A succulent mermaid's garden
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Nancy Englund’s Succulent Mermaid’s Garden

Having a theme for part or all of your garden is certain to spark your creativity. Nancy Englund’s succulent mermaid’s garden “has made going to nurseries more fun,” she says, “because I’m not attracted to every plant. I can narrow it down…you know, to just the weirder ones.”

Admittedly “a big fan of weirdo plants,” Nancy has oddities that make guests look twice. These vary from bromeliads of all sizes (including air plants) to numerous succulents that thrive in her mild, maritime Southern CA climate. Nancy, president of the Laguna Beach Garden Club, says her goal is to create “the feeling that you’re swimming underwater, past fish and seaweed and all the other magical things you would find in a mermaid’s garden.”

Succulent mermaid's garden

Nancy found these faux fish in a floral supply store. With the help of a neighbor, she added rods that secure them into the ground.

When she started her succulent mermaid’s garden several years ago, Nancy chose “plants that had strange shapes or textures, and that looked like underwater plants or sea creatures.” She uses them to “shift you out of the normal” into “an intriguing, freeing change of perspective.” Accessories include weatherproof faux fish, mermaid statuary, ceramic sea stars and chunks of turquoise slag glass.

Below are captioned photos of the main plants shown in the 4-min. video I made when I visited Nancy: Explore a Succulent Mermaid’s Garden. Learn more about any or all of them in my books, in particular Designing with Succulents (2nd ed.). Btw, cordyline, dichondra, tradescantia and bromeliads aren’t succulents, but they make great companion plants because of similar cultivation requirements.

A succulent mermaid's garden

Agave gypsophila

A succulent mermaid's garden

Dyckia sp.

Kalanchoe beharensis (Napoleon’s hat)

A succulent mermaid's garden

Senecio rowleyanus (string-of-pearls)

A succulent mermaid's garden

Kalanchoe schizophylla

A succulent mermaid's garden

Euphorbia flanaganii

A succulent mermaid's garden

Epiphyllum guatemalense

A succulent mermaid's garden

Haworthia turgida, art pot by Susan Aach

A succulent mermaid's garden

Tradescantia sp.

A succulent mermaid's garden

Aeonium tabuliforme and Senecio stapeliaformis in a Susan Aach pot

Succulent mermaid's garden

Aloe striata in bloom alongside other aloes

Succulent mermaid's garden

Deuterocohnia brevifolia

Succulent mermaid's garden

Dichondra argentea

Succulent mermaid's garden

Bromeliads in a Euphorbia tirucalli tree

Succulent mermaid's garden

Lepismium cruciforme

Succulent mermaid's garden

Stapeliads and senecios

Succulent mermaid's garden

Peperomia graveolens

Succulent mermaid's garden

Graptopetalum superbum

Succulent mermaid's garden

Cordyline sp.

Succulent mermaid's garden

Euphorbia leucodendron

Succulent mermaid's garden

Pot by Tentacle Arts

 

Related Info on This Site:

Undersea succulent clamshell planter

Plant an Undersea Succulent Clamshell 
Succulents that resemble coral-reef flora lend themselves to containers that immerse the viewer in an undersea experience. This succulent clamshell planter sits atop…[Continue reading]

Related Videos:Succulent mermaid garden

See step-by-step how to make this undersea-themed succulent terrarium in my online Craftsy class, “Stunning Succulent Arrangements.”

Explore a Succulent Mermaid’s Garden (4 min.) Discover how succulents combine with bromeliads and outdoor art in Nancy Englund’s undersea-themed “mermaid’s garden.” [See story above.]

 

Books by Debra Lee Baldwin

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Agaves Handle Summer Heat

Late summer is when tough succulents really shine. Large agaves handle summer heat, and are unfazed by harsh sun, high temps and lack of rain. Their statuesque, fountainlike forms lend a sculptural element to any landscape, and contrast beautifully with fine-textured ornamentals. They also make good firebreak plants and security fences.

With the exception of a few soft-leaved and variegated varieties, agaves want sun—the more the better in all but desert climates. Most are hardy to the mid- to high-20s F, and some go a lot lower.

