Here in California, a spring garden’s most vivid blooms often 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, you’ll enjoy a longer spring, but you may not get the sun and heat that makes many flowers blaze.
Spring is the season of flowers, so get outside and enjoy them. Soon enough, come summer, those hot colors will fade and your garden will go back to being mainly shapes and textures—which of course succulents do best. What many people don’t realize is that flowers are ephemeral—they flash and fade, and then you’re left with foliage. (I like to say that sentence in my talks. Try it. The alliteration is luscious.)
Above: A normally uninteresting corner of my garden is stunning in spring because of all the flowers. Red ones at center are Sparaxis tricolor, a bulb from South Africa. Easy-grow shrub daisies (Euryops pectinatus) echo the yellow margins of Agave americana ‘Marginata’—which though nearly engulfed, still makes a bold statement.
California poppies pop in spring. These bright orange annuals reseed every year. Behind them is Drosanthemum floribundum (rosea ice plant). Adding contrasting form is spineless opuntia. Almost incidentally, fruit on citrus trees repeat the poppies, and elevate their color to eye level.
Scilla peruviana, returns every March. It produces large, purple-blue snowflake flowers and then disappears for nine months. It was planted by the previous owner and I don’t do a thing to keep it going. But like all bulbs, it leaves behind droopy, messy foliage which you need to leave because it feeds the bulb for the next g0-round.
And as for ice plant, don’t plant just one variety. Combine several—not curbside, though, lest they cause an accident.
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 to 8), providing the potting medium drains well. Cold-hardy succulents such as stonecrops and hens-and-chicks will also grow in Zones 8 and 9 if protected from heat in excess of 85 degrees and scorching sun. Some varieties, notably shrub sedums, die to the ground in any locale and come back the following spring.
In her designs, Becky often combines sedums (stonecrops), sempervivums (hens-and-chicks), and Delosperma ice plants. Of a little-known Rosularia species with soft, light green leaves, she says, “When people ask which plant is my favorite, this is definitely on the list.”
There are about 35 species in the genus Rosularia. The sempervivum-like succulents come from Europe, the Himalayas, and northern Africa.
Find more photos of succulents for Northern climates—including many of Becky’s favorites—on my website’s new Cold-Hardy Succulents page. I photographed the designs shown here during the Northwest Flower & Garden Show at the Sedum Chicks booth, which won an award for outstanding visual appeal.
Below: This bright red vertical container was a hit. At right, I darkened the photo to make plant IDs, in white letters, stand out, so you can see them better.
Below: Sempervivum ‘Jade Rose’ repeats the teal blue of a Sedum spathulifolium cultivar.
Below: In a cold-hardy wreath, Becky surrounded a large sempervivum rosette with smaller sedums, Delosperma cooperi (at lower left), and Sedum confusum (lower right).
Below: I’ve ID’d the three sedums in this wreath at right. Becky gives her plants “hair cuts” to keep them compact.
“I like its dark edges,” Becky says of Sempervivum ‘Black’, shown below in dramatic contrast with chartreuse Sedum ‘Lemon Coral’. At lower right is a succulent native to Oregon: Sedum oreganum.
Becky and husband Paul create planters from repurposed wood and metal. The bronzy succulents below are Sedum confusum, which blushes red-orange in a sunny location. When less confused, it’s bright apple green.
For wreaths and vertical gardens, Becky uses sphagnum moss to help hold plants in place. She emphasizes the importance of good drainage, which is true for all succulents, but especially those in rainy climates. Succulents from cold climates tend to have thin or small leaves and want a richer potting soil than thicker-leaved varieties from desert regions. Becky recommends Black Gold’s organic mix.
Melissa and her mom, Susan, had a floral shop in Solana Beach, CA when I met them in ’07. Then Susan retired, and Melissa (with partner Jon Hawley) launched CW Design & Landscaping, specializing in gorgeous in-ground gardens.
— Picks succulents in scale with their containers.
— Repeats plants’ colors and/or forms in her container selections.
— Uses lines and shapes of pots to lead the eye and frame the plants.
— Plants densely for a lavish look and uses topdressing to conceal the soil.
