Sunday, September 30, 2012

2012 Succulent Extravaganza wrap-up

Held for the first time in 2011, Succulent Extravaganza is an annual two-day event organized by Succulent Gardens, Northern California’s premier succulent grower and wholesaler. In the months leading up to the 2012 Extravaganza held this past Friday and Saturday, the online succulent forums I frequent, such as the Succulent Fanatics group on Facebook, had been abuzz with anticipation.


Entrance to Succulent Gardens

But as is the case with all things we look forward to for a long time, the 2012 Extravaganza came and went in the blink of an eye. I had a fantastic time meeting old friends and making new ones, listening to awesome presentations and looking at thousands of succulents.

In today’s post I’ll take you on a tour of the nursery. Tomorrow’s post will be straight succulent porn—my favorite plant photos taken during my visit.

Succulent Gardens is located just a few miles from the Pacific Ocean outside of Castroville, CA, the self-proclaimed Artichoke Capital of the World. (A complimentary bit of trivia in case you’re thinking of going on Jeopardy!: In 1948, a young Marilyn Monroe on the cusp of becoming a major star was the Castroville Artichoke Festival’s Artichoke Queen.)

I find the climate of the Central California coast dreamy: The thermometer rarely climbs much above 85°F and it rarely freezes. Many succulents love that kind of weather, as is evidenced by the exuberant plantings on the nursery grounds.

Even though the average annual precipitation of Castroville is only 11 inches (we receive about 19 inches here in Davis), the area gets a good deal of fog, especially in the summer months. Driving to Succulent Gardens on Saturday morning from my motel in Marina, about 20 minutes south, this is what I saw:


Cabbage field in the fog along Highway 156 to Castroville


Cabbage, the other succulent

Having left Davis on a 90°F degree day, with temperatures around the century mark predicted for the weekend, I relished the cool, damp air. Unfortunately, the fog burned off by mid-morning but that still gave me enough time to take the photos you’ll see in today’s and tomorrow’s posts.


Mailbox at Succulent Gardens

The first activity on Saturday morning was a nursery tour led by Brian Kemble, curator of the Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek. Brian is a world-renowned succulent experts and drew quite crowd.


Brian Kemble at entrance kiosk

He started with the basics—What are succulents? Where do they grow? What are their basic requirements?—and then progressed to talk about specific genera and species as we walked around the nursery grounds.

Here are the most interesting photos I took during our walk.


Potted echeverias and other succulents


Dozens of potted Echeveria elegans


Mixed cactus bed


Very large Agave americana ‘Striata’


Row of Agave sisalana ‘Variegata’, many of them in bloom


Giant agave flower stalks; Brian Kemble said that each flower
contains several thimblefuls of nectar


Sh*t happens, even at Succulent Gardens!


Succulent mural


Close-up of sempervivums used in one of the murals on the entrance kiosk


Rows of aeoniums and Aloe plicatilis


Colorful succulent mosaic


One of my favorite planting beds: dozens upon dozens of spiral aloes (Aloe polyphylla)


Aloe polyphylla

120929_SucculentGardens_Agave-Blue-Glow- -Blue-Flame_10

Agave ‘Blue Flame’ (top row) and Agave ‘Blue Glow’ (bottom row)

After Brian’s nursery walk, it was time for the first presentation of the day. Debra Lee Baldwin, author of Designing with Succulents, Succulent Container Gardens and the upcoming Succulents Simplified, spoke about “Companion Plants for Succulents.” Debra’s talk struck a chord; in my own experience, succulents shine even more when paired with non-succulent plants. The photos Debra used in her presentation can be viewed and downloaded from this Picasa album.

Next up was Los Altos-based garden designer Rebecca Sweet, co-author of Garden Up! Entitled “Harmony in the Garden—Incorporating Succulents into Everyday Gardens,” Rebecca’s talk was a great complement to Debra’s. Using actual design projects as examples, Rebecca showed us ways to add succulents to existing plantings and to solve specific problems common in many gardens. This was the first time I’d heard Rebecca speak, and she was engaging, witty and energetic. I had the opportunity to chat with her over lunch, and she does her last name proud.