Sharp points at leaf tips and along leaf edges can make agaves treacherous. I snip about a quarter inch from leaves’ needlelike tips with garden shears.

Agave attenuata, blue form

Agaves smaller than basketballs make excellent potted plants. Small agaves—there are many exquisite ones—look good displayed one to a pot.

Agave Victoria-reginae

Agaves with serpentine terminal spines and prominent teeth along leaf margins are both graceful and fierce. Don’t they remind you of how cats yawn and show their fangs?

Agave fangs

Scalloped patterns on an agave’s leaves (“bud imprints”) are caused by spines and teeth pressing into the flesh of inner leaves before they unfurl. Aren’t they fascinating?

Agave 'Baccarat'

When pruning a damaged leaf, keep in mind that a straight-across cut at its midsection may spoil an agave’s symmetry. It’s best to make two cuts that trim the leaf to a “V” that resembles the leaf’s natural tip. Or cut it all the way to the trunk.

One of the most common agaves, A. attenuata (foxtail agave) has soft, smooth, nonspiny leaves that are prone to sun scorch in summer and frost burn in winter. Damaged tips will collapse and turn white. If this has happened to yours, watch my short video on how to trim them.

How to prune a frost-damaged agave

Large agaves that pup (not all do) can be thugs. They’ll grow and spread rapidly, especially when given good soil and regular irrigation. One of the most widely grown is A. americana (century plant), because it offsets so prolifically (free plants!) and needs no care at all…until those pups start to get big and form an unruly, ever-expanding colony.

Agave americana with pups

Because it seems that everyone is blithely planting Agave americana these days, agave expert Kelly Griffin and I made a video that gives better choices for the long run: Six Great Agaves for Your Garden. It’s the sequel to What You MUST Know About Century Plants (Agave americana).

Being indigenous to the New World (the American Southwest, Mexico and Central America), larger agaves store enough moisture to get by on rainfall alone and will thrive in nutrient-poor soils. Although agaves like water, their roots—like those of most succulents—will rot in waterlogged soil.

All but a few agaves are monocarpic, meaning they bloom once and then die. This may take as many as 25 years, but it will happen. As it completes its life cycle, a mature rosette that has graced a garden for years sends up an asparagus-like flower stalk (most, but not all, branch). This dwarfs the plant and saps its energy. Flowers along the stalk eventually turn into miniplants (bulbils) or seed capsules.

All about agaves

Only the individual agave that flowers dies. In some cases—notably with those involving Agave americana—a litter of pups will carry on.

Agave americana post-bloom with pups

The above is edited from the intro to Agaves in “Succulents A to Z” in Designing with Succulents (2nd ed.). The book, which also covers Aloes among 30 important genera of succulents, includes photos and descriptions of significant varieties, and shows how to grow and use them beautifully in gardens and landscapes.

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How to Grow Succulents by Season and Region

How to grow succulents by season and region

Where you live and the time of year make a big difference as to how well your succulents grow and perform, and even which kinds you should choose—especially if you’re growing them in the open garden. Indoors, you have much more control over the environment, but seasons will still affect cyclical aspects of growth such as flowering and dormancy.

This page is a launching point, so scroll down to see which page or video best answers your questions. (Please be patient, it may take a moment for the page to load fully.)

Also refer to “Seasonal Care for Succulents” on pages 74-75 of my book, Succulents Simplified.

Spring

My spring garden’s most vivid blooms are those of succulent ice plants.
Aloes, bulbine and numerous arid-climate companions are bright and beautiful from March through… [Continue reading]

On my YouTube channel:  Debra Lee Baldwin’s Succulent Garden in Spring.

Summer

On my YouTube channel, see: Succulents, Sun and Summer (10:34)

Autumn

Winter

Region: Bay Area

Region: Coastal Southern California

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Succulents for Northerly Climates

On my YouTube channel:

Growing Succulents in Northerly Climates, Sempervivums  Part One of my presentation at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show. Gorgeous new cultivars and design ideas.

Growing Succulents in Northerly Climates: Sedums and More Part Two of my presentation at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show. More cool succulents for cold climates plus how to select, grow and design with them.


