Preparing to Landscape

Gardeners might look at their gardens with a mix of disappointment, desire for a delightful display and despair.

The gardener might have recently acquired the garden from someone who neglected it, or neglected it his/her self. (Life can dissuade even the most ambitious gardener.)

Renovating a garden can be a formidable challenge, leaving the gardener baffled and frustrated.

Such situations call for a plan. Here are suggestions for the early stages of a process to take control, build confidence and produce evidence of progress. These initial steps create a foundation for actual landscaping; hands-on work happens a little later.

Draw a Diagram of the Property

A scale drawing of the entire property supports the design and installation phases of the renovation. Show the improvements: house, garage, driveway, walkway, pond, walls, outbuildings, etc. Show large trees and other significant plants that definitely will remain in place, but omit all candidates for removal.

Indicate which direction is north, to aid in planning for sun exposure.

Indicate major changes in elevation with contour lines that trace equal elevations, or with a separate drawing of a side view of a slice through the property. Visit ongardening.com for an example of a garden elevation change diagram.

This diagram (or “base map”) might be drawn on graph paper to ease measurements, and should be rendered in black ink to enable clear photocopies. Make several photocopies for sketching design ideas.

Decide on Basic Design Concepts

Write down your intentions to, for example, commit to organic gardening, establish a drought-tolerant landscape, adopt one or more thematic approaches to plant selection, or establish a wildlife-friendly environment. This exercise helps to provide direction to planning the renovation, but it can be revised during the project.

Establish Objectives for the Finished Landscape

Envision how you will use the landscape: outdoors living, with parties, barbeques, etc.; recreation for children or adults; growing fruits and vegetables; or simply enjoying horticultural displays. Write it down.

Set Priorities for Development

Break the renovation project into steps that are manageable in terms of time and money. Begin by visualizing the overall design of the landscape, emphasizing the hardscape elements: pathways; planting bed borders; stairways or walls (if there are important elevation changes); outbuildings, etc.

Subsequent priorities could focus on either specific zones within the landscape, or desired features.

These early actions will contribute greatly to the larger goals to take control, build confidence and demonstrate progress. Selecting and installing plants happens after investing in these preparations.

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Here is  good example of a base map for a residential landscaping project. This image comes from Washington State’s Department of Fish and Wildlife, which has a web page on Landscape Design for WIldlife. That’s an interesting topic, too, but the base map has value an an example for a wide range of landscaping projects, including renovations.

 Base Map

Behind Schedule in the Garden

The garden does not wait for the gardener, but goes about growing, reproducing, aging and eventually dying whether or not the gardener meets the schedule of seasonal tasks.

My garden has proceeded this year on its natural cycle. As the weather has warmed, even the plants for which I should have cut back last year’s growth are producing abundant new growth

Salvias exemplify this failing. Best practice with salvias is to cut them to the ground in the late winter or very early spring, when new growth first appears. This practice rejuvenates the plant, and gives it a youthful look. When the pruning is done too late, it is very difficult to avoid cutting off the new growth and setting back the seasonal growth.

I cut back a few of the salvias in my garden, but left many more with their tired branches from last year.

Fortunately, perennial plants really do not depend on punctual gardeners. Salvias perform better when treated well, of course, but they will survive nicely even when neglected.

I was able to prune my roses at the right time. It is possible to let rose shrubs grow without annual pruning during the dormant season, but they will have a more compact form and produce more blossoms when cut back about one-third each year.

Fruit trees are another matter. Happily, I pruned my apple trees in a timely way: I cut back last year’s growth just before blossoms appeared on the trees. There are just four dwarf apple trees in my garden, but skipping this annual task would allow sprawling growth and reduce the yield.

I did not, however, spray my trees as recommended to discourage codling moths. I did read about the life cycle of those pests, and made life a little harder for the over-wintering larvae by raking the mulch away from the base of the trees.

Weeds also are responding well to our limited rain and the warming weather. They are growing very nicely! I haven’t identified all the several weeds that make my garden their home, but I can always spot the bright yellow flowers of sourgrass, which expands its territory in my garden each year.

Wikipedia (always helpful) has this comment about sourgrass: “Indigenous to South Africa, Oxalis pes-caprae, the ‘Bermuda buttercup,’ is an invasive species and noxious weed in many other parts of the world, including the United States (particularly coastal California)…”

Ideally, gardeners should pull this weed when it first appears, before it produces countless tiny bulbs. Sadly, I am behind schedule again this year.