After these two talks it was time for me to explore the sales areas. Just like last year, there were so many plants and accessories to chose from, my head started to spin.


The range of decorative items available for outdoor spaces is getting ever bigger


Hypertufa containers, with and without plants


“Living Picture” frames, with and without plants


I loved these containers. Unfortunately, they were too pricey for me.

120928_SucculentGardens_chimenea- -agaves

Chimenea surrounded by potted agaves


Agave attenuata ‘Ray of Light’ and one of my favorite new plants of the year,
a variegated flapjack (Kalanchoe luciae ‘Fantastic’)


Another exciting new introduction, variegated ponytail palm
(Beaucarnea recurvata ‘Variegata’)


Colorful baby gasterias


Trays of small Echeveria agavoides


More echeverias in trays, forming a mosaic when viewed from above


Fancy echeveria cultivars…

120928_SucculentGardens_fancy-echeverias-purple- -aqua

…as far as the eye can see

It was fantastic seeing such a tremendous variety of succulents, both in the ground and in containers waiting to be sold, but it was even more enjoyable hanging out with fellow succulent aficionados and making new friends.


From left to right:
Laura Balaoro, Candy Suter, Noreen Fenton, Debra Lee Baldwin, Robin Kozloff

120929_SucculentGardens_Debra Gerhard_(c)CandySuter

Debra Lee Baldwin and yours truly (photo by Candy Suter).
Debra is wearing Laura Balaoro’s hat decorated with live succulents.

2012 Extravaganza posts:


  1. I'm curious to know what sort of planting mix those living picture frames use for succulents. I'd love to do something like that with some semps next year, but need more info. Love those murals!

    How many people attended?

    1. Alan, here's an article on vertical gardening with succulents written by Robin Stockwell, the owner of Succulent Gardens: It should answer most of your questions. I'd love to see what you come up with!

      I don't know how many people attended the Extravaganza but my guess is between 500 and 1,000. The converted greenhouse where the presentations were held had seating for 300 and was mostly full for the two talks I attended.

  2. No way will I miss this next year...I'm always up for a visit to the Central Coast.Looking forward to the rest of your reports !

    1. From what I gathered, the 2013 Extravaganza will again be at the very end of September, so September 27 and 28, 2013. If you're not on Succulent Gardens' mailing list yet, sign up on their website,

  3. What a wonderful post buddy! Incredible shot, I love the baby echeveria shots and the mosaic look! And darn, I missed that varigated pony tail palm. I would have gotten one darn it! I wonder if they can send me one!

    1. Candy, I loved the variegated pony tail palm, too. I would have bought a smaller specimen, but all I could see were 5-gallon plants at $60. More than I could afford.

    2. Holy cow, yes I would have not bought one for that price!

  4. So jealous! Thank you for taking your role as tour guide/reporter seriously and documenting the day so well.

    I was lucky to meet Brian Kemble at The Ruth Bancroft Garden last spring, what kind and knowledgable man. Come to think of it I also got to attend a talk by Robin Stockwell (owner of SG) at the NWFG Show last February....also a great guy. Yes, actually I think I'm trying to make myself feel better about not getting to attend this event by reminiscing about the past....*sigh*

    1. Loree, you should plan on coming down for the 2013 event. Socializing was as much fun as seeing the plants. You'd fit right in.

      Robin Stockwell is looking to retire in the next few years and is actively looking for somebody to take over. Wanna run a succulent nursery, LOL?

  5. Looks like you guys had a fantastic time! Jealous here! And those rows and rows of Aloe polyphyllas and Agaves must have been a sight to behold in person! Looking forward to the rest of your report!

    1. The mass plantings at Succulent Gardens are a spectacular sight. Although they're a wholesaler, they're open to the public. If you ever visit Northern California, you'll get a chance to experience the nursery for yourself.

  6. Now that is one event I'd love to attend, if only to see that breathtaking bed of polyphyllas. Oh my my my my!

    Beautiful photos, too.

  7. Interesting to look back at 2012 now. Everyone said this was year 5, but I have not seen photos of 2011. Fun times.