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My Top Five Firewise Succulents

The horrific wildfires and loss of life in the CA wine country are a reminder of what we experienced here in San Diego County in 2007. My own home was blanketed with ash when I returned from being evacuated, and during three awful days, we didn’t know if we’d have a home to return to. This post is timely for fall, 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 by suggesting you buy a book. My sympathy and prayers are with the victims. Debra Lee Baldwin

Whether you live nearby or on the other side of the country, Sunset offers a few ways you can help. Go to http://www.sunset.com/syndication/california-napa-fires-how-to-help

 

It’s been a decade since wildfires devastated much of San Diego county. 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.

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]

My top five 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 and plant them around your property’s perimeter. As you can see, they combine to make a beautiful, low-water landscape. This garden 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.
  • 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.

 

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Is Cactus the New Black?

Dish garden by Matthew Maggio

Long a pariah plant, cactus is becoming cool. The first edition of my book, Designing with Succulents (Timber Press, 2007) showed few cacti—mainly golden barrels. A decade later, the completely revised second edition devotes 15 pages to numerous varieties of spiny succulents in gardens large and small.

Golden barrels backlit by the sun

Succulent aficionados initially drawn to echeverias and other rosette succulents are gaining appreciation for those with streamlined, sculptural forms. There’s a surging interest in succulent oddities as well, resulting in windowsill gardens with a vaguely extraterrestrial look.

Collectible crested cacti on display at a nursery

Membership in the Cactus & Succulent Society of America (CSSA), founded in 1929, is at an all-time high. Longtime members of CSSA clubs nationwide seem bemused by the surging interest in succulents as landscape plants. But then, members are collectors. Clubs host shows and award trophies to rare, perfectly grown potted specimens. These widespread events are open to the public and free, so they’re often where people see exotic succulents first and in the flesh.

Large cacti that are spherical, cylindrical or jointed are popping up far from their native desert Southwest. Forward-thinking California landscape designers are creating focal-point beds consisting of rocks of all sizes (another trend) and dramatic succulents with translucent spines. These living sculptures, breathtaking when haloed by early morning or late afternoon sun, require no irrigation other than rainfall.

You needn’t live in a hot climate to grow cacti in-ground. On page 112 of the second edition of Designing with Succulents, I share this good news: “More than fifty types of Opuntia and a dozen varieties of Echinocereus will grow where temperatures drop below 0 degrees F, according to members of the Ottawa Cactus Club, who have grown and tested them in their gardens.”

My makeshift cactus tools include grippers with pieces of foam rubber attached to the tips with rubber bands and rubber gloves wrapped with duct tape

 

Whoever introduces flexible gardening gloves impervious to spines and glochids will likely make a fortune. Regardless, if they haven’t already, manufacturers of medical tools will see an uptick of interest in long-handled tweezers, calipers, hemostats, narrow-bladed scissors, and other items that enable gardeners to groom and handle cacti without actually touching them.

Not that I expect garden-club ladies to ever be enthralled by cacti. This edgy subsection of succulents appeals to a new generation of gardeners: people in their twenties and thirties who have the gardening gene (they’re fascinated by plants and their cultivation) but who want to do it their own way. Look for young green-thumbers to take an interest in formerly ignored fat plants, reveling in the eye-of-the-beholder beauty of mammillarias, euphorbias and more. (The more treacherous, the better, especially those with eyebrow-raising names and forms.)

Can spineless cacti help world hunger?

I’ve saved the best for last: It’s likely that research begun by famed hybridizer Luther Burbank (1849-1926) on spineless varieties of Opuntia (paddle cacti) will start up again in earnest, with the goal of creating a dependably smooth-leaved hybrid that’ll grow nearly anywhere. Many in this large genus have pads as thick as oven mitts, and juicy tissues capable of sustaining the plants during prolonged dry spells. Tender young pads, a dietary staple in Latin America (nopales), are notably high in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other beneficial nutrients.