— Sets a container atop a table that becomes part of the composition.
— Expands her palette with non-succulents. A pink-striped cordyline adds drama to a tall pot; crypthanthus bromeliads create a wreath’s “bow.”
— Jazzes up gift arrangements with real bows of satin or velvet.
See Fresh Chic’s succulent designs at San Diego’s Spring Home/Garden Show, March 2-4, in the outdoor vendor area. Btw, social media really “likes” Melissa’s innovative, photogenic combos, so have your cell phone handy!
Fri., March 2 at noon and Sat., March 3 at 11:00, join me in the Bing Crosby exhibit hall in the presenters’ area (southwest corner).Also enjoy display gardens by top designers. The Show’s all about helping you make your home and outdoor living spaces your own private paradise.
Don’t pay admission! Come as my guest/s. You’ll still have to pay parking, but my VIP pass for two lets you waltz right in. (Print it out and bring it with you, like you would an airline boarding pass.) Hey! It’s worth $18!
Enter to win a copy of The Less is More Garden: Big Ideas for Designing Your Small Yard, simply by leaving a comment below. (To qualify, you must be 18 or older and have a mailing address in the US or Canada.) The winner will be chosen at random and notified via email Sat., Feb. 10. I’ll also put the winner’s name at the top of this post. Best of luck!
Here’s Morrison’s “less is more philosophy” of garden design:
— Less space, more enjoyment
— Less effort, more beauty
— Less maintenance, more relaxation
— Less gardening-by-the-numbers, more YOU.
In The Less is More Garden: Big Ideas for Designing Your Small Yard, Morrison’s practical, readable style expands on key points via case studies and illustrations anyone can relate to. The book is full of light-bulb moments. You find yourself thinking, “Why, yes, of course,” while wondering why such terrific insights on gardens, design, and outdoor enhancements hadn’t dawned on you before.
Mediterranean Blue Palm in summer-dry garden – Leaning Pine Arboretum.
For a garden photographer in California, seeking landscape settings for mature, appropriate plants adapted to the summer-dry climate, Leaning Pine is just about perfect. It is designed as a horticulture display garden for the ornamental horticulture program of Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, so beauty has been a key criteria for introducing plants to the collection.
Agave attenuata (Fox Tail Agave), flowering succulent, Leaning Pine Arboretum
I see my work as trying to changing the aesthetic of what Western gardeners expect to see in garden photographs, to present gardens that do not fit the typical English or East Coast style. Don’t get me wrong, I love that lush style – where appropriate; but if the media only shows that style, gardeners in summer-dry climates will think that is the best model, and try to mimic it.
Sometimes mimicry is possible, by using cultivars adapted to the formal style often seen in traditional gardens. For that, Leaning Pine has a demonstration garden with shrubs that can take formal pruning.
Pruned boxwood hedges; Leaning Pine Arboretum, San Luis Obispo.
But more often the garden presents garden beds in a more naturalistic style with looser arrangements.
Pathway through Mediterranean section of Leaning Pine Arboretum.
These gardens are designed with water conservation in mind. Water is certainly important everywhere and most gardeners recognize it as a resource that must be managed carefully in a world with increasing population pressures, but in California and other summer-dry climates (sometimes called mediterranean), water is especially precious.
It does not rain here in the summer. That’s not drought, that’s normal; and the plants that have evolved to grow in this type of climate don’t require summer water. They often look better and are more firesafe with some supplemental water, so the craft of gardening is figuring out which plants can be adapted into cultivation.
This is the beauty of Leaning Pine Arboretum – the gardens are organized by plants native to summer-dry regions, the Mediterranean, Western Australia, Central Chile, the Cape of South Africa, and of course California. Within each of these sections, garden worthy plants native to their region are organized for horticulture inspiration.
The South African garden with Ice plants and Aloe, Leaning Pine Arboretum
The responsible gardener wants to use plants adapted to his or her own climate. This is a key element of sustainability. So it is no wonder Leaning Pine has been a great inspiration in my work. I can see plants from all over the world thriving under the same sunny, dry summer conditions.
