Category Archives: Succulents

succulents

Growing Vertically with Succulents

A vertical garden of tender succulents at Avant Gardens

Over the past few years there has been a lot of buzz about vertical gardens. Patrick Blanc, the French botanist, has created some amazing spaces on a large scale, using a wide variety of plants to transform whole buildings. Of course there is more to his vertical gardens than meets the eye. His crews construct huge freestanding armatures with built in irrigation systems, which is a necessity for the types of plants he uses. A big concern for me concerning his designs is plant hardiness. This is not a problem with his indoor or tropical climate gardens, but how does one sustain these plantings in northern climates without huge plant losses?

We considered how we could turn this concept of using vertical space into something more practical that most gardeners could implement on their own. What type of plantings would not need an irrigation system built in? Chris and I decided we could create sustainable vertical gardens using rot resistant wood for the boxes and plant them with drought tolerant succulents which will survive quite well without lots of water.  They hold up well the entire growing season on a sun filled south facing wall, and could be taken down for the winter. The boxes could either be brought indoors if they were planted with tender succulents, or if planted with hardy succulents, laid on the ground, covered with a winter mulch. Here?s a quick how to:

Materials:

Rot resistant wood such as cedar or mahogany.We used 1 x 4’s for the box and frame, and 1 x 8’s for the backing.

Wire mesh with 1-2″ openings

Well drained succulent potting soil and assorted low growing succulents

Prepared Box with for planting.

Decide what your dimensions will be and build your box. Fill with a well-drained succulent potting soil.

Lay a wire grid over the soil. This will help secure plants in place while they root in.

Begin by placing focal point succulents

I always start by first placing  the showiest plants. You may need to cut wider openings in the wire mesh to allow for bigger roots.

Fill in with a variety of complimentary succulents.

I then fill in around my focal point plants with other low growing succulents. Be careful not to select plants that tend to grow tall.

Your best choices are plants which are going to stay under 4″, especially ones that stay under 2″.

After the planting is done, you can attach the frame.

All filled in….hang horizontally or vertically, you decide.

Plants will establish good root systems in 6-8 weeks, or even more quickly in warm weather. Some plants may overtake their neighbors, so a little trimming back could be necessary.  You may also want to tuck in a cutting here and there to refine your “painting” as it grows out.

Watering can be done by spraying the plants with a hose early in the day (be careful not to water when the sun is strong or you will get water scars on the foliage). Or, remove the box from its mount, lie flat and give a good soak. Succulents are not plants that need a lot of fertilization, but if you think it’s necessary you can use a diluted fish emulsion to give them an occasional boost.

Inquire about our next workshop

Desperately Seeking Sunshine

Boronia crenulata ‘Shark Bay’…An Australian native that is never out of bloom.

I don’t feel old, and I’m not, really, ( figure I have a little less than half my life ahead.)  The thing is, I have noticed I get into an old person funk during January and February.  I sulk and grumble when I never use to, especially when the sun’s not shining. No doubt that’s why some older folks make the winter exodus to warmer and sunnier climates. They are seeking optimism, the kind that plentiful sunshine allows.

But self-pity is unbecoming…and I’m a take action kind of gal. I know the best remedy is to get out and absorb some sunlight when the winter skies allow. Today the sun is bright, and the reflection off the pre-New Year’s Eve snowfall made my eyes squint. It’s 15 degrees F outside, so perhaps I won’t plan a long walk, maybe just once around the garden, and then into the greenhouse where we overwinter all of our tender plants.

Ahhh…the the luxury of a winter greenhouse. We keep a 100′ poly house heated to 50 degrees at night, and in it are stored all of our tender succulents and stock plants. Mostly, plants are in a semi dormant state, and are not very pretty, waiting for longer days to spur growth. The greenhouse is packed to the brim. Each time I walk in, I feel the promise of spring, plus a few midwinter surprises: plants (often from the southern hemisphere) that choose to bloom in January and February.  The little Boronia above is in bloom. Here is what else presently greets me.

Mimulus sp. from Western Hills…blooms all year!

We still have this Mimulus selection brought back from the now closed Western Hills Nursery in CA. It blooms on new growth all year round, but can be a little temperamental if kept too wet or too dry. It also ships poorly, so if you ever want one,  come visit us at  the nursery.

A lovely Epiphyllum (Orchid Cactus) whose name is “?”

Anyone know the name of this orchid?

Rhipsalis capilliformis, funky and fun, soon to be in bloom

 You gotta grow everything to really appreciate funky plants like this Rhipsalis. Specifically bought one of those face pots where this can be planted as the wig, come spring.

Kalanchoe thyrsiflora (now luciae) erupting into flower.

All the succulents that we buy as little plants take on larger proportions with age. This Paddle Plant erupts into bloom in winter.

