streetside succulent garden

Some lucky neighborhoods have stimulating examples to study of successful front gardens made without a blade of lawn.
This example is in my hometown, Long Beach, Calif, coastal zone 10, western exposure, December 2015, drought-stricken, irrigation restrictions imposed since last spring.
The garden looks to be of a mature enough age where offsets of original plants have been added to infill and increase the size of individual plant colonies.
Drifts of massed plants, whether herbaceous or succulent, enable strong rhythmic patterns to emerge.
Replanting front gardens that were designed to hold flat planes of lawn is undeniably tricky.
The process needs tinkering and fiddling as some plants fail and others succeed, or the vigorous overrun slower growers. (It’s called “making a garden.”)
The dark mulch on the lower right covers a brand-new landscape next-door dotted with tiny succulents of uniform size, mostly small kinds like echeverias that will take years to fill in.
The garden on the left benefits from big, statuesque plants like ponytail palms, Furcraea macdougalii and Euphorbia ammak, now reaching mature sizes.
There’s also shrubby stuff as a backdrop, like Salvia apiana and Echium candicans, along with the shrub-like succulent Senecio amaniensis.


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Near sunset, the darkened sky was hinting at the rain to come later.

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In this photo alone, I spy several kinds of agaves, including desmettiana, macroacantha, bracteosa, parryi, ‘Blue Glow.’
Panels of small-scale ground covers knit the rosettes together.

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I like the careful buildup of heights and volumes.

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With aloes nestled against agaves. I think the owner has tucked in Salvia nemerosa here, too, for summer bloom.
I also noted some large, shrubby salvias against the house, what looked like the mexicana hybrid ‘Limelight.’

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Agaves ‘Blue Glow’ and possibly stricta.

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Kalanchoe grandiflora and Euphorbia tirucalli

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Good winter color on the Sticks on Fire. We’ve occasionally dipped into the 40s in December.

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On the opposite side of the central path is a beautiful specimen of Euphorbia ammak, a clump of pedilanthus, opuntia, and needle-leaved agaves, possibly geminiflora, stricta or striata.
One of the shrubs as tall as the euphorbia is an overgrown Echium candicans, which has been sheared into a hedge and functions now as a boundary between the two properties.
A young Aloe marlothii is in the foreground. The light was just about gone at this point.

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Not sure whether this is Agave stricta or geminiflora, but it’s set off wonderfully against the rocks and Santa Rita prickly pear.

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Agave potatorum with lots more pups tucked under its skirt of leaves.

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There’s a huge, blooming-size clump of what can only be a puya along the main path to the front door.

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Puya, right?

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Another look at that inflorescence as the sky darkens. Big leaves of flapjack kalanchoes and Kalanchoe synsepela in the foreground.

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Just a great source of inspiration for the neighborhood.

streetside with grasses and succulents

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Because of this house, I spent a good part of yesterday afternoon trying to source a flat of Sesleria autumnalis or Sesleria ‘Greenlee.’
No luck yet, but I will not be deterred.

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how Alison got her stripes back

So very glad to find a moderate-sized phormium, a true 4-footer, I was willing to overlook the fact that many of this New Zealand Flax’s leaves age into a dull olive green, losing the pale bands that are the inspiration for the alternate name ‘Golden Alison.’ Locally, this phormium goes by ‘Alison Blackman.’


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‘Blue Glow’ agaves, small Australian shrub Brachysema praemorsum, Furcraea macdougalii in the center, phormium off to the right, all tolerating the parched conditions in the front gravel garden.

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The unseasonal heat wave in May blistered some leaves, so a thorough cleaning was undertaken shortly afterward. And that’s how Alison got her stripes back.

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This phormium, bred by Barry Blackman, a nurseryman in New Zealand, was named in memory of his late daughter.


streetside: succulent garden 6/24/14

Another gem of a garden found via a traffic shortcut.* I’ve been admiring it for some time and stopped by last night for photos. Driving by, the tall succulents, a Furcraea macdougalii about the size of mine, Euphorbia ammak and ocotillo, were the first striking outlines to capture my attention traveling at the speed of a car, all three plants being good enough reasons to later investigate on foot. Maybe I’m biased, but from a purely aesthetic point of view, to me some of the most successful lawn-free front gardens I’ve seen locally have featured succulents. Their strong outlines are perfectly suited to conform to that tyrannical template we all inherit with these small houses — the path slicing through the middle of a geometric grid enroute to the front door. Succulents have an inherent formalism of structure that suit the rigidity of these ubiquitous layouts that were designed to be horizontally dominated by smooth turf, but their diversity, supercharged dynamism, strong colors and shapes subvert the traditional notion of a staid front garden. All while still managing to be neat and tidy 365 days a year (here in zone 10) and incredibly easy on the monthly water bill. A love of beautiful plants and a strong eye for design can produce startling effects even within this typical suburban design framework. I’ve tagged most of the agaves but leave the ID of the opuntia and other cacti up for discussion.


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Agaves included are ‘Blue Glow,’ desmettiana ‘Variegata,’ macroacantha, parryi, stricta, bracteosa.

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My own Agave desmettiana ‘Variegata’ bloomed this year, its space already taken by smaller, if less dramatic agaves.

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I’m blanking on this writhing, silvery mass with serrated leaves. Dasylirion? Puya? Nolina? Silvery shrub in the background is a westringia.

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Along with the Pelargonium sidoides, pollinators can find something of interest in flowering ground covers and a big native buckwheat near the front window, St. Catherine’s Lace (Eriogonum giganteum).

