As the author of two editions of Designing with Succulents ten years apart, I'm sort of obsessed with the evolution of succulent landscaping. Here's what designers and homeowners are discovering that works and (perhaps more importantly) what doesn't. These top six trends---call them preferences, if you like---may surprise you.
1. About as many rocks as plants. Designers bring in boulders, create cobbled riverbeds, fill gaps with gravel, and pave pathways with granite sand.
2. Statement succulents. The most memorable succulent gardens include specimen plants. These might be a tree aloe, a yucca, a cluster of silver swords (Cleistocactus strausii) or maybe an extraterrestrial-looking alluaudia. Designers set such look-at-me's atop planted mounds where they're backlit and prominent.
3. Firesticks are falling out of favor. With its upright, pencil-thin and leafless orange stems, Euphorbia tirucalli 'Sticks on Fire' makes a dramatic backdrop succulent. But in frost-free climates, with regular water and good soil, it eventually gets huge and needs whacking back. Horrifically, people are ending up in hospital emergency rooms after accidentally getting the plant's milky, sticky sap in their eyes. Exercise extreme caution when trimming any succulent euphorbia, and never plant one where children, pets or passersby may come in contact with it.
4. Fewer fiddly plants. Echeverias and other rosette succulents tend to get lost in landscapes. You'll enjoy such pretties more in pots, flowerbeds and window boxes. "I'm shifting toward specimen gardens," says celebrity designer Laura Eubanks. "I still love doing succulent tapestries, but they're becoming more of a side dish."
Watch for an upcoming newsletter in which Laura Eubanks shares advice for aspiring succulent designers.
5. Smarter plant choices. As landscape professionals and DIYers discover the drawbacks of common, giveaway succulents like century plants (Agave americana), they're opting for alternatives with comparable visual appeal but far fewer problems.
6. Desert-inspired designs. Arizona gardens are IT. No longer stereotyped as sparse, parched and prickly, they're now being lauded, photographed and admired for their dynamic silhouettes and bold simplicity. Such streamlined style, when modified according to climate, works anywhere that succulents and cacti thrive year-round. See Arizona elegance in Garden Design's interview with Phoenix landscape architect Steve Martino, and luscious desert gardens on Houzz and in Phoenix Home & Garden Magazine.
Other Helpful Resources
Succulent Landscapes Design ideas and must-dos for your yard’s transformation Want to transform your yard into a low-maintenance, low-water succulent garden? This page guides you to helpful info on this site and on my YouTube channel. Before you purchase plants or pick up a shovel, do obtain my book Designing with Succulents (2nd ed). It’s mainly about…
Below are a dozen great ideas from Patrick Anderson’s garden in Fallbrook, CA. But first, a bit of backstory… Visiting Patrick Anderson’s garden in 1998 was the first time I had seen a residential garden that featured large aloes and agaves. In my YouTube video, “Patrick Anderson’s Succulent Garden,” I take you on a tour of the residential garden that…
At Jim and Jan Gardner’s home near Los Angeles, hundreds of varieties of mature succulents and low-water companion plants pack a colorful, well-thought-out landscape. For over 40 years, the Gardners have lived in Rolling Hills Estates on the Palos Verdes peninsula, which juts from the coastline like a burl on an oak. It’s a highly…
Long a pariah plant, cactus is gaining popularity. You could even say that in the gardening world, “cactus is the new black.” Here’s why spiny succulents are catching up with smooth ones, notably in art, home decor, clothing and gift items. A little perspective: The first edition of my book, Designing with Succulents (Timber Press,…