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Ten Succulent Front Yard Essentials

These ten essentials for a successful succulent front yard aren’t difficult to achieve yet make a big difference. We have designer Deana Rae McMillion to thank for chronicling and sharing her lawn-to-succulents transformation, not only after installation, but also over the ensuing three years. It looked great immediately, earned a city beautification award, and—as you’ll see—continued to improve. Deana Rae credits San Diego designer Laura Eubanks for inspiration. 

BEFORE The McMillions 1970s house and yard, viewed from the street, was all lines and rectangles lacking interest and personality. The location is Carpinteria, CA, south of Santa Barbara, a mile inland from the ocean.

AFTER:

In 2012, a year after she and her husband moved in, Deana Rae cut out a small area of the lawn and experimented with succulents. They did well, and an Agave americana quickly attained several feet in height and diameter. Notice how it (the big blue century plant at upper right) has grown over time and serves as a dramatic focal point that visually balances the “weight” of the house.

Succulent Essential #1: Know how large plants will get. For example, Agave americana, though easy to grow and often free for the asking, isn’t for every garden. (See my video, “What You MUST Know About Century Plants.”)

After the sod was cut and removed, Deana Rae installed pocket gardens alongside the new front walkway.

#2: Ask friends and neighbors for succulent cuttings. If you’re not going to put them in the ground right away, start them in pots.

#3: If soil is compacted and difficult to dig, give succulent roots a fighting chance by spading it and adding amendments prior to planting.

#4: To add interest and definition to the overall design, bring in large boulders. They weigh tons, so have them delivered and positioned BEFORE you plant.

#5: Don’t skip the infrastructure. Take care of pre-planting steps like installing and adjusting irrigation, evaluating runoff, repairing drains and walls, and upgrading hardscape.

#6: Design with undulating lines for a natural look. Straight lines and rows are more formal, seldom found in nature, and emphasize the linearity of nearby structures.

#7: In close-up areas, create complex plantings. Viewpoints that are broader and farther away need less detail and larger plants.

Deana Rae’s plant choices include medium-sized agaves, aloes, calandrinia (with purple flowers), bulbine (orange flowers), blue Senecio mandraliscae, and drought-tolerant perennials such as yellow sundrops (Calylophus sp.). A dry creek bed of river cobbles funnels rainwater into the garden. Small succulents such as jades, aeoniums, echeverias and sedums—all from cuttings—nestle around boulders.

#8: Top-dress with crushed rock (gravel). Imagine this garden with only bare dirt between plants. Topdressing finishes a landscape aesthetically; adds interest, color and texture; discourages weeds and makes them easy to pull; moderates soil temperature; and slows moisture evaporation. “I had so much fun shopping for rocks and gravel,” Deana Rae says. “I think I love rocks as much as I do succulents.”

Aloe maculata (in bloom) is tough and its offsets are often free for the asking. It’s one of the few succulents that’s invasive in friable soil, but in a parkway strip like this, it can’t get into trouble. In fact, as it spreads, it’ll make the the area look even better. The fortnight lily at right was well established, so it stayed.

#9: Continue rocks and gravel into the parkway strip. This enhances the overall design, makes the front yard larger, and makes what’s sometimes called a “hell strip” easy to maintain.

#10: Include intriguing plant-rock combos within the larger garden. Such “vignettes” are optional, but offer a great way to express your creativity, enjoy your garden hands-on, and offer visitors delightful discoveries. A few examples:

Lance-leaved Agave lophantha ‘Quadricolor’ (center) contrasts with curvier plants: ripple jade (upper right), Euphorbia mammilaris (lower middle) and a crested myrtillocactus (center left). Echoing the agave’s pointed rosette are Echeveria subrigida ‘Fire and Ice’ (lower right, in bloom), Echeveria agavoides ‘Lipstick’ at lower left, and aloes.

 

Rivulets of gravel flowing through the garden suggest motion and water. They also contrast and repeat colors of succulents, and provide access to planted areas. Statuesque Euphorbia trigona ‘Rubra’ serves as a focal point that will triple in size over time. An eclectic mix of small succulents includes echeverias, aloes, kalanchoes, sedums, crassulas and barrel cactus. A low-water salvia in bloom (upper left) lends floral color and a mounding, soft-textured backdrop.