Our office needed a replacement plant for the window sill, so I brought in this BeschnorneriaBechnorneria are commonly called False Agave, and are hardy to about 15-20 degrees. We bought this unspecified selection from Cistus Nursery a good 6-7 years ago , and at last it has bloomed. It’s a shorter form with narrow tubular pink/red/green blooms.

Beschnorneria sp. from Cistus Nursery years ago, finally in bloom.

We’re not open for visits during the winter months.  Perhaps there is a little greenhouse operation near where you live, or one kept open at your local public garden. Plan a winter visit to support them, and get your sunshine fix. Your purchases and membership dues help pay the heating bills, and they offer you a retreat when you can’t make it to a southern climate.

Sedum tetractinum

Here is a little plant that is versatile, super hardy and foolproof (as long as you grow it in sun and well drained soil). It hasn’t been in the US very long, but already has acquired the common names of  “Chinese Stonecrop”, as it hails from Asia,  and “Coral Reef” , (still not sure what the Coral Reef reference is). Sedum tetractinum grows only 1-2″ tall, and spreads modestly, rooting into the soil as it creeps along. It is especially dramatic spilling over edges: retaining walls, pottery, troughs, you name it.

Sedum tetractinum is also lovely enough to use in mixed succulent planters. Its rounded olive green leaves turn a lovely copper bronze shade in the autumn, and this  color change contrasts well with other shades of succulent foliage.  In the planter you see here it is paired with tender Sedum adophii and Euphorbia tirucalli, but it could easily accent hardy Sedum ‘Angelina and Sempervivum. Pale yellow flowers appear in summer, but the blossoms are not the highlight.  “Chinese Stonecrop” takes temperatures as cold as minus 30F (zones 4-9).

Buy online

September Report: Successful Containers

I have always thought that what makes great visual art is when an object or painting compels you to look at it again and again. I feel the same way about plants and gardens, and containers. Of course, plants are constantly changing, so plantings are ephemeral compositions. Perhaps that’s why we want to take in their beauty all the more. Here are some planted containers that have looked good all summer, and still do in mid September.

Large Succulent Bowl on a pedestal, perhaps more beautiful than ever.

Composed of odds and ends succulents left over from last season, this ensemble has married well.

Aeonium ‘Schwartkop’ was the highlight of this tall river pot.

Syngonium ‘Neon’, an easy and lovely shade foliage plant.

Begonia ‘Chocolate Pink’ with Pilea and Cissus discolor

Peachy Abutilon ‘Harvest Moon’, with the adorable curly Spider Plant and a white Syngonium…great, easy pot for partial shade.

The Chocolate Mimosa Tree, Albizzia ‘Summer Chocolate’, makes a fast growing subject for container, adding height, texture, and dark coloring.

We did a posting of some planted containers in early July. A number of these containers sold, and we hear they still look smashing. As you can see, it’s mostly about foliage. What are your favorite container combinations from this season?

Echeveria shaviana ‘Madre del Sur’ PPAF

Echeveria, or Mexican Hens and Chicks, have taken over the home and garden scene like never before. And no wonder. Hardly any care is necessary, except for being sure to provide plenty of sunshine and soil with good drainage. The well behaved rosettes of foliage are colored in subtly blended shades of blue, gray, green, rose and tan, and add a simple, bold and distinct form to any container. Racemes of blooms on slender stems in sunset tones nod then fade as more are produced.

Some forms of Echeveria stay petite, others take on grander proportions. Echeveria shaviana ‘Madre de Sur’ (Spanish for Mother of the South) is in between, forming 8-10?”rosettes with distinctive wavy edged blue gray foliage (characteristic of the species), with blossoming stems that reach 10-12″. Lovely as a specimen or mixed with tiny creeping Sedum.

Succulent Wreath How-to

Our Succulent Wreath Workshops on Saturday June 16th were a great success. I promise we’ll do another one before the summer is over, but we need to get more growth on all of our stock plants because of the tremendous number of cuttings needed. In the meantime, for all those who asked, here’s a quick “how to” in case you have a supply of cuttings on hand from your own garden and containers.

First, gather lots of cuttings. Select a variety of sizes and shapes: rosettes from Sempervivum and Echeveria, filler plants such as cuttings from low growing hardy and tender Sedum. Remember that these plants will take root and begin to grow in the sphagnum wreath form, so you don’t want to select from plants that want to reach tall proportions. It seems all succulents mix and match well, but try to select light medium and dark tones so your wreath has dimension and contrast.

Begin by soaking a sphagnum moss wreath (we used a 9″ premade form) in water. Start by using the larger rosette forms if you have them, distributing them equally around the wreath. Use a pencil, bamboo skewer or other pointed utensil to poke a hole for the succulent stems. Remove any lower leaves off the stems if necessary to position your rosette in the hole. Use topiary pins to help secure your cutting in place, but try to make the pins discreet.

Continue adding material…filler plants like creeping Sedum album, sichotense and pachyphllum in between the larger rosettes. The creepers will take root faster and cover the moss quickly.

Be sure to tuck creepers on the inner and outer sides of the formso that they take root and hide the moss.