This experience yields clear lessons for gardeners:

  • Strive to keep pace with Nature’s rhythm
  • Appreciate the ability of plants to thrive despite neglect, and
  • Take satisfaction in the seasonal tasks you do complete.

Enjoy your garden!

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Several books on year-round gardening are available through your public library, your bookstore or online. For example, a search of the Amazon.co website for “gardening year-round” yields 45 pages of books to consider. Many of the books listed focus on edible gardening; several also include ornamental gardening.

Before investing your time or money in a gardening book, make sure that it has information for your gardening environment. The most useful gardening information for gardeners in the Monterey Bay area will be specific to USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 9. Information in books oriented to “northern California” or “Pacific Northwest” will need interpretation for gardeners in Zone 9. Books intended for other parts of the United States or the world could still be helpful, but should be treated like exotic materials.

Still, given that awareness, some classic books on year-round gardening written by English authors can be very much worth reading. Examples, include books by Vita Sackville-West, Beth Chatto and Christopher Lloyd.

Whether written by American or English gardening experts, the date of publication is not important: Nature’s seasonal patterns have not changed significantly.

Here are suggestions:

The Four-Season Landscape: Easy-Care Plants and Plans for Year-Round Color (A Rodale Garden Book) (1994), by Susan A. Roth (Author)

Golden Gate Gardening, 3rd Edition: The Complete Guide to Year-Round Food Gardening in the San Francisco Bay Area & Coastal California (2010), by Pamela Peirce (Author)

Gardener to Gardener: Almanac & Pest-Control Primer (2000), by Vicki Mattern and Fern Marshal Bradley (Eds)

A Yardscapes Year: Ideas and Plants for Bay Area Gardeners (1999), by Mia Amato

The Western Gardener’s Journal: A Three-Year Almanac (1998), by Margaret Moulton

Inspiring Landscape Ideas

I’ve been pouring through the new edition of the Sunset Western Garden Book of Landscaping: The Complete Guide to Beautiful Paths, Patios, Plantings and More. This book is hot off the press, having been published in February of 2014. It complements the Sunset’s New Western Garden Book (9th edition, February 2012), which is about plants.

The book provides over 600 color photographs of gardens in the western states, with ideas for home gardeners and landscape professionals. It is organized under five headings: Gardens, Structures, Plants, Finishing Touches, and Planning. Each section visits numerous topics, illustrating each in one-to-eight pages of comments and captioned photographs. The text identifies almost all plants that are shown, and the excellent index lists them all as well.

Each topic could motivate the reader to seek detailed information in other sources.

Editor Kathleen Norris Brenzel notes that the book is primarily about inspiration, with an underlying theme of earth-friendly, sustainable design. In a brief introduction, landscape architect William R. Marken defines sustainability as basic to the “new golden age of landscape design,” which has grown out of Thomas Church’s four principles:

  • Unity of house and garden;
  • Function, serving household needs;
  • Simplicity, considering both costs and aesthetics;
  • Scale, relating the parts of the landscape.

Sustainability involves judicious uses of water, fertilizers and pesticides, as well as native plants, earth-friendly materials, and attention to the landscape’s climate, topography, soil and exposure to sun and wind. This book endorses sustainability, but avid gardeners will need other sources for practical advice.

The book’s greatest strength takes the form of striking photographic vignettes of exemplary landscapes. The photos show mostly nicely groomed small areas and even individual plants. Every garden has shortcomings from time to time but why would we want to see those?

The scenes shown in the book are consistently contemporary and relatively upscale, many with pools, lakesides and beachfronts Rather than presenting a documentary exploration of average landscapes, the book offers glimpses of inspirational settings that a reader could translate into his or her own environs.

Consider Church’s Scale principle when installing an assertively modern element in a traditional garden. (A friend recently persuaded me to install a huge surplus mirror in my garden. I like it, but I’m still reflecting on the aesthetics.)

This book is a great source of forward-looking ideas for your home’s landscape, and could encourage a fresh approach to your garden.

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To pursue an interest in contemporary landscaping in the western United States, a good place to start is Thomas Dolliver Church’s seminal work, Gardens Are For People (San Francisco: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1983). This book is widely available in public libraries and in book stores that reserve shelf space for classics as well as today’s best sellers.

A brief introduction to Church’s work as a landscape designer and academician is available the Wikipedia page for Thomas Church. His work included several private residences in Santa Cruz county (including his own home), and overseeing the master landscaping plan for the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Uprooting Plants

Recently, as I was digging up four boxwood shrubs, and cutting down a twelve-foot elderberry, I recalled that some gardeners dislike toppling mature plants or discarding healthy ones.

