A select group of home gardeners advocate high-maintenance gardening. They cultivate bonsai plants that must be watered daily and clipped frequently, tropicals, e.g., orchids or other plants that are native to hot and humid parts of the world, or plants that require a lengthy cold spell to perform their best.
Another group grows mostly plants that are content with the local climate. For Monterey Bay area gardeners, these plants are in the summer-dry (or Mediterranean) climate zones of the world. Let’s call them the practical gardeners, willing to do seasonal maintenance.
Then, we have home gardeners who aspire to low-maintenance gardening. Those who have very busy lives want beautiful and interesting gardens that require little of the gardener’s time.
These gardeners have two basic pathways to consider. One emphasizes hardscape and minimal vegetation. The aesthetic might be a classical Japanese garden, which uses stones, sand and gravel symbolically, or a severely modern garden, as might be featured in Garden Design magazine. Maintenance of these gardens can involve much sweeping or raking.
Another pathway to a low-maintenance garden relies on succulent plants, which have become fashionable in recent years.
Succulent plants store water in their leaves or stems. Some store water underground, in their roots, modified stems (e.g., corms, rhizomes, etc.) or bulbs. This latter group of succulents has been called geophytes (“earth plants”).
One large group of succulent plants is the Cactus family (Cactaceae). All cacti are succulents, but many other plant families include succulent species. They are found in a wide range of botanical classifications, but they have in common adaptation to dry environments.
Here are some ideas for landscaping with succulents.
While dry environments often are hot and sunny, succulents also grow in places that are relatively shady and cool: they are not limited to desert environments, but can thrive in a wide range of garden situations.
Succulents have several distinctive leaf and stem colors: many variations on green, blue and silvery blue, as well as reds and yellows. Landscape designers recommend grouping cool colors or hot colors, but not both.
Many succulent blossoms tend to the hot colors, and are relatively short-lived. Bulbous plants, however, produce blossoms in a wide range of colors.
Succulents range greatly in size, from low-growing sedums to 50-foot yuccas, and everything between. Designs can vary plant heights for visual interest. As always, select plants that will still fit when they reach mature size.
Succulents are low-maintenance choices for containers. Many smaller varieties grow well in shallow bowls. Succulent fanciers select containers with great care.
In a mixed bed, complement succulents with softer-textured plants: grasses, sages, etc.
Succulents will add considerable interest to your garden, and require very low maintenance. Try a small grouping to learn more.