Burbank envisioned spineless opuntia as an economical alternative to cattle feed. Despite harsh conditions, the plants grow from fallen pads. They thrive in poor soils and need far less labor than grains. Forget silos; simply leave pads on the plants until needed. But never mind cattle. Call me crazy, but I think spineless opuntia offers a significant way to combat world hunger. And due to its wealth of antioxidants, possibly cancer too.

Cacti are just one direction in which succulents are trending. With 400 photos and entirely revised and updated text, the celebratory, tenth anniversary, second edition of Designing with Succulents presents hundreds of innovative, practical, and eye-catching ways to use and enjoy these appealing and remarkable plants. Learn more at www.debraleebaldwin.com and www.timberpress.com.

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Why You Should Grow Aloe Vera

Aloe vera is arguably the most commercially grown succulent (followed by the tequila agave and supermarket kalanchoe). The medicinal and cosmetic value of the plant’s gel-filled leaves have been recognized for millennia, and it is reputed to have been part of Cleopatra’s beauty regimen. Google “Aloe vera” and you’ll get dozens of hits for products that use the gel in topical skin lotions or as a food ingredient.

Studies of the plant’s effectiveness for a wide range of ailments tend to be inconclusive, but no one questions the efficacy of Aloe vera at soothing minor burns. And because of its antimicrobial properties, it’s supposedly better than toothpaste at preventing cavities. But would you want to ingest the raw gel? It won’t hurt you (in small quantities) but it’s awfully bitter. Mixing it with honey and water is an option if you really want to take it internally, but don’t overdo it; it has laxative qualities.

In the garden, it serves as a nice (if not especially showy), midsized, low-water succulent. Instead of orange flowers typical of most aloes, those of Aloe vera are yellow. Its leaves are tapered, upright, gray-green, and grow to about waist-height. The plant is also colony-forming over time.

I grow Aloe vera mainly to have it on hand in case of sunburn. Slice a leaf lengthwise and rub the goo on your skin for soothing, instant relief. See my latest YouTube video: How to Harvest Aloe Vera Gel. 

Aloe vera plants are available at large nurseries and garden centers and will thrive outdoors if protected from frost and desert heat. Like most succulents, Aloe vera needs plenty of sun, weekly watering, and soil that drains well. It also makes a good windowsill plant, although it is unlikely to bloom indoors.

Aloe vera is not the only medicinal aloe, and not all aloes have medicinal properties. In fact, some are poisonous. Duke Benadom of the Los Angeles Cactus & Succulent Society and author of Superb Succulents researched and compiled this list of medicinal aloes (in blue) and poisonous aloes (in red) ~

List reproduced with permission. Source: Succulent author and expert Duke Benadom of the LAC&SS.

Benadom notes, “It’s important for the general public to be aware of the fact that aloes are not all the same. I constantly hear people speak of the genus Aloe as Aloe vera, and after questioning, find they were unaware of more different kinds. The replies are usually along the lines of, ‘Aren’t they all the same?'”

Note, too, that Aloe arborescens—a popular landscape succulent—offers the same benefits as less common Aloe vera.

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Plants and Pots at the Cactus & Succulent Society Show

Update: I released two fun and informative YouTube videos after doing this post. Both star “America’s Succulent Sweetheart” Jeanne Meadow, whose world-class succulent garden is featured in my book, Designing with Succulents (2nd ed.). Enjoy! ~ Debra

At the San Diego C&SS show, Jeanne Meadow selects perfect succulents for her newly acquired, one-of-a-kind art pots

At the San Diego C&SS show, Jeanne Meadow hunts art pots to showcase her rare and collectible succulents

 

Succulent enthusiasts flock to the annual Cactus & Succulent Society Show at the Los Angeles Arboretum mid-August. It’s the largest of its kind in the US. Judges award ribbons and trophies based on how well a specimen is grown, its rarity, and how well it’s “staged” in its pot. Pots aren’t merely containers, they’re works of art, and may be more valuable than the plant. Below are what caught my eye and photographed well, but represent only a fraction of the unusual and beautiful succulents on display.

