Front yard desert bed at age 1

A little over a year ago the area in front of the fence below was an overgrown tangle of Japanese mock-orange (Pittosporum tobira). After we had the hedge taken out, we built a mound of well-draining soil, planted succulents and other heat- and drought-tolerant plants, and added rock mulch. I documented this project in a series of posts you can access from here.


March 16, 2014

The plants in this bed took off right away and I greatly enjoyed following their development through the spring, summer and winter of 2014. Now it’s spring again, and it’s time to take a closer look at this bed. Be prepared for some impressive progress!


April 5, 2015


The red aloe is Aloe cameronii




This mass of yellow is one of my favorite plants at the moment: Calylophus drummondii 'Southern Belle', commonly called sundrops.


Agave colorata can’t keep up with this kind of growth. It’s being engulfed by a Salvia greggii ‘Moonglow’.





Baja fairy duster (Calliandra californica) and Aloe ferox

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Agave parrasana and purple-flowering dwarf agastache (I’ve lost the tag so I don’t know what cultivar this is)



Aloidendron ‘Hercules’…


…getting ready…


…for its next growth spurt


The biggest standout for me has been the Penstemon palmeri on the right


This Southern California native loves hot and dry conditions…


…and looks stunning right now


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I bought this Penstemon palmeri at Annie’s Annuals last year

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The agave on the left is Agave ovatifolia. I bought it in a #1 can from the UC Botanical Garden in Berkeley and it’s tripled in size in its first year in the ground.


The biggest and fastest grower of them all in this bed…


…has been this ‘Sonoran Emerald’ palo verde (Parkinsonia ‘Sonoran Emerald’). Look how tall and wide it is after just one year in the ground. Just a year ago I bought it home from the nursery in my Honda minivan!


For comparison: Parkinsonia ‘Sonoran Emerald’ on March 16, 2014, right after planting


This yellow bird of paradise (Caesalpinia gilliesii) has grown tremendously as well


It has more flower buds than ever, the first of which has just opened up

Seeing this kind of progress in just one year is extremely gratifying. Since we live on a corner lot and this bed faces the street, it has high visibility. I love it when I overhear passers-by commenting on the plants. I hope I’ve been able to inspire a few homeowners in our neighborhood to beautify their yard with plants that can handle the new water reality in California.

A word on irrigation. This bed, like virtually all beds in our garden, is on a drip system. Typically, each plant has one drip emitter (adjustable sprayer type like this). Last year, the system ran once a week for 25 minutes from early May to early November. Initially I was afraid this wouldn’t be enough, but it has clearly been sufficient. This year I will shorten the run time to 20 minutes a week since the plants are established now.


  1. Looks great. What kind of top cover did you use?

    1. Karen, we used a rock product called "rock bark." See this post for details.

  2. Gerhard, this is beautiful. I can't wait to see it.

    1. Unless the weather turns hot all of a sudden, the flowering perennials should continue for a while.

  3. I would love to mulch with rock but wonder if it would all end up at the bottoms of the slopes. Slopes have issues.

    Your bed looks fantastic--plants all look happy and thriving--might have to eventually move some of the fence to accommodate the trunk of 'Hercules'.

    1. I was worried about the rocks sliding down the berm and some definitely have but the bulk has stayed in place. And now, thanks to the dirt and dust that has settled in the nooks and crannies, the whole thing is quite stable.

      There's actually a good couple of feet, if not more, between the trunk of 'Hercules' and the fence so we should be good. And I'll prune the chaste tree on the other side of the fence as needed to accommodate the grown as 'Hercules' gets taller. At least that's the plan.

  4. This looks great Gerhard ...I can't believe how far along some of your plants are--I was pretty impressed with the progress (due to the mild winter--nothing I did !) here , but I think you've blown me out of the water..Here's to rain this week-hope you get some of it too..

    1. Yes, the mild winter has made a BIG difference. Very few setbacks, if any.

      We had a good 5 hours of rain this morning, quite heavy at times. Very welcome!

  5. I'm suitably impressed! Thanks for sharing information on your drip system too. I'm looking to expand the number of beds in my garden on drip but I haven't been especially satisfied with the emitters we've got in any of the 3 beds currently on drip - we need to look at other options so thanks for providing one alternative.

    1. I do like these adjustable sprayers. On a system with more water pressure than we have they can cover a good foot in diameter when fully open (maybe even more). In my case it's more like 6 inches.

  6. Wow! Fantastic growth, I'm especially jealous of/in love with that palo verde. It's so wonderful that all this plant goodness is out there for everyone to see, way to help educate the neighborhood!

    1. There I was worried about 'Hercules' taking over. Instead, it's my 'Sonoran Emerald' palo verde that seems to be set on dominating our little corner of the world.

  7. Amazing how much that tree has grown -- everything really. You did a great job!

    Planning on adding any filler plants or moving/removing anything?

    1. Alan, I can't really take any of the credit except for picking the right plants. And even that involved a good dose of luck.

      Some agaves (which are very slow growing compared to the perennials) are in danger of getting smothered so I'll have to do some judicious trimming. Plus I've noticed that many of my plant labels have disappeared. That's a big mystery. Do they disintegrate that quickly without a trace? Do animals take them? Or passers-by?

  8. What a beautiful bed! I love the way your combined the plants with flowing flowering plants next to very structured agaves etc. and they are co-mingling nicely. Drip irrigation is the way to go. When we first started our landscaping business 6 years ago Shawn became a licensed irrigator and was able to take a great class on drip irrigation at A&M. I imagine you attract many visitors including pollinators to your garden! Happy Spring!

    1. I think installing and maintaining drip systems, especially more complex ones, will be a big thing going forward, especially as people replace or retrofit traditional sprinkler systems.

      As for pollinators, we have a lot of bees (including humongous carpenter bees) and hummingbirds. I love it!

  9. Wow! Love your Aloe Cameroni as well as the agastache. I've got a 'Hercules"as well but sadly, mine will always remain pot-bound. Very impressive growth and looks beautiful. Hope to see it in person one day.


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