The recent surge of interest in gardening with succulent plants combines the appreciation of colorful plants with architectural interest, drought-tolerance, and ease of maintenance.
Succulent plants are often grouped in the landscape because they share a preference for limited irrigation. This approach, called “hydrozoning,” simplifies watering tasks, and, conversely, avoids accidentally over-watering succulents.
This emphasis on the design of irrigation plans often results in garden designs that consist entirely of succulent plants. This approach can produce interesting “desert landscapes” that compare and contrast the range of colors, forms, and textures of the plants. The plants might be spaced widely or clustered closely.
Succulent plants, by definition, are native to places with limited moisture: sandy deserts, rocky mountainsides, and plains that have extended periods of drought and occasional downpours. A desert landscape design will be most successful aesthetically when the plants are in fact native to a similar dry environment. Two basic styles are the rock garden, simulating a mountainside, and a desert-like sandy or gravelly bed,
A second consideration in planning such a landscape is to focus on plants from the same geographic region. While succulent plants grow in many parts of the world, the specimens that are most commonly available from garden centers and mail-order sources are from either Mexico or South Africa, with Australia as a distant third.
In the Monterey Bay area, succulent plants from all of these areas will thrive, but mixing them in a garden design often yields a haphazard appearance. The arbitrariness of the combination will be obvious to gardeners who study succulents, and subtly “off” to casual observers.
Another basic approach to the succulent landscape design involves combining succulent plants with drought-tolerant perennials. Such combinations certainly occur in nature, so an authentic design that rings true intuitively requires some research. This approach can provide interesting contrasts between relatively static succulent plants and visually active plants, such as grasses.
A third approach involves deliberately showcasing plants from a variety of native habitats. The plants used in such a landscape still need to be appropriate to the growing environment, and might require selective irrigation from a well-planned drip irrigation system, but can be educational from a horticultural perspective. An accompanying annotated garden map would add value to such an essentially educational landscape.
If you are now or might become inspired to develop a small or large landscape devoted to succulent plants, decide on a thoughtful approach, do some preliminary research, and install the landscape that fulfills your unique vision. The result is most likely to satisfying to yourself and appealing to visitors to your garden.