Agave victoriae-reginae

Above: Agave victoriae-reginae, named after England’s Queen Victoria.

Twisted cereus

Above: A twisted cereus. Seriously.

Tephrocactus geometricus

Above: Tephrocactus geometricus. 

Mammillaria microthele

Above: Mammillaria microthele on the trophy table. Anyone for cinnamon rolls?

Hoodia

Above: Hoodia, the African cactus that’s reputedly an appetite suppressant. Not sure I’d want to take a bite, would you?

Gymnocalycium

Above: Judge Woody Minnich examines an unusually colorful Gymnocalycium mihanovichii. 

Fig in Muradian pot

Above: A bonsai’d fig with its roots elevated in a Mark Muradian pot. His work is characterized by embossed patterns.

Euphorbia gorgonis

Above: Euphorbia gorgonis in a Mark Muradian pot. Notice the Fibonacci spiral in the plant’s center.

Epithelantha micromeris in Cone pot

Above: An Epithelantha micromeris cluster in a container by Tucson potter Mike Cone. More spirals!

Echinocereus pulchellus

Above: Echinocereus pulchellus on the trophy table. If all this Latin seems tiresome, consider how it describes the plant. Echino = prickly, cereus = waxy, and ceroid cacti tend to be cylindrical. Pulchellus you’ll remember if you took Latin in high school—it means beautiful.

E. castanea f. spiralis

A twisted cactus, Eulychnia castanea spiralis. Don’t you wonder how and why it would do that to itself? Ow!

Dyckia

Above: A dyckia. I’m not sure why these bromeliad relatives are in the show, but they’re certainly beautiful. And treacherous. Those stiff leaves are like serrated knives.

Dioscorea elephantipes Keith Kitoi Taylor

Above: A Dioscorea elephantipes on the trophy table. The plant is owned by Keith Kitoi Taylor of the Sacramento Cactus & Succulent Society, who also created the highly textural pot. What makes this a succulent is the plant’s woody caudex, which is a water tank. The vining foliage is deciduous.

Conophytum minimum

Above: Conophytum minimum. Sure wish I could get my hands on a few of those  muffin-like pots.

Cone pot

Above: Euphorbia horrida in a Mike Cone pot.

CA Cactus Ctr display

Above: A display of collectible plants in one-of-a-kind pots, presented byCalifornia Cactus Center in Pasadena.

Books

Above: I was happy to see my trio of books for sale at the show (upper left).

Blossfeldia liliputana2

This diminutive Blossfeldiana liliputana is rare and difficult to grow. It made it to the trophy table, and is from a teen-age boy’s collection.

Astrophytum3

Above: A prehistoric-looking astrophytum. The name means star-shaped.

Astrophytum2

Above: Another astrophytum. Don’t the lines in its skin look like those of  a computer chip? I wonder what it might be trying to tell us.

Ariocarpus

Above: Best of show, an ariocarpus in bloom. These cacti, native to limestone hills of Rio Grande in south Texas, are endangered in the wild and notoriously difficult to cultivate.

Aloe by Tim Harvey

Above: An aloe hybrid developed by Tim Harvey, who edits the journal of the Cactus and Succulent Society. This plant is not for sale, nor is it available in any nursery; hopefully it will be some day.

Agave victoriae-reginae variegata

Above: Agave victoriae-reginae ‘Variegata’.

Agave utahensis

Above: Agave utahensis, from–no surprise–Utah. It’s one of the most cold-hardy agaves. Don’t you love its long terminal spines?

Agave pumila

Above: One of the smallest agaves, Agave pumila. Notice its blue color, wedge-shaped leaves and delicate striations.

Agave potatorum, Japanese hybrid

Above: Of all the plants in the show, this  was my favorite because of its deeply indented sides, rust-colored spines and  variegation. It was entered by agave expert Tony Krock of Terra Sol nursery in Santa Barbara, and is an Agave potatorum hybrid. The three-word cultivar name is Japanese and wasn’t translated on the tag. Anyone know what ‘Ikari Rajeh Nishiki’ means?

