Monday, October 3, 2011

Succulent Gardens Extravaganza, part 2

This is the continuation of yesterday’s post on the 2-day Extravaganza held last weekend (September 30 and October 1) by Succulent Gardens in Castroville, CA.

One of the specialties of Succulent Gardens are “living pictures” or “vertical walls” composed entirely of succulents. Take a look below at the stunning examples I photographed at the nursery.


Living picture at the entrance kiosk


Section of a large vertical wall—any idea how many individual plants there might be?


This post on Succulent Gardens’ blog contains lots of interesting information on creating vertical walls.


This is a much smaller panel for sale at the nursery. While the larger pieces are true showstoppers, I actually preferred these smaller pieces because they allow you to look at each plant individually. I find it very soothing looking at the many different textures and colors.


Succulent cuttings were also used in various pieces of garden décor, such as these birdhouses.

One of the succulent groups particularly well represented at Succulent Gardens are echeverias. I’m quite partial to echeverias and blogged about them in this post.

Several planting strips along the outside perimeter of the nursery feature different species of echeverias, chosen for their particular color and texture. They echo the design patterns found in the vertical walls. I look forward to seeing what these beds look like next year when the plants have grown enough to hide the soil. I think these beds will be horizontal equivalents of “living pictures.”


Echeverias along the outside perimeter of the nursery, flanked by agaves in the back


Echeverias in bloom


The petite but colorful (and long-lasting) flowers are merely the icing on the cake

Inside the greenhouse there were rows of potted echeverias. I had never seen so many echeverias—and so many varieties—in one place before. Check out the many different colors and textures!


Echeverias (left) and zebra plant (Haworthia attenuata) on the right


More echeverias in pots than I care to count


Unlabeled echeveria variety


Amazing how the rosette looks like a fancy flower head


Ruffled echeverias seem to be particularly popular with designers these days.
I see them all the time in magazines and online articles.


Some ruffled echeverias remind me of ornamental kale…


…some resemble fancy sea shells or creatures you might find on the ocean floor…


…while others are truly otherworldly. The bumps on the leaves are called “caruncles;” I wasn’t able to find out what causes these growths, but they seem to be natural (there’s a naturally occurring subspecies called Echeveria gibbiflora subsp. carunculata). Beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder when it comes to these plants. Myself, I don’t know what to think. I’m definitely fascinated and intrigued. If you think that the plant above is unusual, check out this thread for an even more outrageous “warty” echeveria.

As much as I enjoyed looking at some many different echeveria species and cultivars, I was even more enthralled by Succulent Gardens’ displays of aeoniums. I grow a few aeonium species myself (read this post) but I have to keep them out of the hot afternoon sun and protect them on cold winter nights.

In contrast, the climate in Castroville is just about perfect for aeoniums. The proximity of the ocean (the Pacific is just 5 miles away) keeps temperatures moderate even in the middle of the summer and prevents damaging frosts in the winter.


Aeoniums in nursery containers growing outside


I had never seen veritable hedges of aeoniums! The purple ones (Aeonium arboreum ‘Zwartkop’) were over 6 feet tall.


These aeoniums seem to be dancing…


…and these look like green and red artichokes. Unfortunately, these plantings weren’t labeled, so I don’t know what species or hybrid these are.


Aeonium decorum ‘Sunburst,’ probably my favorite of them all


This ‘Sunburst’ had almost no green


‘Sunburst’ poking out of a huge clump of a green variety with reddish margins
(possibly an Aeonium arboreum hybrid)


Perfect ‘Sunburst’ rosette


These ‘Sunburst’ rosettes reminded me of dahlia flowers


‘Sunburst’ up close


And another one—it’s hard to stop!


If you though the echeveria with caruncles was weird, what about this aeonium? It’s a crested ‘Sunburst,’ a growth mutation sought after by many collectors. Instead of producing one regular-sized rosette, this weirdly distended stem is covered with hundreds if not thousands of tiny rosettes.


Here’s me holding a soda can to give you an idea of how large some of these rosettes were!


Different aeoniums planted side by side along the entrance to Succulent Gardens…


…combined with low-growing Senecio serpens for an extra pop of color and complementary texture. If I lived in a frost-free climate, I’d reproduce this planting exactly as is.