This is not about relocating plants. Certainly, there are situations in which a plant has outgrown its spot, or has failed to thrive because of a lack of sun or moisture or nutrition, or simply doesn’t look right where it is, aesthetically.

In such situations, assuming the plant is not too big to move, go ahead and transplant to a better location within your garden, or gift it to a friend. You and the plant and perhaps your friend will be happier.

We might ask, “When is it a good idea to decommission a plant?”

One justification would be that the plant is both unwanted (for any of several reasons) and too big to move without significant effort or expense.

Another justification arises when an unwanted plant is not too big to move, but no alternative location is available in your garden or in the garden of any friend.

The option that remains is to lift the plant with care and bring it to a garden exchange. These events are constructive and popular when someone steps up to the task of organization.

One should link to the local gardening network to learn when and where a garden exchange will happen. Join a club!

An important mindset when removing a plant is to avoid any sense of loss, and instead to recognize the opportunity to bring in a new and more interesting plant. Therefore, one should have (1) a replacement plant already in mind, (2) the confidence and knowledge to grow the replacement plant, and (3) the patience to let the plant to reach full maturity.

The four boxwoods (Buxus sempervirens) I dug up had been intended to frame a rose bed, but these common plants had grown large enough to block the view of the roses. I will replace them with miniature roses, to be selected.

The elderberry was an unknown species, a gift that I planted before I realized how big it would get, and before I decided to devote that section of the garden to California native plants. A Pacific Red Elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) might have stayed, but this shrub’s berries were not red, but black.

I will replace this shrub with a Silverleaf Manzanita (Arctostaphylus silvicola), a beautiful very gray, and very endangered shrub that is endemic to the nearby Zayante Sandhills. It is also called the Santa Cruz Manzanita. I found a specimen at the Yerba Buena Nursery in Half Moon Bay.  It’s in a one-gallon nursery pot, so it will need time to reach its mature height of eight feet.

Uprooting plants can release space for new botanical treasures.

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Here’s a picture of the Silverleaf Manzanita, from the website of Las Pilitas Nurseries, a treasure trove of information on California native plants, as well as a great source of those plants. There are two locations: Santa Margarita (about 18 miles north of San Luis Obispo) and Escondido.

Arctostaphylos silvicola, Ghostly Manzanita with a beefly. This manzanita is native north of Santa Cruz.

 

Dormant Season Only for Plants

Some might regard November as the beginning of the dormant season, with little or nothing for gardeners to do until spring. Not true!

Beginning now, we can pursue selected gardening projects will pay off later in the year. Still, the garden does not demand intensive work and daily dedication by the gardener during this season. It’s quite all right to take time off to celebrate the holidays, avoid nasty weather, and otherwise enjoy life’s many pleasures out of the garden.

There are many good gardening projects to do now in the garden; let’s consider three projects that are worth attention during November.

Plant Cool-season Ornamentals and Edibles

Visit your local nursery for cool-season flowers, e.g., pansies, calendula, candytuft, foxgloves, snapdragons, stock, sweet peas, and sweet alyssum.

Plant seedlings of cool season vegetable such as broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, chard, lettuces and greens, cabbage, potatoes, radishes, peas, bunching onions, and spinach.

Look for six-packs of seedlings at garden centers or farmer’s markets.

Plant Pacific Coast Irises

Several beardless iris species are native to the Pacific coast. Because they cross with each other freely, they are often referred to either as PCIs or Pacific Coast Hybrids (PCHs). Most common locally is the Douglas Iris (I. Douglasiana), named for David Douglas (1799-1834), who was the first botanist to describe this plant as it grew in the Monterey Bay area.

PCIs can be grown from seed, but more often from divisions. After listing a mature PCI clump, pull the stalks apart and store them in water for a few days as they develop white roots at least a half-inch long. Then, plant the divisions and keep them moist until four new leaves appear. Seasonal rains could be sufficient to establish the divisions.

Move Perennials and Shrubs

Plants vary in their ability to tolerate relocation. Roses and hydrangeas, for example, adapt quickly and easily to being moved, although they appreciate careful handling: lifted without being damaged, moved to a hospitable location (full sun for roses; morning sun and afternoon shade for hydrangeas), and watered in.

Generally, it is easy to move plants that tolerate rejuvenation pruning, e.g., abelia, dogwood, honeysuckle, hydrangea, lilac, mallow, penstemon, rose, Rose-of-Sharon, salvia, spirea and many others.