 

A ceramic turtle adds a touch of whimsy and repeats the color and shape of a cluster of turquoise echeverias. It’s fine to add a planted pot to a garden, like the wide terracotta bowl at left (with Crassula ‘Mini Jade’, Kalanchoe luciae and Portulacaria afra ‘Variegata’). Lampranthus deltoides at upper left extends the blue and lends frothy texture. Aeoniums, sedums and aloes complete the composition.

 

A sheltered niche amid rocks is a great spot for echeverias, which can be tricky to grow in the open garden and generally do best in  pots. Amid them are Sedum ‘Blue Spruce’, silver squill (Ledebouria socialis), and orangy-red Crassula ‘Campfire’.

 

Related info on this site:

WHY YOU REALLY NEED ROCKS

Here are ten reasons why your landscape—especially if it includes succulents—really needs rocks, large and small… [Continue reading]

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Fire, Succulents and South Africa

Like the American West, Australia and elsewhere, Africa is having an increase in devastating wildfires. Numerous succulents are native to the continent, and in the south the climate is similar to that of coastal and southern California.

Recently I heard from Talfryn Harris, a fire manager in Johannesburg who was working on a presentation for their succulent society on the role of the plants in fire protection. “Last year we had very destructive fires on our south coast where many homes were lost,” he wrote. He asked permission to show my YouTube video, Do Succulents Catch Fire?
Of course I said yes, but added, “I don’t want to give the impression that succulents can serve as a wildfire barrier that guarantees a home won’t burn. Plants that store water in their leaves and are slow to catch fire serve merely as a way to lessen the threat. Succulents really do need to surround a house, as shown in my other wildfire video: Succulents as Firebreak. There are so many factors that come into play, wind especially. I compare myself to a meerkat, the way I watch the wind during fire season here in Southern CA.”
Later Mr. Harris sent me his PowerPoint presentation (below). It describes the impact that global climate change has on wildfire, gives practical tips for protecting homes, and explains why succulents are a good landscaping choice for at-risk areas.
He also suggested that “a useful fire-wise succulent that I would add for South Africa is Carpobrotus edulis (aka Mesembryanthemum edule) which is great as a fire-wise and medicinal succulent lawn.  However I believe it is invasive in Australia and California. The African people in the townships around Jo’burg call it ‘chips’ because of the resemblance to what you call french fries. One medicinal use is to infuse a flower in a jar of honey and then after 4 months use that for colds and sore throats. It is also a very useful remedy for the oral thrush that accompanies HIV/AIDS.”
I felt I had to inform him that when I was researching my article for the Los Angeles Times about how succulents helped protect the Schaefer house back in ’07, a fire fighter told me that dry plant material beneath carprobrotus leaves can smolder for days, causing flare-ups and endangering anyone who walks through it.
Have you wondered why wildfires are burning hotter than ever and causing unprecedented devastation? In his book, “Land on Fire: The New Reality of Wildfire in the West” (Timber Press), acclaimed nature writer Gary Ferguson explains why fire suppression and chronic drought have created a dire situation, and the ways nature responds in the aftermath of wildfire.

Related info on my site:

Dr. Camille Newton of Bonsall, CA, texted me immediately after the Lilac Fire to say that eight homes on her street had been destroyed, yet hers was unharmed. “Succulents saved the day,” she said.  Such reports aren’t unprecedented. Suzy Schaefer’s succulent garden in Rancho Santa Fe “saved our home,” she told me (and national media)… [Continue reading]

DEBRA’S TOP SIX FIREWISE SUCCULENTS

My top six firewise succulents are quite common and start easily from cuttings. If you live in a fire-prone, backcountry area, consider them one more weapon in your arsenal against wildfire by planting them around your property’s perimeter. View my 6-minute video: Do Succulents Burn? Compare the combustibility of jade, aloe, aeonium, firesticks, elephant’s food and… [Continue reading]

FIREWISE LANDSCAPING WITH SUCCULENTS

Firewise Landscaping with Succulents Succulents have become in-demand landscape plants in California because of their beauty, ease of care, and ability to withstand drought by storing moisture in their leaves. Not surprisingly, the plants are the fastest growing segment of the nursery marketplace. And now there’s another, little-known reason for homeowners to grow these fleshy-leaved plants…[Continue reading]

