An entire garden of succulents in northern California

bahia(SF Bay Area)April 6, 2011

Here's a photo of a low water use garden made up almost entirely of succulents, all of them planted a little over 2 years ago from unrooted cuttings on the cheap. We did a bit of recontouring of the ground to get away from the dead flat and frankly boring facade of this wanna be Eichler home in Alameda, with its old tired weedy lawn. Ordinarily I would suggest that the existing pop-up spray head irrigation be converted to drip, but this job really was done on a tight $6500 construction budget, including demolition, haul-away and weed control before we could even start planting. We didn't even add any soil amendment for this job, and the soil is almost pure beach sand dredged from the bay. Four inch pop-ups were converted to 12 inch pop ups, and then we just started planting.

Two years later, no one would ever guess the garden was so young, or done on the cheap...

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botann(z8 SEof Seattle)

I like it!
Drifts, instead of single plants in a row.
Good composition. Very interesting to look at.
A traffic stopper in my book.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2011 at 12:37PM
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beautifulboy(6-Coastal MA)

This is beautiful! And I know water conservation is especially important in the dry Bay Area. I love the intermix of textures. Hooray for no lawn! Incidentally, have you considered painting your house darker colors in order to accentuate the modern lines (maybe two dark dusty greens?)

    Bookmark   April 10, 2011 at 7:43AM
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Thats great! Its amazing how well established it looks and its only 2 years old. I probably would have been nervous about not amending the soil - but it obviously worked out. Its hard when its that tight a budget to decide where to cut or save money but you obviously made the right decisions. Other than the irrigation what would you have done differently if the budget was not as much of an issue?

    Bookmark   April 10, 2011 at 7:59AM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

Interesting point you make, drtygrl. There are things I would have done differently. The most significant would have been to convert the irrigation system to drip from conventional spray. I would have used different Phormiums in the front, rather than recycled the ones I did use from another garden where they were being removed, as I already knew these Phormiums by the Giant Bird of Paradise were reverting to olive green, it would have looked better to me to have them half the height and variegated yellow green. I also would have planted the Strelitzia nicholai(Giant Bird of Paradise) as larger sizes to begin with, so they would have started at this size you see here. I probably would also have wanted to incorporate some natural stone boulders as part of the design.

The first design scheme had been a different approach altogether, with thoughts of different layers of low architectural fences to make the front garden a bit more private and usable as garden space to be in, rather than just to look at. As we discussed budget,(we did the landscaping in phases, with the backyard done first, the front yard done about 2 years later), my clients had by then decided that they would be moving from this house, and keeping it as a rental, so the prime goal was just for it to look good at the cheapest price possible. Replacing the crappy old lawn with new sod and limited foundation shrub plantings would have been the cheapest solution, but we both knew that wasn't what we wanted to do. We shall see if the landscaping front and back adds value, as real estate prices locally are still at least 20 to 30% below the peak. I know the current tenants would have liked to buy the rental if they could have, and after they informed my clients that they had found a place, my clients told the tenants they were interested in selling now.

It has taken a couple of years to have any impact on the rest of the street, but I have noticed that in the last year, several other houses on the block have been extensively remodeled, and more emphasis put on a designed front landscape. I can't say that I have gotten any work from this project, as most of the neighbors just aren't interested in gardens, and are mostly just decorative gravel and junipers and weeds.

As to not using soil amendment, I knew that succulents would easily adapt to the existing conditions, but they do benefit from occasional fertilizer more frequently for some of the plants, because the soil is basically just beach sand dredged from the bay. I sought out plants that would be happy with lean soils and fast drainage; not trying to force the issue and use plants I liked better that would need more pampering. The recycled from another garden Sparmannia africana is probably the one larger plant that would prefer a bit more water and richer soil to develop the huge leaves it can have; this one always looks like it is halfway between shedding its leaves and showing fall color, and pushing new growth. If you didn't know what the plant can look like when it is happier, you might not notice the difference.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2011 at 10:27AM
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catkim(San Diego 10/24)

That's a really nice composition and I don't think anyone would have guessed it was done on a tight budget if you hadn't said so. Succulents are so varied and versatile.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2011 at 1:49PM
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Its really interesting to read what you would have done differently. If everyone we worked for had unlimited money i guess all our gardens would be perfect - but the imperfections you see really aren't visible to me. What I really like is how the color of the aloe balances the height of the plants closest to the garage. maybe its just the lighting - but the aloe really jumps out at me.

Interesting about he other improvements in the neighborhood also. I hope they are able to do well when they sell it.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2011 at 2:55PM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

This front garden seems to resonate most often with garden writers and photographers who I've shown it to from southern California. I suspect because it "feels" more like it could be plunked down in San Diego. Another project that simply hasn't gotten any follow up interest from being shopped around to some of the garden magazines; I think I need to hire a publicist!

    Bookmark   April 10, 2011 at 3:07PM
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