Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Urban Garden V6: Super Succulents

As a Xeriscape Designer, I am constantly hearing from clients “I don’t want a desert garden”.  There is mass confusion regarding Succulents, Cactus and Euphorbias, and although American Cacti do very well here in San Diego, we do not live in a desert.  San Diego’s Sunset Zone 24 is known as a Coastal Sage, while the thermal belts of Sunset Zones 21 and 23 are really Chaparrals. In all cases, Succulents thrive here in San Diego’s limited hydro-climates and blend with ease into a Xeriscape planting plan. Xeri comes from the Greek word Xeros meaning dry.  Xeriscaping is a creative landscaping art that combines water-efficient plants to produce a sustainable garden.

Debra Lee Baldwin, is an expert in the world of succulents and has  written Designing With Succulents and Succulent Container Gardensdefines succulents as “any plant that survives drought by storing water in its leaves, stems, or roots”.  By definition it would include Cacti, Euphorbias and other drought tolerant plants, combining those from Australia, South Africa, and California Natives. While a succulent garden is not the same as a cactus garden, all cacti are succulents but all succulents are not cacti.  Many cacti live in extreme, hot, sunny conditions with long dry periods in poor sandy soils. In contrast, succulents need a sun break, and require soils rich in organic matter, holding moisture.  Euphorbias are known for containing a white milky substance that irritates human skin are excellent additions to the succulent garden. They vary from shrubs to trees and even plants that look exactly like cacti.

The trick to a very successful succulent planting plan is to mix all these genera of plants. Combining different blooming periods with deciduous Euphorbias will create year around interest.  By mixing plant textures and colors with hardscape features such as, boulders, stucco walls, and water features, will keep the eye moving through your landscape, while bringing a sense of balance and harmony.

Some of my favorite succulents are Aeonium ‘Cyclops’, ‘Kiwi’, ‘Zwartkop’; Agave attenuata, Aloe ‘Blue Elf’, Bulbine frutescens, Calandrina grandiflora, Kalanchoe luciae, Portulacaria afra, Dudleya brittonii, the genus Echeveria and Sempervivum.  Most of these work well in combination with Phormiums (New Zealand Flax), Anigozanthos flavidus (Kangaroo Paw), Yacca, Salvias and ornimental grasses such as Muhlenbergia capillaries (Pink Muhly) and Pennisetum setaceum ‘Eaton Canyon’ (Dwarf Purple Fountain Grass).

The Urban Garden will bring you the newest technologies to green, gardening and landscaping.  It is my hope through this series of articles; you will be inspired to look at new directions in sustainable gardening and landscaping practices.  The face of San Diego is changing as water diminishes and urban sprawl continues to grow. Be inspired and make a change.