Shrubs with fine root systems, e.g., azaleas and rhododendrons, do not respond well to being moved.

For information on specific plants, search the Internet using the plant’s common or botanical name. Visit ongardening.com for successful search methods.

At this time of the year, plants are dormant, but not gardeners!

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The Yerba Buena Nursery website has a helpful pruning calendar for California native plants.

The National Gardening Association has brief but solid advice on dividing perennials.

SF Gate has suggestions for adding edible perennials to your garden. Right now is a good time. Some recommended plants might be unfamiliar: tree kale, yacon, ground cherries, chayote and banana passionfruit (Passiflora mollissima). Still, they might be turn out to be welcome new “friends.”

Master Gardener Marie Iannotti, writing on Ask.com, offers a good overview of pruning for several categories of garden plants.

To find information about specific plants in your garden, start by learning their botanical names. (Search ongardening.com for more information on botanical names.)

Then, using Google or another search engine search for the botanical name of the plant, plus “cultivate” or a more specific verb representing want you want to know. Include the variety name, when you know it. Examples:

Rosa minutifolia transplant

Hydrangea paniculata divide

Salvia greggii ‘Heatwave Glimmer’ prune

 

Gardening Ideas for Fall

Recently, we have considered seasonal projects: harvesting annual seeds for planting and planting bulbs. Here are more timely garden projects.

More about bulbs: gophers avoid daffodils, which are toxic to them, so encircle a favored bed with daffodils to produce both a gopher barrier and a pleasing display for the spring. This project works best with island beds and costs least with wholesale prices (as little as 30¢ per bulb). A good source for daffodils by the hundred: Van Engelen, Inc., at www.vanengelen.com or (860) 567-8734.

Renovating Garden Beds

The fall is the ideal time to renovate a bed that has become neglected, overgrown or plain boring. First, clean out everything unwanted, reserving plants small enough to be relocated or given to friends.

Every three years, divide plants with rhizomes, tubers or bulbs. Divide overgrown plants by cutting their root balls into two or more segments, and replant.

Then, add compost, cultivate, and add fertilizer.

If the bed is larger than four feet in any dimension, install narrow paths to provide access to the plants without compressing the soil or stepping on plants.

Then, select plants that are right for your climate and the bed’s sun exposure, and that will grow to appropriate sizes. Also, choose plants that will combine well and please your eye.

Finally, plant, mulch and water. Keep watering until the rains take over.

Controlling Weeds

The early fall is also time to control both annual and perennial weeds.

Annual weeds include bindweed, chickweed, crab grass, knotweed, lambs-quarters, mallow, pigweed, purple deadnettle, groundsel, nettle (common), purslane, speedwell, spurge and yellow oxalis.

Perennial weeds include bindweed, burdock, dandelion, dock, ground ivy, horsetail, Japanese knotweed, plantain, poison ivy, purslane, quackgrass, thistle, ragweed and anything else you might have.

The primary strategy for organic weed control is to remove weed seeds before they mature and are dispersed. Hoeing weeds before they set seed can be effective with annual weeds.

This method certainly helps to reduce the spread of perennial weeds, but it leaves behind root segments that could re-grow. For this reason, perennial weed control includes removing the entire root system by pulling or digging. Persistence is the gardener’s friend!

Other organic approaches to weed control include providing a three-to-four inch layer of mulch between plants, to deny weed seeds the light and air they need to grow. Dense spacing of desirable plants also can crowd out weeds.

Finally, drip irrigation systems deliver water to desired plants and deny water to weeds.

Enjoy gardening in the fall!

More

A helpful resource for organic weed control is the website, Pests in Gardens and Landscapes: Weeds, maintained by the University of California’s Integrated Pest Management Program. This site includes weed photos, articles and fact sheets in individual weeds that are common in California gardens and landscapes.

Creative Landscaping with Bulbs

If you will plant spring bulbs this fall, there is time for design. Brent and Becky Bulbs says the ideal planting time is after the first frost and before the ground freezes. It will be a long time before Monterey Bay gardens freeze over, so you need not rush to planting. They also recommend ordering early and planting when the shipment arrives.

Disclosure: I met Brent and Becky Heath at meetings of the Garden Writers Association, which has named them to its Hall of Fame for their many good works.

Landscaping Ideas

Tentative vs. Bold. Sprinkle bulbs here and there in your garden to good effect, or create large swaths for dramatic impact.

