Streetside succulent garden (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

Succulent Slope Before & After

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If you garden on a hillside, no doubt you know how important it is to “work with nature," as designer Steve McDearmon advises. Doing so was his biggest challenge in landscaping this steep, street-side garden north of San Diego.

“At the beginning," Steve recalls, "it was bare dirt with a pile of boulders at the bottom." The land’s susceptibility to erosion, plus its length and grade, made access and installation difficult. As their budget permitted, the homeowners worked with Steve in phases over several years. The result: An exotic, drought-tolerant display of cycads and succulents---on a slope that won't slide into the street below.

Do join me virtually in Donna and Paul Carlomagno's garden, see clever solutions to ten challenges in before-and-after's, and discover colorful succulents the couple enjoy "every time we go outdoors."

Garden Overview

  • Location: Hillside with an 180-degree view to the east and south
  • Size of streetside garden: 200+ feet long x 20 feet high x 10 to 15 feet wide.
  • Size of upper garden with path, along house and deck: 150 feet.
  • Special features: Cactus-and-agave garden, tree aloes, cycads, terraces and stream bed---all visible from the large deck above.
  • Grade: One foot descent per foot of length
  • Age of plantings: 5 to 7 years

Challenges and Solutions

Overall: To make a long, steep, streetside garden appealing yet practical.

Long steep slope (before) (c) Garden Rhythms

Above: "Before" planting, five years ago.

Streetside succulent garden (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

After: Streetside succulent slope as it looks now

Challenge: Make the garden exotic yet drought-tolerant

Succulent garden (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

Solution: Combine cycads, palms, proteas, cacti and succulents

Challenge: Prevent slope erosion during winter rains

Dry Stream Bed, before (c) Garden Rhythms

(Before) Erosion during winter rains

Dry stream bed (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

Stream bed under construction. Steve lined it with Geotex tile fabric and pond liner to prevent soil from eroding. Note drain at lower right.

Succulent garden with dry stream bed (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

(After) Solution: Rock-lined stream bed follows the natural flow of rain during storms 

Challenge: Keep wood deck posts dry

Cactus garden (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

Solution: Install no-water plants (cacti and agaves) in adjacent terrace

Challenge: Make a stacked-stone wall interesting

Dudleys in stone wall (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

Solution: Tuck dudleyas and carpet of stars in gaps between rocks

Challenge: Add tough, low-water, easy-care trees

Succulent garden trees (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

Solution: Aloidendrons, palms, Beaucarnea recurvata, Dracaena draco

Challenge: Create a natural path edging to confine DG

Succulent garden pathway (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

Solution: Boulders and rubble rock line pathway

Challenges: Access steep succulent garden for maintenance; cover bare soil with something less expensive than crushed rock

Steep succulent garden (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

Solution: Steve positioned boulders on the slope as random staircase and topdressed with bark mulch.

Why does a succulent garden need topdressing?

Let me count the ways! Topdressing...

  • lends a finished look
  • diffuses the impact of rain on soil
  • slows erosion
  • cuts down on weed germination
  • make weeds easier to pull
  • holds moisture in soil
  • protects roots from extremes of heat, cold and sun.

Come See and Use the Garden!

"We also have a business called Carlomagno Gardens," Donna says. "We offer our space for succulent arrangement classes, semi-small gatherings, bridal parties, showers, and much more." She adds that for event arrangements, people "can use what they like from our succulents and protea." Contact Donna.  


Plant Gallery, slope garden

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