New succulent bed at the Sacramento Zoo

Last fall I blogged about a visit to the Sacramento Zoo. I said nice things about the plantings in general—and the bamboos in general—but I bemoaned the fact that there were very few succulents.


In February I received a message from Michaele Bergera, the Zoo’s horticulturist, who had read my blog post. She wanted to dedicate a planting area to succulents and was wondering if I could give her some advice. I was very happy to help. I met with Michaele at the Zoo to check out the area in question:


It was quite overgrown but Michaele said she had both labor and equipment at her disposal to completely clear it.



I sent Michaele a list of succulents that should do well in this spot. I focused on species that can handle our climate (generally mild winters but occasional dips into the high to mid 20s) and that would make impressive specimens within a reasonable amount of time. I also took into account local availability and expected cost—no point suggesting a rare and expensive aloe, for instance.

A few weeks ago Michaele emailed to say that the bed had been cleared and planted. I was only too eager to see what the final result was.

Here is the before:


And after:


The difference is like night and day. Michaele’s crew did a great job clearing the bed. The fortnight lilies and shrubs are gone, and only the established trees are left, providing a nice backdrop for the succulents.

Of course the bed still has that “new” look and the plants are fairly small—in an area this large, even 5-gallon plants don’t look all that impressive. But in a year or two, this bed will look fantastic.

Let’s take a closer look at what Michaele planted:


Aloe ferox (left and right), with a trio of Agave parryi var. truncata in the middle


Trio of Aloe ‘Hercules’.
The area will be on drip irrigation; when I was there, Michaele’s team was still working on it, hence the sheet of plywood covering the hole in the ground.


Aloe ferox (there are three) and Aloe ‘Hercules’—and a snoozing duck who apparently likes this new area


Succulent mound with Echeveria ‘Imbricata’, Senecio radicans, Senecio rowleyanus, and Crassula lycopodioides


Larger echeveria hybrid (I didn’t write down the name)


Beschorneria yuccoides ‘Flamingo Glow’. Michaele made an effort to pick out succulents with animal names—this is a zoo, after all. I know she planted elephant bush (Portulacaria afra), but I can’t remember offhand what other plants with animal names she found.


Alternate view

As you can see, there are still many bare spots. I will give Michaele some offsets from my collection, including a trio of Agave desmettiana ‘Variegata’. If you live in the Sacramento area and would like to donate appropriate succulents (for instance more Echeveria ‘Imbricata’, Aloe maculata etc.), please contact me.

It’s so refreshing to see that public institutions are beginning to recognize the value of succulents in the landscape. As succulent lovers, we should do all we can to support this trend.

P.S. Michaele says that the squirrels have been a real nuisance, disturbing plants (especially small two- and three-inch guys) and making a general mess of things. I wonder if they’re simply looking for acorns they buried last fall or if they’re upset that “their” territory has undergone such extensive changes?


  1. Such a great opportunity to be able to help and provide input into the planting scheme of a public space! It's shaping up nicely and must be extra endearing to know that you jump started it :)

  2. Wonderful! It really does look fabulous already, the rope replacing the wood horizontals looks a lot more inviting as well (inviting as in "come take a look"). Kudos to Michaele for reaching out to you.

  3. What a great opportunity!

    I wonder if chicken wire flat on the ground around each small plant would keep the squirrels from digging there? Could be covered with gravel/sand so not too noticeable.

  4. Wow that looks really great! They did a great job with your recommendations. I will see if I have somethings to contribute!

  5. Great to see this! If you've not seen the ones at the Oakland Zoo, especially those near the African animals, it's worth a visit!


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