 

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Eight Bold-Hued California Classics

Certain low-water annuals and perennials are “nostalgia plants,” because they remind me of my SoCA childhood. These California classics are as popular now as 40 years ago, for good reason: they’re easy-care, readily available, inexpensive, and add great texture and interest to Southwest gardens. The plants’ bold hues are reminiscent of a Mexican serape: purple, orange, yellow, red and white. All blend beautifully with large-leaved succulents, especially agaves, aloes and aeoniums. Look for more “Top Fifty Waterwise Companion Plants for Succulents” in my book, Designing with Succulents, 2nd ed., pp. 250-285.

In my garden, California poppies are annuals that return every spring. I love how their vivid orange contrasts with the silvery blue of Agave franzosinii. Surrounding the agave are fragrant white alyssum, which some people consider a weed because it reseeds so prolifically. I don’t know about you, but in my garden, that’s a plus.

Purple is the complement of yellow, and few combos are easier than euryops daisies and statice. The shrubs get leggy over time; keep them compact by cutting back in fall.

Also pretty in purple is pride of Madiera. Here it contrasts with orange-and-yellow African daisies, a red rose, and yellow-leaved euonymous. Once the flower show is over, the succulents at lower left (an aloe and an aeonium) become more prominent, because their sculptural shapes stand out against finer-texture foliage.

Rosea ice plant, a succulent from South Africa, has become as much of a California classic as the state’s flower. The poppies die back and the ice plant goes out of bloom, leaving a green mound for most of the year. But when they bloom together in spring…wow!

In my own garden, African daisies, rosea ice plant, red ivy geraniums (another classic) and euonymous surround several types of agaves.

Related Info on this Site:

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Aloe Superstars: A Landscape Designer’s Favorites

One of Southern CA’s in-demand landscape designers, Bill Schnetz of Schnetz Landscape, Inc., likes to use aloes of all sizes in residential gardens. If you love succulents, live in a mild climate, and grow these South Africans in soil that drains well, “they’ll soon become your favorite plants,” Bills says. For a natural setting, he suggests mixing one or two varieties with tough, drought-tolerant ornamental grasses and flowering perennials. And “for a contemporary look, plant similar aloes in rows and geometric blocks.”

In this Rancho Santa Fe courtyard garden, Bill installed multiple coral aloes (Aloe striata). Their long-lasting flowers and translucent leaf margins repeat the orange of roof tiles and pavers, succulent ‘Sticks on Fire’ at left, and bird-of-paradise along the wall (when in bloom).

Blue, the color complement of orange, creates striking contrast via Senecio mandraliscae and Senecio serpens (at left) and tufts of blue fescue (below). Other ornamental grasses, paddle cactus and elephant’s food (Portulacaria afra ‘Variegata’) lend texture and interest. Dymondia, a walkable ground cover, serves as a low-water lawn substitute. Stone pavers and Saltillo tiles repeat the rust hues of boulders that line a dry creek bed. (Also see this garden in Designing with Succulents, 2nd ed., page 58.)

Bill’s Favorite Aloes

I asked Bill if he’d share which aloes he uses most often in clients’ gardens, and why. He graciously provided the list below. For additional descriptions, photos, and landscape ideas for aloes, see Designing with Succulents, 2nd ed., pp. 182-190. For labeled photos of these and 70+ other species and cultivars, go to my website’s Aloes page—which also is a good resource for determining what you may already have.

 

Small aloes. These tough, toothed aloes handle adverse conditions.  Height: 8 to 18 inches.

Aloe x nobilis, Aloe aristata, and Aloe humilis all grow tight and stay low.

Aloe ‘Rooikappie’ is Bill’s favorite small aloe. It gets a little bigger than the three above and is a good fit for small and large landscapes. It’s a repeat bloomer and transplants easily.

Mid-size aloes are good for borders and large-scale massing.  Height: 18 to 36 inches.

Aloe striata has nice plump leaves and good floral color.

Aloe vera is dramatic planted en masse, and yes, the gel is useful for burns and cuts.