IMG_0526

It’s also possible to purchase collectible succulents and containers at the show. Here I’m with the two potters mentioned above:  Mark Muradian (left) and Mike Cone (right). Photo by Jeanne Meadow.

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Spring in My Succulent Garden

In spring, my garden is less about succulents and more about flowers…well, actually, that’s not true. The garden’s most vivid blooms are those of ice plants. Singing alongside them in spring are poppies, daisies, wisteria, bulbs, and yes, some succulents—notably Aloe maculata and Bulbine frutescens.

Below are a few stills and the plant list from my new YouTube video: Debra Lee Baldwin’s Succulent Garden in Spring. Enjoy!

An ordinarily unexciting corner of my garden is stunning in spring solely because of all the blooms. Red ones at center are Sparaxis tricolor, a bulb from South Africa.

California poppies literally pop in spring. I encourage these bright orange annuals to reseed every year. Behind them is Drosanthemum floribundum (rosea ice plant).

Scilla peruviana returns every March. I’m always a little surprised to see it. It was planted by my home’s previous owners, and I don’t do anything to care for it. It produces these large, purple-blue snowflakes and then disappears from summer through winter.

I planted bright red geraniums near this orange-red iceplant. I can’t recall if I did it on purpose, but they do bloom at the same time. I’ll bet you can see them from outer space.

Those and more are in the video. Here’s the plant list:

Flowering Plants in Debra’s Garden

Inland Southern CA, Zone 9b

Spring (peak): mid-March to early April

Annual: California poppies

Bulbs:

Babiana stricta (baboon flower)

Scilla peruviana

         Sparaxis tricolor

Succulents:

Aeonium arboreum

         Aloe maculata

         Bulbine frutescens ‘Hallmark’

Gasteria sp.

Ice Plants:

Delosperma congestum ‘Gold Nugget’

Drosanthemum floribundum

                  Drosanthemum speciosum

         Sedum ‘Firestorm’

Perennial shrubs:

Euryops pectinatus

Gazanias (African daisies)

Pelargoniums (geraniums)

Rose, climbing: ‘Altissimo’

Wisteria

 

I just realized none of these are pastel. Can you imagine? They’d look pale and sickly alongside all that brain-bashing color. I do have some lovely, peach-toned irises that come up late spring. Every year I intend to dig and move them to a better spot, aesthetically speaking, and every year I forget. I vow I’ll go ’round and tie ribbons to the plants when they come into bloom. Uh…remind me?

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Amy’s Circular Succulent Garden Re-Do

Also see my 5-minute YouTube video, “Circular Succulent Garden Start to Finish.”

When I first saw fitness coach Amy Van Liew’s circular garden and spherical fountain, I envisioned how it might look replanted with colorful succulents. A great fountain and garden bed deserve to be seen, especially when in the middle of a magnificent home’s entryway!

In the spring, when I took this photo of Amy, the flowers in the circle garden were impressive. However, aeoniums bloom once and then die. As you can see, they had already become leggy, and other plants (notably Sedum rubrotinctum) were overgrown and ratty. Moreover, the nearly concealed fountain was home to tadpoles.

Amy and husband Ed agreed it was time for a re-do. So, six months later, we created a new entry garden.

The basin now is filled (and concealed by) aqua-colored crushed rock that suggests water. This appears to overflow and create rock rivulets between planted areas that are top-dressed with pea gravel in a contrasting orange hue.

Each of six sections features a different kind of plant. We chose six of each kind, all in one-gallon pots, and all from Waterwise Botanicals nursery in nearby Bonsall, CA. Some have rounded leaves or a globular form that repeats the fountain’s. Except for one, all are succulents.

Sedum ‘Firestorm’ is a ground-cover succulent with red-orange leaves massed with clusters of tiny white flowers in spring.

Echeveria ‘Sahara’ is a new cultivar bred to be heat-tolerant, and therefore is suitable to a climate with summer temps in the 90s. It has a circular shape, lavender-pink-blue coloration, and produces dainty flower stalks in autumn.