Mediterranean Collection at Leaning Pine Arboretum, California garden
I especially love the California native plants that for too long were not considered garden worthy. Leaning Pine has done a great job disproving that idea and has combined native grasses, succulents, and shrubs into classy mixed borders.
Californa mixed border native plant garden, Purple Three-Awn grass, Agave parryi, Fairy Duster shrub at Leaning Pine Arboretum.
All parts the garden are inspiring and I know any photo I take in any section can be useful to gardeners.
From Italian Stone Pines:
Gravel path under Italian Stone Pine trees, Pinus pinea at Leaning Pine Arboretum, California
To California Desert Willows:
Chilopsis linearis – Desert Willow, Californa native tree in morning light at Leaning Pine Arboretum, California
I’m proud and pleased to announce that the winter issue (now shipping) of Garden Design, the premier magazine about the aesthetics of gardening, features my “Stunning Succulent Arrangements” online class and includes a photo of one of its seven projects—the Succulent Color Wheel.*
Method: Remove plants from their nursery pots and pack them tightly in a wide, shallow pot saucer so no soil shows. Place taller plants in the center, shorter around the rim, and arrange according to color. Water sparingly and give your Succulent Color Wheel plenty of bright light so hues stay vibrant.
Garden Design has no ads, so there’s nothing to distract readers from the beauty of the photos. You can immerse yourself in gorgeous gardens without someone staring back at you trying to sell you something.
It’s 148 pages of beautiful gardens and plants delivered each quarter. Many of the stories unfold over 8 to 20 pages—all behind-the-scenes look at topics we care about most: designing with plants, landscapes, container gardens, kitchen gardens, houseplants, and more.
This creates what publisher Jim Peterson calls a “bookazine.” Each issue is collectible and coffee-table worthy, with articles that are timeless. Everything about Garden Design, from paper and binding to the writing is quality. I’m honored to contribute occasionally for Garden Design, too—not only in print, but on their excellent website as well.
If you don’t get Garden Design yet, the Winter 2018 issue is a great one to start off with. My friends get their first issue free when they subscribe! Go online to https://www.gardendesign.com/dlb or call (855) 624-5110 Monday – Friday, 8 – 5 PST and mention this offer.
As I photographed California landscapes in 2017, I found myself composing lots of panorama photos.
Dawn in the Sonoran Desert at Anza Borrego California State Park
I visited a number of expansive landscapes in my quest to find inspiration for gardeners in adapting to our summer-dry climate. Using panorama cropping to evoke a sense of wide open spaces, my journeys started in the early spring when I went to Southern California for the wildflower superbloom.
Anza Borrego State Park in the Sonoran Desert is about as wide open space as you could imagine, and it was carpeted with wildflowers.
Desert Sunflower, Geraea canescens, wildflowers on desert floor of Sonoran Desert at Anza Borrego California State Park
Perhaps you remember my post The Wild Desert Garden and the glorious shrubs and perennials that were part of the Sonoran Desert superbloom.
Then, a few weeks later, I went on to see Carrizo Plains one of the last grassland preserves in California. It is even more expansive than Anza Borego. I loved seeing the road disappearing into the horizon through a field of Monolopia wildflowers.
Carrizo Plains National Monument, California carpeted with wildflowers in the superbloom 2017
I made a post about making panoramas at Carrizo on my PhotoBotanic blog where you will find some of these photos shown as before and after.
Poa secunda, One-sided Bluegrass, flowering grass in afternoon light Carrizo Plains National Monument, California
Spring superbloom 2017, Carrizo Plains National Monument, California
The only real trick about making a panorama crop out of the traditional camera rectangle viewfinder, once you pre-visualize what you are seeing, is to line up the horizon line in the middle of the frame to reduce lens warping.
Panorama framing – Autumn landscape panorama West Bijou Ranch, Colorado.
Then, when you crop to panorama size later, you can compose the final composition where the horizon line is not dead center, but in the original capture, by putting the horizon line in the center you will keep it straight for the final photograph after cropping.
Autumn landscape panorama West Bijou Ranch, short grass prairie.