Aloe x spinosissima is a 2- to 3-foot sprawler great on hillsides and rocky soil.

Aloe cameronii is Bill’s favorite 2-foot aloe. Stays red all year if given full sun.

Tree aloes tend to be slow growing and may not look their best in cold winter months. Don’t plant them near foundations or under eaves—they do get big.

Aloe bainesii is a moderate grower, 15 to 30 feet tall. Leaves may turn yellow and get black spots, but with summer warmth and feeding they’ll green up.

Aloe dichotoma is slow-growing to 15 to 20 feet. It has nice gray leaves and is very drought tolerant.

Aloe ferox is slow growing to 6-10 feet with a single trunk that holds dead leaves.

Aloes ‘Hercules’ is a faster-growing hybrid with a thick, strong trunk. Give it plenty of room.

Shade-tolerant aloes useful as firebreak plants are fast-growing and spreading.

Aloe ciliaris is a sprawling succulent that will climb palm tree trunks. Take care that it doesn’t get buried in leaves and melt away. Sometimes called ‘Fire Wall’ aloe, when grown on a slope, the plants form a 3- to 4-foot mat of fire resistant growth.

Aloe arborescens is probably the most commonly grown aloe in the world. If you have room for it, you can’t go wrong. It solves a multitude of landscape problems, and thrives everywhere—coast, low desert, foothills—from Mexico to San Francisco. Originally from South Africa, it’s also found all around the Mediterranean. This multiheaded aloe makes a good background plant and tolerates filtered shade beneath tall trees. For a dense barrier, plant 6 to 8 feet apart in a line or triangle. Height: 4 to 8 feet and spreading.

The above is courtesy of Bill Schnetz of Schnetz Landscape, Inc. and Rebecca Simpson.


More Info

On this site ~

Go to my Aloes page for 70+ Aloe photos and IDs
Most of my aloe photos show the plants in bloom. After all, their large, vivid flowers are… [Continue reading]

Patrick Anderson’s Garden: It All Started with Aloes

Fleshy green monsters in Patrick Anderson’s Fallbrook garden look like they might snap him up if he turns his back. They’re giant succulents, and Anderson’s half-acre hillside showcases hundreds of unusual ones. “I like their huge, sculptural forms,” [Continue reading]

Books ~
Aloes are shown throughout my books, with special sections in Designing with Succulents, 2nd ed., pp. 182-190 and Succulents Simplified, pp. 185-197.
I also recommend nurseryman/designer Jeff Moore’s beautifully illustrated Aloes & Agaves in Cultivation.

My YouTube Videos ~

Spectacular Aloes in Flower

Hannah Jarson’s Aloe Eden


 
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How Succulents Protected a Home from Wildfire

How Succulents Protected a Home from Wildfire

Immediately after the Lilac Fire, Dr. Camille Newton of Bonsall, CA, texted me that eight homes on her street had been destroyed, yet hers was unharmed. “Succulents saved the day,” she said. 

Such reports aren’t unprecedented. Suzy Schaefer’s succulent garden in Rancho Santa Fe “saved our home,” she told me (and national media) after the Witch Creek Fire. I had heard of others as well. Even so, I was skeptical. True, succulents tend to cook rather than burn and don’t transmit flames. But wildfire is so intense it melts metal and glass. What chance does any plant have?

Moreover, wildfires are wind-driven. A barricade of fleshy plants might halt a brush fire, but what about flying, flaming embers? And isn’t it possible that what appears to be salvation-by-succulents is merely the capricious way wildfire skips houses?

Even so, Dr. Newton, a geriatrician who often deals with life-and-death situations, is no sensationalist. She was calm, matter-of-fact, and had photos for proof.

Doubtless you know that I’m a big champion of succulents, but what you may not know is I’m also a journalist. I’m aware of how emotion and wishful thinking can cloud a reporter’s judgment. Yet what I saw when I went to Camille’s truly amazed me.

How Succulents Protected a Home from Wildfire

Above: News photo of the house next door to Camille’s during last week’s Lilac Fire in Bonsall, CA. Below: Same property after the fire. 