Yet more circles can be seen in the leaves of Portulacaria afra ‘Minima’, a cultivar of elephant’s food. ‘Minima’ is a low-growing, heat-tolerant, ground-cover succulent with bright green foliage and red stems.

Blue fescue took the longest to become established—which is why I postponed showing the finished garden. This ornamental grass is doing great; it’s just s-l-o-w. As you can see, it has a mounding growth habit and slender, threadlike leaves that are truly blue.

Amy had had good luck with flapjack plants (Kalanchoe luciae), so we used them again, this time massing them for effect. A bonus is that their red-edged leaves are rounded—yet another echo of the fountain.

But nothing so perfectly repeated the fountain as these globular barrel cactus. I was pleased Amy wanted them; many people don’t because the plants are so spiny. But barrel cactus is not difficult to handle if you know how. The spines curve downward, so they’re not treacherous unless you push on them the wrong way (upward).

Here’s how the circle garden looked when finished last fall.

And how it looks now, six months later.

To see highlights of the installation, watch my 5-minute YouTube video, “Circular Succulent Garden Start to Finish.” The entire project took about two days, including time spent rounding up plants and materials.

Are There Feral Agaves in Your Garden?

Agave americana bud imprints
You might assume I’m pleased whenever I see a new succulent garden in my neighborhood. Most often I am, but to be honest, I’m occasionally dismayed. I’m seeing a lot of Agave americana (century plant). This succulent seduces people with its gray-blue leaves (sometimes striped with yellow); its upright, fountainlike form; and its scalloped bud imprints (impressions leaves make on each other before unfurling). Plus, it needs no irrigation other than rainfall. Century plants that are knee-height are easy to obtain and make good-looking additions to any dry garden.

So, what’s not to love? Just wait. Century plants become enormous, are wickedly spined, and they pup (produce offsets from their roots). A LOT of pups. Moreover, when an americana blooms—which takes a couple of decades, hence the name “century plant”—it dies and will be an eyesore until removed. Below is one post-flowering, after its leaves had been trimmed to the trunk. Note the chopped-off flower spike and numerous pups ready to take Mom’s place.

agave-americana-post-flowering

Admittedly, the large succulents I’m most fond of in my own half-acre garden happen to be century plants. They really stand out, and serve as dramatic focal points and living sculptures. But I have room for them, routinely blunt their menacing tips with garden shears, and pay a gardener to remove pups.

Agaves in Debra Lee Baldwin's garden

My point (ha) is that before planting an americana, ask yourself if you’ll be OK with an agave the size of an VW beetle in that spot a decade hence; if you’re willing to dig up and discard its numerous offspring (which, if you don’t, will form an ever-spreading colony like the one below); if 5-feet-long, toothed, sharp-tipped leaves might be a problem; and if it can be accessed when the time comes to remove it.

agave-americana-colony

Got boulders? My neighborhood in the foothills north of San Diego is a big rock pile. Plop an americana in a natural basin amid boulders and voila: instant garden. Thus confined and set at a distance from children and dogs, the plant can’t cause trouble.

agave-americana-amid-boulders_a_r

Doubtless century plants are popping up everywhere because they’re quite common and free. Ask a neighbor for a pup, and he’ll hand you a shovel. Yet there are dozens, if not hundreds, of improved Agave cultivars—like popular ‘Blue Glow’ below—that stay manageably small, don’t offset, and look stunning in gardens and landscapes.

agave-blue-glow

True, pedigreed agaves aren’t free, but in most residential front yards they’re a much better choice than a feral americana, and will save you money, time and hassle in the long run. See them in my website’s Agave photo gallery and at nurseries throughout California and the Southwest. Also be sure to watch my YouTube videos: “What You MUST Know About Century Plants” (2:50), and “Six Great Agaves for Your Garden, with expert Kelly Griffin” (4:53).

six-great-agaves-for-your-garden_a_r

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On Instagram, Nobody Cares About Your Dog

Now through July 9, I’m celebrating having attained 10,000 Instagram followers by giving away all four of my books! See details. 