In Oklahoma, I visited The Nature Conservancy’s Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, another vast grassland, suited to panoramas.
Prairie Milkweed flowering in Tall Grass Prairie Preserve, Oklahoma
I am studying native prairies, meadows, and grasslands to help understand the role of a healthy soils and healthy vegetation to carbon sequestration in the rhizosphere underneath our feet. More on the Tallgrass Prairie Rhizosphere.
Tall Grass Prairie Preserve, Oklahoma with Rudbeckia hirta and Wild Rye.
At the end of the year I started documenting the recovery after the wildfires in Northern California.
Fire damage and recovery from Nuns fire Sonoma Regional Park, California
Burned Oaks backlit, California native landscape panorama, recovery after 2017 Sonoma fires, Pepperwood Preserve
Late afternoon light makes the burned trees seem as if they have fall color. The panoramas lend a majestic quality, perhaps unfairly for this devastation, but there is a certain determined beauty to this landscape and I sense nature is grand in all its aspects. Full post on the fire recovery at PhotoBotanic.
Whatever the natural processes our landscapes evolve with, we gardeners can observe what has been sustained, and learn to compliment Mother Nature’s work with our own.
Is any plant lovelier than a ruffled echeveria, especially one in hues of magenta, lavender, bronze or gold? These rosette succulents are soaring in popularity, and new cultivars are being introduced all the time…like this amazing indigo variety from Wright Nurseries:
You may wonder: How can photos of the same Echeveria cultivar be so different? Before you assume the photos were mislabeled or Photoshopped, consider that intensity of color and symmetry have to do with how much sunlight the plant receives and the direction of the sun’s rays. Echeverias will grow toward greatest sun exposure, which is especially noticeable when bloom stalks lean. Echeverias grown in low light will have elongated leaves (from trying to expose more surface to the sun) and will revert to green. Expert Dick Wright advises that two hours of full sun daily is ideal. Age also is important; young plants won’t display the ruffled edges, layered leaves and carruncling of mature ones.
The devastating Northern California firestorm that swept through Mendocino, Napa, and Sonoma Counties in October left the earth scorched.
California woodland landscape after 2017 Sonoma fires, Pepperwood Preserve
Now less than three months later we begin to see the landscape recovering. With a few inches of blessed rain since the fires, the annual grasses have started to green up, creating a eerie juxtaposition to the blackened trees.
Clearing out the understory is a periodic process that can be disastrous for homes built in the woodlands, but an opportunity for an ecological cleansing. The California landscape has evolved with fire, indeed, the native Americans regularly burned grasslands to regenerate grasses and keep down the shrubs.
California native landscape, recovery after fires, Pepperwood Preserve
All of the leaves on these trees below were scorched, this is not autumn foliage color, and when the land recovers in the spring it will look like a green park.
Burned Oaks backlit, California native landscape after 2017 Sonoma fires
Walking in these woodlands now is a raw experience, not ready for human interpretation. Nature just wants to recover and not be watched. I feel like I am trespassing in a boudoir; the woods are bare, naked, the underbrush is mostly gone. There are no birds.
Yet, there is a determined beauty. The landscape has been abruptly transformed, but it is not dead.
Burned Oak trees on hillside, grass recovering; Fire damage and recovery from Nuns fire October 2017, Sonoma Valley Regional Park, California
California Oaks evolved with fire and now, after a conflagration, these trees show their strength in new ways. It will take many months to fully evaluate which trees will survive, and years for the landscape to recover but the signs are already unmistakable.
Leaves are resprouting:
Some trees are even trying to flower:
Charred saplings are putting up fresh growth from the scorched earth:
Acorns are cracking open and putting down roots.
Bunch grasses are rejuvenating:
Grass resprouting, California native landscape, recovery after 2017 Sonoma fires
In some places ashy remnants seem to be pools of destruction in a surreal landscape of fire ravaged trees, some burned charcoal, some an ashen gray, some with browned, scorched leaves still hanging on them.
Oak tree ghost ashes on blackened earth from Sonoma Nuns fire October 2017.
Some of the trees look like standing ghosts.