How Succulents Protected a Home from Wildfire

Next door, where a home had been reduced to ash and charred appliances, the only green left in the yard was an Agave vilmoriniana with singed leaves. Along the driveway were a former fence of cylindrical wooden posts that had burned down into the ground, and black sticks—former ornamental shrubs—flattened by fire and wind.

So, what IS it about succulents that makes them…dare I say it…fireproof?

Clearly more research is needed, and YOU can help: If you know of a wildfire-burned home that had succulents planted so densely (like Camille’s) that they should have served as a firebreak, yet they didn’t, please tell me. Tens of thousands of hopeful California homeowners (myself among them) need to know: Are Camille’s and Suzy’s experiences merely luck, or did succulents really save their homes?

What I can say with certainty is that planting a swath of moisture-rich, fleshy-leaved plants is smart if you live in a mild, arid region plagued by drought and wildfire. Readily available agaves, aeoniums, elephant’s food, aloes, jade, and ironically-named ‘Sticks on Fire’ propagate easily from pups and cuttings, are low-water and low-maintenance, and when combined, create a gorgeous garden. If it also serves as a firebreak, well—as I told a KFMB-TV reporter—that’s certainly icing on the cake.

How Succulents Protected a Home from Wildfire

Above: Camille and I talked about firescaping on CBS. 

Five days after the Lilac Fire ripped through her neighborhood, I visited Camille and documented her story with my camera and camcorder. Of all the videos I’ve made (my YouTube channel now has 200+ with over 3,000,000 views) this one is, IMHO, by far the most important.

How Succulents Protected a Home from Wildfire

There’s plenty more that homeowners need to know in order to create a firewise landscape. Topics I’ll address in future newsletters, YouTube videos, and articles include: How to create a succulent garden like Camille’s that’s broad and dense enough to serve as a firebreak. How to obtain my Top Six Firewise Succulents and start them from cuttings. Also, why Camille’s succulents are especially lush and vibrant. (I suspect it’s her free-and-abundant soil amendment, composted horse manure, atop a substrate of decomposed granite.)

I urge you to watch my two videos in which Camille shares her story and garden. Also in my video, Do Succulents Burn? I test jade plant, aeoniums, paddle cactus and more by tossing them in a gas fire pit. Even if you don’t live with the threat of wildfire or where succulents can grow outdoors year-round, I promise you’ll be entertained, fascinated…and, like me, amazed.

Ten years earlier, in Oct. 2007, the succulent garden on the cover of Designing with Succulents (first edition) also “saved” a Rancho Santa Fe home. As in Camille’s situation, neighboring houses burned to the ground. [Read more]

The garden on the cover of the first edition of Designing with Succulents helped protect the home in 2007. [Read more] 

Related info on this site:

View my 6-minute video: Do Succulents Burn? Compare the combustibility of jade, aloe, aeonium, firesticks, elephant’s food and paddle cactus to branches cut from bamboo and oak trees. 

Note: The horrific CA wildfires of 2017 are a vivid reminder of when my husband and I and our two dogs were evacuated in 2007. During three awful days, we didn’t know if we’d have a home to return to. Using succulents as firebreak plants can help protect properties in wildfire-prone areas, but in no way do I want to imply that succulents are THE answer, nor (God forbid) do I want to try to capitalize on others’ suffering. My sympathy and prayers are with the victims. ~ Debra Lee Baldwin

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Debra’s Top Six Firewise Succulents

My top six firewise succulents are quite common and start easily from cuttings. If you live in a fire-prone, backcountry area, consider them one more weapon in your arsenal against wildfire by planting them around your property’s perimeter.

View my 6-minute video: Do Succulents Burn? Compare the combustibility of jade, aloe, aeonium, firesticks, elephant’s food and paddle cactus to branches cut from bamboo and oak trees.