Instagram is pure eye-candy, one luscious photo right after another. Captions tend to be brief or nonexistent. If you have a favorite topic, such as “echeverias,” you can scroll  through glorious echeveria photos simply by searching for #echeverias. Not only does Instagram give people like me opportunities to visually share our garden adventures and favorite photos, it’s terrific exposure for our brands. It’s also a great learning experience. In a nutshell, I live for “Likes,” and I continually strive to post photos that earn them. The screen captures below illustrate what I’ve learned—what works and what doesn’t—as evidenced by their number of likes (at the upper right of each).

Screen shot 2016-07-05 at 2.52.15 PM

I can post the most amazing photo and it won’t get many likes if it doesn’t show succulents. No surprise: Most of my followers are into succulents, so that’s what they want to see.

Screen shot 2016-07-05 at 3.36.52 PM

To paraphrase a popular saying: On Instagram, nobody cares about your dog. It doesn’t much matter how cute he is or how you pose him, he won’t earn many “Likes’ from people unless they own the same or similar breed.

Screen shot 2016-07-05 at 2.53.13 PM

When I do post a photo of a succulent, I aim for amazing. The quality of photography on Instagram is extraordinary. I enhanced this photo using filters provided by the Instagram app. The most interesting filter, IMHO, is “Structure.” Depending on the quality of the original photo, Structure can sharpen the image so that it practically pops off the page. A little goes a long way; photos that have been excessively filtered look unnatural and garish.

Screen shot 2016-07-05 at 2.50.22 PM

In terms of likes, my nice photo of a pachyveria earned a C+.

Screen shot 2016-07-05 at 2.52.00 PM

People quickly scroll past anything that resembles advertising. Who can blame them?

Screen shot 2016-07-05 at 2.50.40 PM

No matter how lovely, cactus is simply not as popular as nonspiny succulents.

Screen shot 2016-07-05 at 2.49.52 PM

People love anything they haven’t seen before, like this succulent-planted trash container lid I shot recently at Roger’s Gardens nursery.

Screen shot 2016-07-05 at 3.37.45 PM

But what they really go nuts over are innovative, well done succulent wreaths…

Screen shot 2016-07-05 at 3.36.01 PM

…topiaries…

Screen shot 2016-07-05 at 3.53.28 PM

…and short videos, especially if the description intrigues them.

Screen shot 2016-07-05 at 2.51.41 PM

It’s considered the height of rudeness to repost someone else’s photo without giving them credit. At first, I erred on the side of caution and didn’t repost anyone’s at all. Then someone told me about Repost, an app that automatically identifies a photo’s origin in the lower left corner. It’s a win-win: I got 3,306 “Likes” for Jen’s terrific photo, and Instagrammers who weren’t following her already probably did so after I posted it.

If you’re thinking, “Who’s got time for all that? I’d rather read a book,” be sure to enter to win all four of mine! (Btw, I save my very best photos for my books!)

 

 

Echeveria and Crassula falcata
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The Succulents of Birdsong

Frank and Susan Oddo of San Diego are hand’s-on gardeners who continually are on the lookout for unusual plants that’ll thrive in a low-water landscape. Not surprisingly, they’ve incorporated many succulents on their multi-acre property. With its layers of foliage and tall trees, the garden serves as a wild bird sanctuary that attracts dozens of species, including visitors that drop in (literally) during seasonal migrations. Below are outtakes from the article I wrote about Frank and Susan’s garden (which they call “Birdsong”) that’s in the summer, 2016 issue of Country Gardens magazine. Enjoy!

Aloes in bloom

Aloes bloom along the lane near the entrance to the garden.

 

Succulents for San Diego

A silk floss tree provides bright shade for the succulent garden beneath it.

 

Agave and yucca garden

Agave angustifolia ‘Variegata’ growing at the base of yucca trees echoes their lancelike leaves and silhouette.

