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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]

 

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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.

Fitness coach Amy VanLiew with aeoniums in bloom

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.

Circular succulent garden, before photo

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

Circular succulent garden after installation

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.

Project sketch and plant choices

Circular succulent garden drawing

Each of six sections for the circular succulent garden 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 provides orange in circular succulent garden Sedum ‘Firestorm’ is a ground-cover succulent with red-orange leaves massed with clusters of tiny white flowers in spring.

Spherical fountain in circular succulent garden

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.

Portulacaria afra 'Minima' for circular succulent garden

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.

Spherical mounds of blue fescue with spherical fountain in circular succulent garden

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.

Kalanchoe luciae for circular succulent garden

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.

Spherical barrel cactus with spherical fountain in circular succulent garden

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).

After installation

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

Blue stones suggest flowing water in circular succulent garden

And how it looks now, six months later.

Circular succulent garden with spherical fountain

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.

See my video of the Van Liew garden redo by landscape designer Steve McDearmon, and my blog post “Ten Reasons Why You Really Need Rocks.”