Captive vs. Free. Bulbs are good in containers because they can be moved in and out of the spotlight as needed, but they grow best and look most natural in the ground.

Clones vs. Communities. Both large and small displays of a single cultivar are charming, while mixtures of cultivars of the same plant can offer interesting comparisons and complementary colors and forms.

Big Event vs. Extended Display. Mail-order sources often list the flowering times of spring bulbs, e.g., very early, early, mid, late, and very late. You could plan your display for a garden party or other special event, or orchestrate an extended-season display in a prominent bed.

Monochrome vs. Polychrome. Mass planting of different bulbs that flower in the same color or analogous colors can please; designing color combinations can be challenging but satisfying when the design succeeds. Search the web for “color theory” for color wheels and ideas. The website “Color Matters” is terrific. The web also has demonstrations of many color combinations, which might mix bulbous plants with other types.  For example, see the Better Homes & Gardens website:

http://www.bhg.com/gardening/flowers/bulbs/beautiful-bulb-combinations.

Botanical Garden. For an intriguing, educational and satisfying approach, group bulbs by their geographic origin.. There are bulbs from throughout the world, and very good choices from Mediterranean climate regions. South Africa is the home of a large number of bulbs, the Mediterranean Basin has many, and California’s native bulbs include Brodiaea, Calochortus, Triteleia and others.

Many mail order bulb nurseries indicate the origins of their bulbs, and some specialize in exotic choices. Good sources include Telosrarebulbs.com (international), californianative bulbs,com (California), thebulbman.com (South Africa), and www.bulbmania.com (international). Also visit the website of the Pacific Bulb Society (www.pacific bulbsociety.org ) and search for “species bulbs” for a list of suppliers of seeds and bulbs.

Enjoy your spring bulbs!

Small Gardening

The gardening world has been buzzing about small gardens. The current interest in this topic might reflect a trend toward small-scale properties or growing desire among gardeners to limit the time and energy they commit to gardening.

A small garden could be the entirety of a small property or an area within a large property. A large property might include several small gardens (sometimes called “rooms”) or one small garden plus undeveloped space, or something between those extremes.

In either case, the goal for small gardening should be quality gardening.

“We would do well to follow a common rule for our daily lives—do less, and do it better.” (Dale E. Turner)

When developing a small garden, all the usual criteria for plant selection and cultivation are applicable. Ensure that the soil is fertile, friable and well drained, and choose plants that are appropriate for the climate, sun exposure and prevailing winds of the garden.

In addition, three broad guidelines come to mind.

First, specify a theme beyond “small size.” The garden might focus on a genus (rose, iris, clematis, etc.), a category of plants (succulents, white blossoms, herbs), a plant community (California natives, African bulbs, aquatic plants) or any other theme of interest. A theme provides coherence to the garden and a rational approach to plant selection.

Second, provide a story line for visitors. The garden planner could guide a visitor’s attention by establishing a focal point: a well-placed, exceptional plant, a piece of garden art, or a water feature, etc. After that initial impression, the gardener or discrete signs might encourage a visitor to examine a series of specimen plants. A rose garden, for example, might showcase several hybrid teas or species roses for comparison.

Finally, plan the maintenance of the small garden for close inspection. No garden looks good when unkempt, but a neglected small garden can be particularly unsatisfying to both the gardener and the visitor. While fallen leaves, a forgotten watering hose and a few weeds can be tolerated in a large, sprawling garden, a small garden should be raked and pruned and tidied regularly. By virtue of being small, it should also be manageable.

The small garden is to a large garden as a sonnet is to free verse.

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Here is a link to an article with additional thoughts about small gardening: “Big Help for Small Gardens.”

Landscaping with Succulents

The many gardeners who appreciate succulent plants will have two informative events—with plant-buying opportunities—in September, so this is a good time to plan ahead.

Let’s start with two information fragments, for the record:

  • all cactuses are succulents, but all succulents are not cactuses, and
  • succulents, found in many different botanical families, are simply plants that store moisture.

The first event will be the Annual Show and Sale of the Monterey Bay Cactus and Succulent Society. This occasion will be in the large patio of Jardines Restaurant, 115 Third Street, San Juan Batista. It happens from 9:00 to 5:00, Saturday, September 15th and (9:00 to 4:00, Sunday September 16th. Hint: make a luncheon reservation when you first arrive.