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The pencil stems with orange flowers on the far left looks like a pedilanthus.

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Small-scale ground covers eloquently underplant the rosettes including this Agave potatorum.

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Aptly named squid agave, A. bracteosa. The strewn leaves are from a neighbor’s parkway magnolia.

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Agaves nestled snugly into the well-placed rocks.

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Ocotillo and a pencil euphorbia, possibly E. leucodendron.

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I mostly avoided taking photos of the house, but the Furcraea macdougalii was smack in the middle of a front window, backed by eriogonum.

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Wreathed in aloes at its base.

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The parkway/hell strip was all helichrysum silver.

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Except for this one, which I’m pretty sure is a sideritis, the first I’ve seen locally outside my own garden.

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Front gardens like this always beg the tantalizing question: What on earth did they save for the back?


*Once again a traffic jam forced me into taking a lesser-traveled route. So I’ve been admiring this newly found garden since spring, during the recent Stanley Cup playoffs and final series, driving en route to watch the games with my mom. After my dad died, we all took up the one sport he never followed, initially as a means to get together frequently during the week. I’d never been a fan of any sport before but knew that televised sports had been an important part of their marriage. I caught an Olympic hockey game in 2010 and admired the speed and athleticism, and thus we started following the fortunes of our beleaguered, star-crossed local team. At first we were unable to even keep an eye trained on the whizzing puck and found the unspoken rules mystifying. But then the Los Angeles Kings did the unimaginable, winning their first Stanley Cup not long after we became fans, keeping their diehard fans waiting over 40 years. In 2012 we still barely understood the concept of icing the puck. This last season, stretching from October to June, was an endurance test for the fans, too, but astonishingly ended in another Stanley Cup. Unlike me, my mom can recite the jersey number and stats on every team member, and she now finds golf and baseball unbearably slow to watch. Go Mom! Go Kings!

succulents around town

I’ve been accumulating photos of the ever-present succulent arrangements I see all over town.
All over town might be an exaggeration. It’s just possible that I tend to gravitate to places where there will be succulents.
But there’s no denying that they are still the Edie Sedgwick of the horticultural world, the It plant of the moment.
And from a glass-half-full perspective, they dovetail so nicely with the warmer, drier summers we’ve been having.

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Aeoniums, Portulacaria afra, graptoverias, and the trailing Senecio radicans, the fish-hook senecio.
Rolling Greens, Culver City
This seemed to be a staging area for presold arrangements.

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Agave ‘Blue Glow,’ echeverias, Sedum ‘Angelina,’ Sedum morganianum.

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Agave americana ‘Variegata’

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I’m seeing lots of wood and natural-looking containers this spring.
Dark red aeoniums, Portulacaria afra, Aeonium ‘Kiwi,’ Senecio radicans, Euphorbia tirucalli.
These have more in common with floral arrangements, packed for maximum impact, but will have to be broken apart fairly soon.
Portulacaria afra and Euphorbia tirucalli each have potential to become shrublike in Los Angeles. .

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No ID aloe, crassulas, Senecio radicans

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Furcraea macdougalii at Inner Gardens, also on Jefferson Boulevard in Culver City
I finally got my F. macdougalii out of its pot and into the garden, not an easy thing to do with a 5-footer brandishing leaves studded with hooked barbs.
Spectacular plant.

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To give a sense of the length that Senecio radicans will grow, this is my old lamp stand, which has lost quite a bit of detail since this post. It had to be replanted a few months ago when Marty bumped it and sent it flying, rolling and bouncing, which it withstood amazingly well, considering. I patched it back together and added the trailing fish-hook senecio. Once it reaches the ground and I start trimming the ends, it loses that lovely, loose draping effect and thickens up, just like any plant that’s pinched back. Yes, for a change, I did try to style the photo a bit, which is incredibly hard to get right. Kudos to the pros for making it look effortless. After dragging benches and teapots out of the house, shifting things micromillimeters to the left then right again, I was exhausted. The “turk’s head” was a gift, brought home from the souks in Morocco, and the reason I’m asking Marty to teach me traditional seaman’s knot work. He’s always made “monkey fists” and these “turk’s heads,” but never ones this big. I want to make lots of them but in slightly smaller sizes, to hold down the canvas canopy over the pergola this summer, clip on tablecloths to keep from blowing in the wind, etc. We’ll see how many I make. Plans are always the easy part.

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These two, Aeonium ‘Kiwi’ and Echeveria prolifica, fill in incredibly fast.

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Echeveria agavoides

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Echeveria cante at the Spring Garden Show at South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa.
This show will be open through the weekend.
I found this opalescent beauty in a 4-inch pot.

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An unnamed dyckia hybrid going for $75. I left it at the show, waiting for the dyckiaphiles.

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Echeveria agavoides at the show

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Echeveria subsessilis ‘Variegata’ (synonymous with E. peacockii). Beautiful but pricey.


some cool customers


For a reliable dose of cool, deep greens and blues are the colors to choose
Yucca whipplei, Agave ‘Blue Glow,’ Elymus arenarius, Blue Lyme Grass

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Cool comes smooth, barbed, spiked, sometimes all at once. Barbs of Furcraea macdougalii
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Cool can take the heat.
(Thank you, Aloe marlothiii, for remaining flawlessly poised during this interminably hot summer.)
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Always more cool to discover. From unknown to me before July 2012 to ecstatic possession in September 2012, Agave celsii var. albicans ‘UCB.’
A Pasadena nursery was having a 35% off sale, and there he was, an agave I’ve never seen offered locally before. The kismet of cool.
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