Continue to use up your cuttings. It’s really hard to screw up here. If you still see moss when you run out of cuttings, don’t worry, these babies will take root and spread. If the cuttings spread more than you like, snip them back (which you will have to do eventually).

Carefully move your wreath into a sunny warm spot where it can remain undisturbed until the cuttings root.  When the sphagnum form feels dry, you can soak the form in a basin or spray with water (in the morning or at the end of the day, so water spots don’t sunburn the leaves) . It will take approximately 4-6 weeks for the cuttings to root in. Do not over water. Wait until the cuttings are rooted before you fertilize. Do not over fertilize. We recommend using a Seaweed/Fish Emulsion. If you hang your wreath, you will want to rotate it occasionally so that the plantlets don’t all start reaching for the sky. You can also periodically lie the wreath flat in a sunny location to prevent “stretching” from occurring.  Enjoy!

Kits Available for Purchase

Sedum sieboldii

Sedum sieboldii on the left, next to Sedum cauticola

Hmm….October Daphne. Well, it’s a bit of a stretch to say this delightful sedum is reminiscent of a Daphne, but  if I use my imagination I might convince myself. Perhaps there is a bit of a resemblance to one of the low creeping forms. Regardless of whether the common name is misleading, little Sedum sieboldii adds a dose of autumn color to the late season garden, with clusters of rosy pink flowers at  the tips of arching stems, clothed with pink and apricot tinted blue green scalloped foliage.

Botanical nomenclature now wants to classify this form of Stonecrop as Hylotelephium, but for the sake of common knowledge let’s continue here using the genus Sedum. Sedum sieboldii begins the spring season as a tidy rosette of almost turquoise fleshy scalloped leaves that develop a lovely wine red edge. The form and foliage work well all season and then informally transform in early fall, when the stems begin to extend, flower and develop October color. It is super hardy (we’re talking zone 3 here). It is most often used as a rockery subject, tucked into crevices where it remains quite happy, but we’ve left it outdoors in frost tolerant pots and it returns in the spring unfazed. Obviously Sedum sieboldii  likes well drained soil, but we’ve found it to be quite forgiving of average soil conditions.

Sedum reflexum ‘Angelina’

Sedum reflexum 'Angelina'You can’t help but admire little ‘Angelina’. The retreating snow has exposed this brave low evergreen Sedum, and she shows no sign of being distressed. Fall/winter temperatures have brought out a copper/amber hue to the usually lime green needled foliage, and this is a shade that adds a welcome warm color to the chilly landscape. As daytime temperatures rise in April and May, the amber shade transforms to a cool yellow green, which is a more appropriate color for early spring. Starry yellow flowers form at the tips of trailing stems in early summer, but cute as they are, the blossoms are not what this little plant is all about.

Besides being ornamental year round, Sedum ‘Angelina is extremely hardy (to zone 3) and adaptable to full sun or part shade. She is happiest growing in well drained soil, and will form a lovely carpet to contrast with deeper toned plants, such as darker leaved Sedum ‘Xenox ‘or Heuchera ‘Obisidion’. She also acts as a nice foil for early bulbs such as Crocus and Dwarf Iris. Foliage height stays at about 4″. The only maintenance chore to speak of is a routine shearing back after she blooms in mid summer. You’ll be cutting off the not so attractive spent flowers and encouraging a new round of fresh foliage.

One more thing. Sedum ‘Angelina’ makes a lovely foliage accent plant for year round containers. Plant her with other drought tolerant foliage plants for a lasting and easy care combination.

Buy Online

Container Combinations III: New Ideas

Remember when Coleus was disdained by “serious gardeners” just 20 years ago? Until recently Succulents also seemed to get a bum rap. Perhaps it was because of the silly little dish gardens offered in discount stores, featuring a ubiquitous strawflower glued onto a poor little cactus. We decided quite some time ago to treat succulents with dignity. Their foliage offers an array of subtle and strong desert colors and textures which inspire us with ideas for endless combinations. And, they couldn’t be easier to take care of– perfect container plans for the summer weekend home, since so little water is required.

Begin your ensemble by selecting a handsome container. Break the rules…why not use a fancy bowl or urn that you would use for traditional annuals? Shallow pots are always fine and suitable, but deeper pots can certainly be used if you fill them with a very sandy, fast draining soil. Do not use a moisture retentive peaty potting mix, for it will easily become water logged if we have extended wet weather. You can use a light dose of fertilizer in your soil mix, but don’t over do it.

Select a variety of foliage shapes and plant forms, such as the rosettes of Echeveria, the trailing stems of Delosperma and the fine texture of tiny Sedum. We always find that packing the container with plants gives immediate gratification, and the plants will not suffer as they require little nutrition. Early autumn will bring changes to your composition, as the fall foliage colors intensify and many succulents begin to flower. Before a freeze, bring your succulents indoors. They winter over easily on a sunny window sill.