Plants & Varieties

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…

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Showy Succulents for Snowy Climates (Debra’s WSJ Article)

Showy Succulents for Snowy Climates (Debra’s WSJ Article): A shorter version of this article appeared in the Wall Street Journal, 3/9/18. This is the unabridged original. Is it a given that Northerners can’t grow succulents? Not at all. Granted, most of these moisture-storing, arid-climate plants prefer warm, sunny habitats. Yet in response to demand, major growers are…

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Soft Succulents: Jeff Moore’s Stunning New Book

Jeff Moore’s books are the See’s of eye-candy, filled with photos that show the very souls of fleshy plants. Moore is a succulent expert, garden designer, photographer and author who for 26 years has owned Solana Succulents nursery in Solana Beach, near San Diego. We met in 2003, back when I was covering gardening for magazines. He struck…

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Succulents, Fibonacci and Spiral Phyllotaxis

Many cacti and succulents form geometric spirals similar to those of sunflowers, pine cones and nautilus shells. Spiral leaf arrangements funnel rain to roots, and keep upper leaves from shading lower ones. The arrangement of a plant’s leaves along the stem is phyllotaxis (from ancient Greek, phýllon “leaf” and táxis “arrangement”). Mathematically, spiral phyllotaxis follows a…

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Spring in My Succulent Garden: Flowers Wow with Bold, Hot Hues

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 mid-May. Increasing temps tend to put the kibosh on delicate spring flowers. If you live near the coast of CA, you’ll enjoy a longer spring, but you may not get…

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Designing with Cold-Climate Succulents

How to select, grow and design with cold climate succulents—sedums, sempervivums and more.  Becky Sell of Sedum Chicks plants cold-hardy succulents in repurposed wood-and-metal containers, hypertufa pots, wreaths and more. She grows the plants, too, where she lives in Turner, Oregon, near the Washington border. Becky’s compositions can overwinter outdoors in northerly climates (Zones 4…

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How to Make Succulents Bloom

Is there a way to make succulents bloom? Yes and no. It partly depends on a plant’s age. It may not be large or mature enough to gear up for reproduction (which is the point of flowers). But there IS something you can do to make a succulent bloom if it’s just sitting there, sulking,…

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Why Cactus is Popular

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,…

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Why You Should Grow Aloe Vera

Why should you—and can you—grow Aloe vera?  It’s 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…

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Plants and Pots at the Cactus & Succulent Society Show

To see amazing succulents in elegant art pots, attend a Cactus & Succulent Society Show. The largest in the US is the annual Inter-City Show at the Los Angeles Arboretum mid-August. 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…

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Circular Succulent Garden

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…

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The Succulents of Birdsong

Echeveria and Crassula falcata

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…

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