 

Blue columnar cactus

Blue baseball bat cactus (Pilosocereus pachycladus) is an amazing blue with golden spines. At its base are similarly sky blue pebbles

 

Agaves and bromeliads

A cluster of Agave attenuata thrive in the dappled light of Frank’s bromeliad garden.

 

Kalanchoe luciae and burro tail in a car-part pot

Frank, who collects cars, likes to repurpose old car parts, gears and more as succulent containers. This one is planted with Kalanchoe luciae ‘Fantastic’ and trailing burro tail sedum. A yucca explodes behind it.

 

Agaves glow in the sun

Agave ‘Blue Glow’ has red margins that light up when backlit, plus it stays small and doesn’t offset.

 

Echeveria and Crassula falcata

Red flowers of Crassula falcata (green form) are striking in contrast with a teal-and-pink ruffled echeveria.

 

Echeverias bloom in a pot near a koi pond

This photo of a pot near the koi pond inspired one of the line drawings in my coloring book, Sensational Succulents—sans the fish.

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Nancy’s Award-Winning Succulent Garden

Award-winning succulent front yard in Southern California
Kangaroo paws enhance Nancy’s succulent garden

When Nancy Dalton emailed me that her garden had won the city of San Diego’s drought tolerant landscaping contest, I was ON it. I’d visited her garden earlier during the Horticultural Society’s spring garden tour, and immediately went back with my camera and camcorder. (Here’s the resulting 5-minute YouTube video.)

Nancy lives in a housing development in Carmel Valley’s mild, frost-free coastal climate. Landscape designers Samantha Owens of Barrels and Branches nursery and Michael Buckner of Deeter Buckner Design helped with soil amendments, plant selection, placement, and installation. Nancy’s also very knowledgeable about plants and is a hand’s-on gardener.

Here are a dozen lovely and practical lessons from her garden:

  1. Combine filamented agaves with yuccas for great shape repetitions.Succulent landscaape Shapes of succulents repeat and contrast throughout the garden.
  2. Incorporate plants that provide texture, like kangaroo paws and Agave filifera. Agave multifilifera in the front yard succulent garden. An agave with white filaments appears to spin.
  3. Sculpt the terrain with berms and valleys, and incorporate a pathway or dry stream bed.
  4. Group plants with a high element, such as Euphorbia tirucalli ‘Sticks on Fire’ with medium-sized succulents such as barrel cacti and variegated elephant’s food (Portulacaria afra ‘Variegata’) and low-growing blue Senecio mandraliscae or Othonna capensis.
  5. Position cacti and yuccas, which are native to the desert Southwest, atop mounded soil so water doesn’t collect around their roots.
  6. A fountain near a sitting area blankets neighboring noise and creates a sense of serenity.
  7. Have an herb garden in a grouping of large terracotta pots. This keeps the plants under control (some, like mints, are invasive) and makes them easy to water, tend, harvest, or replace.Pot grouping of herbs Herb garden in containers
  8. Contrast cobalt blue pots with bright orange coppertone stonecrop (Sedum nussbaumerianum).Fountain surrounded by succulents Blue and orange succulents create dramatic contrast
  9. Lend interest to a blank wall with three brightly-glazed pots containing a tall, columnar cactus, a mounding euphorbia, and Agave lophantha ‘Quadricolor’, which has a starburst look.Pot grouping in Nancy Dalton's succulent garden Vivid pots contain sculptural succulents
  10. Grow small agaves (such as A. ‘Quadricolor’, A. victoriae-reginae, and A. colorata) in pots; midsized ones (such as A. ‘Blue Glow’ and A. potatorum) in the ground, and avoid those (such as A. americana) that get too large and pup excessively.Agave victoriae-reginae in a pot A geometric potted agave sits alongside the front door.
  11. To create the look of rushing water in a dry creek bed, line it with cobbles turned sideways.Cobbles appear to be rushing water A dry stream bed “flows” through the succulent garden.
  12. Top-dress bare soil with gravel to lend a finished look and to help hold moisture in the soil.

Watch the video.

Many thanks to designers Michael and Jenise Deeter for these “before” photos of Nancy’s front yard:

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