There I was, biking through French chateau country, rounding a bend in the zig-zag roads stitched with Lombardy poplars. And just as I was brushing the wind-blown hair out of my face, doing my best impersonation of Jeanne Moreau in Jules and Jim, the improbable sight of a sculptural succulent garden, and not the traditional parterre befitting a country house, had me hitting the brakes hard.
Ha! Nice daydream, right? But no, I’m out of air points at the moment. The “countryside” in this case was the bike corridor of 3rd Street, my go-to, east-west axis through Long Beach, so I’m seeing a lot of this garden lately. And there is an undeniable movie-set vibe to the little street. It’s just off 3rd at Lowena Drive, aka the local French chateau country. Mr. Lowe, a flower grower on a farm in this very spot back in the 1900s, built a group of four chateauesque dwellings from 1919 to 1926 on this street that now bears his name along with historically protected status.
The entire street, and especially this little garden, brings a smile every time I bike past. Mr. Lowe was obviously a big-time daydreamer too. There’s not much biographical information available on him, so I have no clue as to why he fixated on this architectural style. The surname “Lowe” could be English, French, German, etc., etc.
I love how the garden is shared with the neighboring property and visually flows down the street like a mini resort. I’m not sure which house fires up that iron chimnea near the property line — possibly it’s communal. This photo is looking south, with the ocean about a quarter mile away. (Our beaches face south, not west.) The umbrellas belong to the adjacent third-story property, which doesn’t have the depth for a front garden of its own, just some containers and small sitting areas.
I Instagram’d this house back in early December and have been plotting to make it back with the big camera for blog photos ever since. Nice timing now that the aloes are in bloom.
The house faces west, so the garden gets loads of sun. The tree aloes in bloom by the front porch may be Aloe thraskii. Uncertain identity of the foreground aloe with peachy torches and deep red leaves. Barely perceptible to the right of that aloe is a young Totem Pole cactus, Lophocereus schottii, in its monstrose form.
The simple planting is mainly composed of aloes, several species of euphorbias, and a few species of cactus, especially the repetitive use of the strong shapes of barrel cactus. The sole tree, a palo verde, leans in from the right side of this photo.
The only agave included is A. attenuata near the sidewalk.
The garden is edged with Cor-Ten, and it appears that the tree aloes near the porch may be growing in Cor-Ten planters as well. Note the schefflera just peeking over the hip roof.
The meandering decomposed granite paths are a surprising choice over a formal grid of paths with hard right angles, which is usually the preference where a strong pattern is wanted. And yet an organic strength from the design is achieved nonetheless, abstract and sinuous, resulting in no plant being “walled off” but able to be seen from many vantage points. I love the effect of how the paths seem to flow like water through the plantings and also function as strong negative space that brings the statuesque plants into sculptural relief. The low ground cover, possibly an ice plant like red apple or something vigorous with small leaves like oscularia, is kept tightly trimmed to preserve the shapes of plants and paths.
Though somewhat abstract, the paths do follow a practical layout. These photos were taken about a day after our first rainstorm, which this little absorptive garden handled beautifully.
Note the cactus swallowed by a pencilbush, a sign of the invisible hand guiding the garden, picking winners and losers. I read this as the cactus being forfeited to allow the lush, rotund shape of Euphorbia mauritanica full expression, but that’s just my take. But it does make you wonder how much of the garden was planned versus evolved as the plants matured and shapes grew stronger.
Succulent gardens easily come to mind for architectural styles such as Mid Century Modern, Spanish Revival. I think this little front garden is proof that a succulent garden can accommodate any style home.