Succulents for Your Garden

Describing trends in gardening is difficult because no clearinghouse reveals what home gardeners find appealing these days. We might find sales data from suppliers of plants, seeds or other garden products, but that could be biased by commercial priorities (not there is anything wrong with that!).

Another source might be garden-related articles in newspapers and magazines. Garden writers might just invent seasonal trend, so we should ask for reliable information that provides the basis for such claims.

With those disclaimers, I will report a trend that others have declared: that home gardeners in America are demonstrating increased interest this year in edible gardening.

This renewed enthusiasm for growing fruits and vegetables might be documented with sales data, but while the claim is credible, I haven’t seen the supporting facts. The believability of the trend rests on some combination of recession-inspired desire to control food costs and the appeal of freedom from chemicals and industry-inspired hybrids that ship and store well, but lack taste.

Another trend that also lacks documentation, but still rings true, is the gardener’s embrace of succulent plants. This claimed trend is based on the minimal challenges of growing succulents, their minimal—but significant—need for irrigation, and the stunning range of texture and colors in their foliage and blossoms.

To review, “succulents” include all plants that store moisture in their leaves, stems or leaves. Such plants exist within many different genera, so they are not related botanically, but all have adapted to low-moisture environments.

Succulents include cactuses, which typically are spiny and members of the genus Cactacea. They have much appeal, but can be hard to handle.

The vast majority of succulents do not have spines, and store moisture above ground, in their stems or leaves.

Some, called geophytes, survive dry periods by dying back to underground storage organs. Geophytes satisfy the definition of succulents but are not always regarded as succulents. That seems motivated more by established practice than by botanical science.

The specialized organs of geophytes include the following:

• true roots (of a dahlia or carrot);

• modified stems (the corm of a crocus, the stem tuber of a potato, the rhizome of a bearded iris, the pseudobulb of some orchids, or the caudex of the Adenium);

• storage hypocotyl or tuber (of a cyclamen); or the

• bulb (of a narcissus, lily or onion).

To see a variety of succulents, visit the annual show and sale of a local cactus and succulent society. California’s central coast region, for example, has the Monterey Bay Area Cactus and Succulent Society. This group’s annual show and sale in 2012 occurred on April 28 and 29 in the garden area of Jardines Restaurant, in San Juan Batista. This event offers a consistently impressive show, good prices for plants, a satisfying Mexican lunch at Jardines and another fine opportunity to enjoy gardening.


Visit the extensive website of the Cactus and Succulent Society of America. This website’s many resources include links to local affiliates. (There are twenty-five in California alone!) Also, see the Events Calendar for national, regional and local events, plus a selection of international events.

A well-regarded book on growing succulents in containers is Debra Lee Baldwin’s Succulent Container Gardens: Design Eye-Catching Displays with 350 Easy-Care Plants (Timber Press, 2010)

Search for “cactus and succulent” books on, or visit your local library.


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