If the battery in my camera hadn’t died, I would have taken even more photos, but I’m sure you got an idea of how impressive Succulent Gardens’ growing grounds are. If you’re ever on the Monterey Peninsula on vacation, I highly recommend you make the short drive up Highway 1 to Succulent Gardens. I’m not sure they’re open to the public on a daily basis, so call ahead.

I’d like to thank owner Robin Stockwell, his dedicated crew, and the many volunteers for a truly spectacular event. In the morning there were free donuts for visitors, and throughout the day there was bottled water and various kinds of soda, all chilled. As I was leaving, I even saw a keg of beer being set up! I wish I could have stayed, but I had to dash off to meet up with my family who were visiting my wife’s 96-year old great aunt in nearby Watsonville. I brought her a Graptopetalum pentandrum subsp. superbum, and she was delighted. I don’t think she’d ever seen a purple succulent before in her 96 years.

Of course I didn’t leave Succulent Gardens without buying a few treasures for myself. Here are some photos of my haul.


As purchased at Succulent Gardens…


…and repotted in larger containers


Aeonium ‘Catlin Hybrid.’ I now regret only getting one. Two or three planted in a bowl would have made for a nice presentation.


Aeonium decorum ‘Sunburst’


Aeonium tabuliforme (it really is almost flat)


Echeveria ‘Lady Aquarius’ (no, I couldn’t resist, I had to get a ruffled one)


Echeveria gibbiflora ‘Arlie Wright’


Crown of thorns (Euphorbia millii).
It has
beautiful red flowers, but I will admit that I got it for its impressive thorns.

111003_Euphorbia-millii_03 111003_Euphorbia-millii_02

I love the thorns and the beautifully mottled “bark”


Velvet elephant ear (Kalanchoe beharensis). This is the complete opposite of the crown of thorns above. The leaves feel like felt. It’s hard to stop rubbing them, they’re so soft and fuzzy!


It’s difficult to photograph “fuzziness,” but here you can see the fine hairs that make this plant so irresistible. I saw a much larger (and much more expensive) specimen at a local nursery this summer, and I’m glad I found an inexpensive plant at Succulent Gardens. Kalanchoe beharensis doesn’t tolerate temperatures much below freezing, so I’ll bring it inside in the winter.

It was very hard to limit myself to these choices, but there’s always next year. From their Facebook page, I gather that Succulent Gardens will host another Extravaganza next year. If you like succulents and live in Northern or Central California, I can’t think of a better event to attend! I’m glad I made the 3 hour drive!

DON’T MISS: Fellow blogger Candy “Sweetstuff” has a great write-up about the Succulent Gardens Extravaganza on her excellent succulent blog. Check it out here.


  1. Really nice post! I especially loved the garden walls or whatever they're called -- I need to do something like this in my garden and will be checking out their post about it.

    I do like the echeveria with caruncles, and the weird big-trunked crested 'Sunburst' aeonium -- how big was that? I couldn't tell from the photo.
    It's not work, it's gardening!

  2. Another awesome post! Your pics are super. I don't know what you are complaining about. You saw some stuff I somehow missed. I must have completely missed going in one greenhouse or the other side cause you have pics of stuff I never saw. How funny! I'm glad you have pics of it. Like I never saw the crested aeonium or the rows of aeonium's growing in containers outside. I never got to that side. Ok gotta go. Talk with ya soon.

  3. Alan, I'm intrigued by vertical gardens as well. I got three of these modular wall panels from Lowe's on closeout but haven't done anything with them yet.

    Candy, I walked all the way around the greenhouses. There were lots of plants in pots growing outside, and ZERO people. But you photographed things *I* didn't see. That's why it's so much fun reading somebody else's coverage of the same event.

  4. Did you ever find out the name of the ones that look like green and red artichokes? In the picture, you said they weren't labeled and you weren't sure what they are. I have the same succulent and the same problem!

    1. Unfortuately, I still don't know what they are. I have to yet to visit a nursery (or botanical garden) where all the different aeonium species are lined up next to each other for easy comparison. Some of them look so similar, I can't tell them apart.

      My guess is that this particular hybrid is a cross between Aeonium canariense and Aeonium arboreum 'Zwartkop'. Something like this: