicks), and other stuff. Plants cost $2-3 apiece. Now we needed a pot.

Judy and I wanted a colorful pot that would complement the succulents's foliage, so we went with a 14-inch, deep-blue glazed pot with a drainage hole (vital!) from Indonesia. Cost: $25. We put everything in the car, told the sales guy we were in-laws of the owner so we didn't have to pay, and drove away.

After posting bail, it was time to plant. Many gardeners think cacti and succulents need to grow in pure sand. Not so. What they prefer is a fast-draining soil mix that contains organic matter that stores nutrients and some moisture. Even cacti and succulents need to eat and drink. So I filled the pot to within an inch of the rim with potting soil specifically formulated for these plants. After setting in the succulents, Judy topped off the soil around them with a fine, light-brown aquarium gravel. This gives a finished look and also reduces humidity around the plants. Then we placed the planter on our deck. The whole job took less than 30 minutes.

Succulents can take full sun, but don't need it. Dappled sun is fine, especially in hot afternoon. Don't fertilize more than a couple of times a year if you don't want your plants to outgrow the pot. We leave ours outside to be watered by the rain if the rain isn't constant. During extended rainy periods, we move it into our covered porch, so the plants don't rot.

Keep in mind that some or all of these succulents may not be winter-hardy in your area. If they aren't (look them up in the New Southern Living Garden Book), just bring the planter inside to a sunny window for winter.

If Judy can do this, so can you. To recap -- these plants are easy, these plants look cool, and these plants are cheap. And unless you set your mind to it, they won't die the first week.