Photo By: Courtesy of Laxmi Natarajan
Succulents that vary in shape and color are ideal for use as vertical art pieces in the garden.
The dictionary defines the word “succulent” as “juicy or with fleshy water-storing parts.”
Succulent plants store water in their leaves. They are used to growing in dry and arid climates where there is less rainfall and therefore become drought tolerant. There are thousands of succulent varieties, and a large number of them are adapted to the Bay Area climate.
Succulents can bring style, elegance and drama to any garden. Often, people think of cactus when discussing succulents, but that is only half the story. Although all cacti belong to the succulent family, not all succulents are cacti or have scales or spines instead of leaves.
Succulents may appear smooth, rosette-shaped, swirly, rounded or in many different forms. Easy to propagate and grow, they are hardy and require little maintenance.
Most succulents do not respond well to overwatering. They do well in bright light but not too much direct sunlight. Under an arbor or an eave, closer to the patio or somewhat protected areas are ideal for most succulents. A gentle slope or hillside provides a great canvas for succulent plants, as the water tends to drain naturally. From hedges that need structural plants to perennial beds and container plants, succulents can be used in a multitude of ways in the garden.
Following is a rundown of hardy succulents suitable for the area to get you started in the garden.
• One of the most widely used plant genuses is the Sempervivum, which means “live forever” in Latin. An old superstition exists about a fire that destroyed every house in a village except one. When the king went to the lone house standing, he discovered that the houseleeks, also known as hens and chicks, grew so densely on the rooftop and in the garden that they stopped the fire from spreading inside. Sempervivum is planted for good luck, to ward off evil and safeguard homes.
• Hens and chicks – a perennial succulent native to southern Europe, North America and western Asia – comes in all different sizes, shapes and colors. These low-growing perennials spread to fill bare spots in the garden, which makes them ideal as groundcovers. They are also great in rock gardens and containers. The mother plant, the hen, will produce numerous baby plants around the base, like chicks. The chicks, which can be repotted or left alone to grow in a cluster, will propagate as well.
• Sedum, sometimes referred to as stonecrop, is a large genus that likes to grow on rocky terrain. Sedum spectabile, a very attractive variety, is a perennial succulent that attracts butterflies. Leaves are bluish green and 3 feet long. Sedum morganianum (donkey tail, burro tail) has long stems that appear to be braided. These are attractive in hanging baskets or tall containers. Sedum rubrotinctum (Pork and Beans) is a fun addition to any garden.
• Crassulas are a large genus with many varieties, most originally from South Africa. The common jade Crassula ovate, found everywhere, is very hardy. It can grow in a container for years and naturally becomes a bonsai if it is pot bound. Another interesting plant to check out is the Crassula perforata, which has a leaf pattern with a pagodalike formation. Crassula arborescens (Silver jade) features flat oval leaves that are light gray, edged with burgundy or dark red. They tend to add a lot of color and glow in the light.
• Echeveria, a predominantly rosette-shaped succulent with a tight leaf formation, comes in various shades of green and are prized for their pink, coral and red blooms as well. Some of them, like Echeveria ‘Afterglow,’ have ruffled leaves and are quite dramatic. An all-time star is Echeveria agavoides ‘Lipstick,’ which sports stiff, lime-green leaves and crimson tips.
• Aloes and agaves are used heavily in landscapes. Aloe vera, a medicinal plant from the lily family, is a perennial evergreen that is very drought tolerant. It has grayish green leaves up to 18 inches long. They boast small offset rosettes as well as yellow flowers in the winter/spring season on stalks.
Agaves may grow to be very large and live for years. They need very little care and can thrive in poor soil and even deal with frost. Agave americana and Agave americana ‘Marginata’ are often found on hillsides.
• Euphorbia tirucalli ‘Sticks on Fire’ is a colorful addition to any landscape. The drought-tolerant Aptenia cordifolia features hardy, colorful red blooms that make a wonderful groundcover. Kalanchoes are ideal for adding a splash of bloom color in containers.
Many of these succulents can be planted with drought-tolerant companion perennial plants in home gardens. They add a layer of texture, form and color to the plant palette.
For a modern touch, use succulents to create vertical living walls in the garden. Other popular uses for succulents include planting them in open terraria or using them in floral (cut succulents) and flora (living plant) arrangements to add elegance and sophisticated chic to all occasions.
Succulents are easy to grow and fun to use. Their low-maintenance, drought-tolerant architectural form and varied shapes, textures and colors make them an ideal addition to the garden.
Laxmi Natarajan is a designer at Bagicha Garden and Flora Design and a member of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers. For more information, call 703-9756 or visit www.bagicha.com. d