a succulent garden in February

On the way to picking up a family member’s weekly box at the CSA Growing Experience in North Long Beach last week, I took the opportunity to drive slowly through the surrounding neighborhood of mostly Spanish-style homes. It was drizzling again, still a charming novelty after years of drought. Because of that drought, there’s very little front lawn left in these neighborhoods, and what’s filling the turf vacuum are all sorts of interesting mashups. I was ready to head for the main thoroughfare again, when I caught a peripheral flare of orange as high as a street parking sign. Could it be? Several K-turns and U-turns later, I found this gem of a garden:

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That promising orange flare was everything I hoped for. If this is Aloe marlothii, it’s the biggest one I’ve seen outside of a botanical garden. Amidst all the post-drought, lawn-replacing, tentative start-up front gardens, here’s a garden planted long ago and simply for a love of these plants.

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Could the shaggy-headed aloe on the left be ‘Goliath’? (A tree aloe notorious for growing more leaves than the trunk can support and therefore prone to toppling over.) Whatever its name, it’s a magnificent specimen, with no underplanting to obscure the trunks.

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Here’s a better view of that tree aloe. The experts say to grow them lean, and you’ll have a better chance of keeping them upright.

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I assumed the other trees were palo verdes, but under these overcast skies it’s hard to tell. The architectural massing of plants builds closest to the house and lessens at the sidewalk. With strategic positioning of plants, the house is both screened and open to the neighborhood.

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After all this rain, the d.g. still meets the sidewalk in a disciplined line. It was obviously laid down properly, with a good base, then compacted with a roller. Having the planting on a deep setback from the sidewalk is a neighborly gesture to reassure the spiky plant phobic.

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I wonder how much editing was done before this vision emerged. This garden struck me as the antithesis of most succulent gardens —
which focus mainly on understory, ground-cover planting that builds tapestries out of all the amazing shapes and leaf colors succulents offer. Here the huge specimens dominate, surging skyward from an austere base of decomposed granite. A very clean, dramatic effect.

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A great example of the range of moods and styles possible when planting with succulents.

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19 Responses to a succulent garden in February

  1. James Golden says:

    I want to move to a desert!

  2. Sue Webel says:

    Don’t you love discovering a great private garden for the first time? Your luck seems to never run out.

  3. Gerhard Bock says:

    What a special find! I love everything about this garden. There’s so much drama now, but imagine how much patience it took! This kind of garden is not for people who want immediate results.

    BTW, I also think it’s Aloe marlothii (or a marlothii-heavy hybrid).

  4. Pam/Digging says:

    I don’t which is more delightful: this garden filled with stunning specimens, or your enthusiasm about your chance encounter with it. Either way, thanks for posting this. It’s a pick-me-up during my lunch break on a busy work day.

  5. Ross says:

    Very nicely structured garden. Just the essentials. The mounding works well as does the colour scheme and I hope that’s what my newish potted Aloe marlotti will one day become. Absolute stunner. .

  6. Kris P says:

    You always have a sharp eye out! Although it evidences a degree of minimalism I seem to be utterly incapable of in my own garden, I really enjoyed this landscape. And every time I see aloes (or agaves) this big, I wonder if I’ll live to see anything nearly as spectacular in my own garden one day.

  7. ks says:

    wow, that is seriously beautiful. I would have a hard time refraining from planting in the empty spots though. I might ruin the minimalist aesthetic in a hurry. And the house color is vital to the overall design. So glad you made all those u-turns !

  8. Loree says:

    Being one who tends to over-plant (you hadn’t noticed had you?) I am drawn to the empty space between the plants and the sidewalk. It’s almost as though there had been a spiky plant accident at some point and everything was cleared back a safe distance. Still the negative space is extremely effective in highlighting the size and beauty of the specimen plants. Excellent find!

  9. hb says:

    You found a real gem. Thanks for sharing it.

    An A+ for everything except Agave americana. So many better choices than that one. Might be ‘Goliath’, or one of the ‘Goliath’ parents, vaombe?

  10. Brent says:

    What a nice garden surprise to find during your peregrinations. Your enthusiasm is obvious in your write-up. Thanks!

  11. Alison says:

    Oh yes, that is a wonderfully dramatic garden! Thanks so much for doubling back and sharing it. The huge Aloes are fab.

  12. Evan says:

    The tree aloes kind of remind me of the giant lobelias and other megaherbs from high elevations in Africa and South America and the sub-Antarctic islands, especially with the negative space that makes them so prominent. I’ve never been a fan of the succulent seascape of bright groundcovers. It looks so unnatural to me. This is much better, to my eye. It boggles the mind (in a good way) without straining the eye.

  13. Nicely designed garden. Those huge aloes are great. To me they look like a cross between ferox and marlothi.

  14. Tim says:

    Absolutely stunning home and garden. Those enormous aloes really strained my brain. Not being familiar with such giants, they looked like small plants scaled up in a digital editing program and plopped into the landscape. Not that they don’t look fantastic, but it took my brain a while to adjust. Amazing.

  15. Nell says:

    The big flat rocks on either side of the entrance walk are a perfect touch: subtly welcoming, functional, but not at all obtrusive. I could look at that last image all day — the play of plant textures and shapes in that last image is so satisfying.

    And a big round of applause to the blooming aloe whose flash of orange lured you over. Thanks for sharing the “nectar”!

  16. rusty duck says:

    It looks so natural. I wouldn’t necessarily have said so a few weeks ago but having just returned from Australia and gone to some pretty remote places, the plants and trees arrange themselves just like that. It’s fab.

  17. Denise says:

    @James — you’d miss that high water table! But I’d love to see what your desert garden looks like.
    @Sue, I do love discovering them and having a camera handy, and a soft light!
    @Gerhard, I think I’ll have to leave them a little note with all these compliments.
    @Pam, gotta share the enthusiasm!
    @Ross, I agree about the subtle mounding and the overall careful judgment at play.
    @Kris, your garden is just as spectacular, with so many unique elements of site and view. I think it shows all the different moods plants can express.
    @Kathy, that deep rusty house color is so good with these shades of green and blue, right?
    @Loree, so true — all empty space just looks “positive” to me and ripe for planting!
    @Hoov, after all this rain, I might have to rethink not mounding up for the frontyard agaves. Starting to see some blackened lower leaves…
    @Brent, I am constantly a victim of my own enthusiasm, so I might as well share!
    @Evan, that is so interesting. See Jessica/Rusty Duck’s comment below. I’ve gotta do more traveling.
    @Len, and as you know these tree aloes are prone to mites. I didn’t get close enough to inspect but overall everything looked flawlessly healthy.
    @Tim, this garden stands out on its street in that same way. What a contrast to the other gardens.
    @Nell, I loved those flat, buried rocks as well. Good eye!
    @Jessica, such a long flight — but such a riches of memories. I need to do that too some day.
    @Alison, you’re most welcome!

  18. David Feix says:

    This garden just doesn’t push my buttons, the proportions seem a bit off, and missed opportunities to really contrast forms and textures. Sorry to be the one grouch.

  19. Denise says:

    @David, not your style at all, but I’m beginning to see the virtues in spare planting for here in SoCal. But please don’t stop your bravura planting up in the Bay Area!

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