The second event, on Friday, September 28th and Saturday, September 29th, will be the Second Annual Succulent Extravaganza!,at Succulent Gardens: The Growing Grounds. This sprawling nursery for succulent plants is at 2133 Elkhorn Road, Castroville (near Moss Landing; check it out on Mapquest or Google Maps). The schedule will be 9:00 to 4:00 on both days, plus a BBQ from 4:00 to 6:00 on Friday. The schedule of speakers will be posted soon at sgplants.com.

When gardeners see the vast arrays of succulent plants at these events, they might experience the immediate reaction, “What fascinating/beautiful/striking plants!” and the slightly delayed reaction, “How could I use these plants in my garden?”

The aesthetic reaction could happen repeatedly while viewing a large display: succulents take many forms, size and colors, and are particularly striking when in bloom. This response involves the gardener’s own idea of attractiveness, so we will leave it to the individual.

The planning reaction relates to both the gardener’s personal preferences and his or her unique environment for new succulent plants. For these reasons, landscape design must be an ongoing local project, but still there are a few principles to consider.

There are two major categories of landscaping with succulents: succulents alone and succulents with companion plants (also known as “mixed beds”). We could identify countless additional categories of landscaping with succulents, including container gardening with succulents, but let’s start with these two.

There are many books and websites that provide detailed information on succulent plants, but very few that offer insights into landscaping with succulents. One book that does this very well is Dry Climate Gardening with Succulents (1995) by Debra Brown Folsom, with John Trager, James Folsom, Joe Clements, and Nancy Scott. The authors, all connected with the world-class Desert Garden at The Huntington Botanical Gardens, consulted with experts from six other gardens to produce this exceptional reference. Look for it today in your public library and on Amazon.com.

Enjoy September’s two big succulent events.

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“Succulent-only” Landscape Designs

The design of a landscape—or a garden bed—limited to succulents still involves basic decisions before the selection of individual plants.

One option would be limit to the bed to a single species. A mass effect can bring interest to the landscape, particularly when the bed is a feature within the larger picture. Having multiple specimens of a single species focuses the viewer on the details of the plant.

In some gardens, we see beds devoted to essentially random groupings of succulents, with no apparent relationship to one another. There are succulent plants in 60 different plant families, divided into 300 genera that include many succulent species. Visit the website of The Succulent Plant Page for more information on this point.

This “succulent universe” presents a very large number of possible combinations of plants, suggesting that a thematic approach of almost any description would elevate the design from hodgepodge to something more comprehensible to the viewer.

Variations of the “succulents only” design include a collection of plants within a genus, from a geographic region, or from a selected plant community. Each of these variations provides a degree of satisfying coherence to the design.

Additional thematic possibilities for such a design might emphasize combination of form, blossom color or foliage color.

Landscape Designs that Combine Succulents and Companions

According to the authors of Dry Climate Gardening with Succulents, the designer’s objectives for combining succulents with non-succulents might include providing contrast, counterpoint and accents, bringing out the best in both the succulents and the companion plants, or providing interest during periods when the succulents are not in bloom.

In any event, the designer’s first consideration should be to ensure that the companion plants have cultural requirements that are compatible with the succulent plants. Generally, this means bright light, minimal water with good drainage, good air circulation and balanced fertilizer during the growing season. These requirements orient the designer to the selection of xerophytic shrubs, i.e., plants that are adapted to a dry habitat.

This consideration leads the designer away from lush tropical plants, because they have different cultural needs and simply don’t look natural together with succulents. While it is always possible for a creative designer to find interest in unlikely combinations, most will do well by separating succulents and tropicals.

A large number of drought-tolerant plants are suitable as companion plants in a succulent garden. Indeed,there are many succulents that grow well with less than full exposure to the sun, so the number of drought-tolerant plants that thrive with partial exposure to sunlight could be added to this list.

The best companion plants for succulent gardens, however, are desert shrubs and trees. They have very similar cultural requirements, many similar physical characteristics, and in some cases different physical characteristics that provide a welcome counterpoint to the succulents. As an example of a desirable difference, Dry Climate Gardening with Succulents offers the Baja Fairy Duster (Calliandra californica), an evergreen Mexican shrub with brilliant red feathery blooms. This book recommends many more non-succulent plants for the succulent garden.

Ultimately, aesthetic considerations should guide the designer in the selection of companion plants for succulents. When possible, bring a candidate plant to the succulent bed in a pot to assess how it would look when planted. As always, this will be the individual gardener’s decision.

Landscaping with succulents, with or without non-succulent companion plants, offers the garden designer an intriguing list of challenges and opportunities. Enjoy your garden!