Burned Oak trees with ashen trunks; fire damage from Nuns fire October 2017, Sonoma Valley Regional Park, California
Other trees simply burned black.
Majestic Oak tree burned; Fire damage and recovery from Nuns fire October 2017, Sonoma Valley Regional Park, California
I find these trees to be a extraordinarily beautiful and I don’t know why I am not sad. They may be dead; they are certainly damaged, but without a human to determine beauty or function, the trees just are; strong, silent, and noble, connecting the earth and the sky.
Grasses resprouting under blackened Oak trees and burned Manzanita ; fire damage and recovery Sonoma Valley Regional Park
Recovery will take years and it surely will look different once we know which trees survived. It will be beautiful still.
Dr. Camille Newton of Bonsall, CA, texted me immediately after the Lilac Fire to say that eight homes on her street had been destroyed, yet hers was unharmed. “Succulents saved the day,” she said.
Such reports aren’t unprecedented. Suzy Schaefer’s succulent garden in Rancho Santa Fe “saved our home,” she told me (and national media) after the Witch Creek Fire. I knew of others as well. Even so, I was skeptical. True, succulents tend to cook rather than burn and don’t transmit flames. But wildfire is so intense it melts metal and glass. What chance does any plant have?
Moreover, wildfires are wind-driven. A barricade of fleshy plants might halt a slow fire, but what about flying, flaming embers? And isn’t it possible that what appears to be salvation-by-succulents is merely the capricious way wildfire skips houses?
Even so, Dr. Newton, a geriatrician who often deals with life-and-death situations, is no sensationalist. She was calm, matter-of-fact, and had photos for proof.
You already know that I’m a big champion of succulents, but what you may not know is I’m also a journalist. I’m aware of how emotion and wishful thinking can cloud a reporter’s judgment. Yet what I saw when I went to Camille’s truly amazed me.
Above: News photo of the house next door to Camille’s during last week’s Lilac Fire in Bonsall, CA. Below: After the fire.
Next door, where a home had been reduced to ash and charred appliances, the only green left in the yard was an Agave vilmoriniana with singed leaves. Along the driveway were a former fence of cylindrical wooden posts that had burned into the ground, and black sticks—former ornamental shrubs—flattened by fire and wind.
So, what IS it about succulents that make them…dare I say it…fireproof?
Clearly more research is needed, and YOU can help: If you know of a wildfire-burned home that had succulents planted so densely (like Camille’s) that they should have served as a firebreak, yet they didn’t, please tell me. Tens of thousands of hopeful California homeowners (myself among them) need to know: Are Camille’s and Suzy’s experiences merely luck, or did succulents really save their homes?
What I can say with certainty is that planting a swath of moisture-rich, fleshy-leaved plants is smart if you live in a mild, arid region plagued by drought and wildfire. Readily available agaves, aeoniums, elephant’s food, aloes, jade, and ironically-named ‘Sticks on Fire’ propagate easily from pups and cuttings, are low-water and low-maintenance, and when combined, create a gorgeous garden. If it also serves as a firebreak, well—as I told a KFMB-TV reporter—that’s icing on the cake.
Five days after the Lilac Fire ripped through her neighborhood, I visited Camille and documented her story with my camera and camcorder. Of all the videos I’ve made (my YouTube channel now has 200+ with over 3,000,000 views) this one is, IMHO, by far the most interesting and important.
There’s plenty more that homeowners need to know. Topics I’ll address in future newsletters, YouTube videos, and articles include: How to create a succulent garden like Camille’s that’s broad and dense enough to serve as a firebreak. How to obtain my Top Six Firewise Succulents and grow them from cuttings. Also, why Camille’s succulents are especially lush and vibrant. (I suspect it’s her free-and-abundant soil amendment: composted horse manure.)
I urge you to watch my two videos in which Camille shares her story and garden. Even if you don’t live with the threat of wildfire or where succulents can grow outdoors year-round, I promise you’ll be entertained, fascinated…and, like me, amazed.
Read Full Article
Read for later
Articles marked as Favorite are saved for later viewing.
Scroll to Top
Separate tags by commas
To access this feature, please upgrade your account.