In combination, these readily available succulents make a beautiful, low-water landscape. This garden, for example, originated entirely from cuttings:

  • Opuntia (paddle cactus), the thicker the better. If you wince at the thought of having cactus in your garden, look for spineless or near-spineless varieties. They do exist, and they don’t draw blood. Those rounded, upright pads make a nice counterpoint to more finely textured plants, succulent and otherwise.
  • Aloes. Mound-forming Aloe arborescens is the heroic succulent that “saved” the home of Rob and Suzy Schaefer during the devastating wildfires of 2007. It sends up orange-red, torchlike flower spikes in midwinter.
  • Aeoniums. There are numerous varieties of these rosette succulents. The best ones for fire resistance are multi-branching.
  • Crassulas. Plain old green jade didn’t burn during the wildfire that threatened the Schaefer home, but rather it cooked, and like the aloes, its leaves turned putty-colored and collapsed. If you think jade is boring, you may not be aware of its many cultivars. Some are striped cream-and-green; turn yellow-orange-red when grown in full sun; have silvery-gray leaves rimmed with red; or have intriguing tubular or wavy leaves.
  • Euphorbia tirucalli ‘Sticks on Fire’ — Highly ornamental with bright orange, upright stems, this makes an excellent fire barrier, to 7 feet in height. Downsides are it’s frost tender and its milky sap is caustic.

    Above: Photo by homeowner Camille Newton of her firebreak garden immediately after the 2017 Lilac Fire. Orange ‘Sticks on Fire’ are prominent. Burgundy rosettes at middle right are aeoniums. Watch my “Succulents as Firebreak” video of Camille’s garden.

     

  • Portulacaria afra (elephant’s food) is shrub-like, and yes, elephants really do eat it in South Africa. In fact, the plant benefits from being stomped on because pieces root readily. The variegated variety is less vigorous and more ornamental than the common green species.


Go to my Firewise Landscaping page 

In Designing with Succulents (2nd edition, p. 107), I tell how my husband and I were evacuated, and how the succulent garden on the cover of the book’s first edition “saved” a home in Rancho Santa Fe. Ten years later, during the 2017 Lilac Fire, Camille Newton (whose garden in Bonsall, CA is on page 51 of the 2nd edition) had a similar experience [read more].  See Camille and me on TV. 

From my Los Angeles Times article, “Did Succulents Save Her Home?” ~ “SUCCULENTS have soared in popularity recently because they’re drought-tolerant, easy-care and just plain cool to look at, and now there’s another compelling reason to grow them: They’re fire-retardant. During last month’s wildfires, succulents — which by definition store water in plump leaves and stems — apparently stopped a blaze in its tracks…” [Read more]

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Ten Reasons Why You Really Need Rocks

Here are ten reasons why your landscape—especially if it includes succulents—really needs rocks, large and small.

Remember when crushed-rock front yards were a ’60s retirement-community cliche? Not any longer! Nowadays smart designers cover bare soil with rocks to create gardens that are as sophisticated and good-looking as they are practical.

“Before” photo of driveway planting

 

Driveway garden, “after” (newly installed)

In my video, Van Liew Garden Redo, San Diego landscape designer Steve McDearmon explains how he installs succulents amid swaths of warm-toned Mojave Gold gravel, Hickory Creek rubble rock, and Honey Quartz boulders (all from Southwest Boulder and Stone). Though subtle, the rocks are as important as the plants.

Ten Reasons for Rocks: They…

— need no maintenance and look the same forever.

— contrast texturally with walls, pavement, and plants.

— add color and cohesion to a landscape.

— moderate soil temperature, keeping it warmer in winter and cooler in summer.

— hold moisture in the soil and inhibit evaporation.

— prevent erosion by diffusing the impact of rain.

— give a garden a finished look. (Doubtless you already know that topdressing is important for containers. The same is true of gardens.)

— are visually intriguing, especially when several sizes combine.

— lend design interest and emphasize focal points when used to create flowing lines in the landscape.

— prevent weeds from germinating by shading the soil. And any that do pop up are easier to pull.

Aloe glauca

Also see my books:
Designing with Succulents (2nd ed), boulder and rock gardens, pp. 96-99

Succulents Simplified, rocks in gardens, pp. 99-101

Watch the video: Why You Really Need Rocks (Van Liew Garden Redo)

More Info on This Site: 

Succulent Garden Design Essentials
Nancy Dalton’s award-winning succulent garden in San Diego is an outstanding example of smart landscaping for Southern California’s arid climate. Enjoy it’s many pleasing and practical aspects and keep these dozen ideas in mind as you design and plant your own garden… [Continue reading]