Sizzling succulent garden in Morro Bay

Today is Memorial Day. and as is often the case here in the Sacramento Valley, it’s hot. The forecast calls for 98°F this afternoon. But that’s just the beginning: 107°F by Friday! That’s 42°C for you metric folks.


The garden I’m showing you today is hot, too, but for different reasons. It sizzles because of its specimen-quality plants and its masterful design by Morro Bay-based Gardens by Gabriel, Inc. The house itself is pretty sweet, too.


This garden is located in Morro Bay on California’s Central Coast and is owned by Vince and Janet Marino. I visited it on our last day of our spring break vacation, and it was standout even in a town where succulents play a prominent part in public and private landscaping.

My wife had found this article while she was doing pre-trip research. A friend of a friend had visited the garden and told me which street it was on. I tried to be as conspicuous as possible when taking these photos in hopes the homeowners might come out to see what I was doing. Unfortunately, they didn’t seem to be home. I would have loved to talk to them about this beautiful slice of succulent heaven.

On the other hand, plants don’t need anybody to speak for them. They are perfectly capable of representing themselves.


My favorite method of planting succulents is to create a mound. No need to do that here. This front yard is sloped so it essentially is a huge mound. In addition to the drainage benefits this brings, it also makes it much easier to see all the plants since the viewing plane is tilted upwards.


This front yard packs an impressive variety of succulents and other plants (palm trees, perennials and South African and Australian shrubs) into a relatively compact space, and they’re easy to see and admire right from the street.


I live in a place that’s completely flat. I’m referring not just to our property but to the entire city of Davis. The highest points in town are the freeway overpasses—not counting a few of the taller structures on the UC Davis campus. For that reason, I’m drawn to towns with hills (here’s looking at you, Santa Barbara!) and to gardens with slopes, or at least a modicum of rise and fall in the terrain.


Agave weberi (left) and Yucca ‘Bright Star’ (right)


Grevillea juniperina 'Molonglo' and Agave attenuata ‘Kara’s Stripe’


Dudleya brittonii and Agave victoria-reginae



Yucca ‘Bright Star’ and Senecio serpens


Grevillea ‘Austraflora Fanfare’ and Senecio serpens


Lots of goodies here, including a yellow-flowering leucospermum, a towering Euphorbia ammak ‘Variegata’, and an equally tall tree aloe (Aloidendron sp.)




I love the Aloidendron and Euphorbia ammak ‘Variegata’

The final group of photos are of a smaller planting island in front of the garage. It features several queen palms (Syagrus romanzoffiana) underplanted with agaves and other succulents, with some flowering perennials thrown in for added interest.



Agave mitis var. albidior; several of them starting to flower


Other agaves include Agave ‘Blue Flame’, Agave weberi ‘Arizona Star’ and Agave ‘Cornelius’


Agave ‘Cornelius’


Agave ‘Blue Flame’ and Felicia aethiopica


Agave weberi ‘Arizona Star’ and Agave mitis var. albidior


Up against the hedge I spotted a potting bench with more succulents, possibly waiting to go in the ground…


…as well as a leucadendron and a half dozen Euphorbia ammak ‘Variegata’ sections biding their time

Gardens by Gabriel’s portfolio features many other stunning succulent-heavy gardens. I’m hoping I’ll be able to visit some of them on future trips.


Spring break 2016 index


  1. I can't wrap my head around the idea of living in the middle of such beauty, how would I ever get anything done, or even leave home? From the article I especially appreciated this line: "He has an artist’s eye for what a plant will look like five and 25 years on" about Gabriel Frank. Thanks for the tour Gerhard!

    1. >> idea of living in the middle of such beauty, how would I ever get anything done<<

      I bet people say that about Portland, too!!

      Gabriel Frank: Yes, I appreciate that too. I'm not sure how many designers have such a long-term horizon (or the plant knowledge).

  2. I've pinned some of the "Gardens by Gabriel" I've found on-line. This one deserves a pin too. I was at the Huntington yesterday and came away thinking that I need to make better use of my own slopes by bringing in some large rocks to support succulent communities. Thanks for providing further inspiration in the same vein!

    1. I hope I'll get to see more of Gabriel Frank's (and his team's) designs.

      I also want to add more rocks to my garden but our local rock yards don't have what I'm looking for--something that looks like it came from the desert rather than the Sierra Nevada.

  3. Really nice slope garden. The plants look so happy in that mild climate--the Senecio serpens looks great, mine struggles here in summer heat--which speaking of summer heat--yikes! Sorry to hear yours has arrived. I'm hoping it holds off here for a few more weeks.

    1. The Central Coast has got to have the best climate for succulents, possibly even better than coastal San Diego County.

  4. Beautiful! A slope does help though, and as somebody who gardens on one I have to say that flat properties have their advantages too. Sorry to hear that the hot weather is here already!

    1. I bet if I had a sloped garden, I'd find fault with it. It's always the things you DON'T have that attract you...

  5. Wow, simply stunning garden. As DG says, how would you ever get anything done, it would take me hours to leave the house, for wanting to check out how the plants.

  6. And the garden is so immaculate it looks like they prepped and primped it for days before your arrival. So sorry about those high temps. We're still dodging the heat, thankfully.

  7. If visit Morro Bay in early April, during the Morro Bay city wide garage sale, the Marino’s usually have a plant sale and tour of their garden. They must have been getting ready for the sale in the photos above, since I remember almost buying one the Euphorbia ammak sections above.

    1. Aah, that explains the Euphorbia ammak sections.

      I saw signs for the city-wide garage sale all over town and was wishing we could be there for it. It hadn't even occurred to me that some folks might be having a plant sale. Makes perfect sense though. Maybe next year!

  8. What a spectacular garden and home. Oh, to live in California. The succulents are always brighter on the other side of the fence.

    1. Very true. But this is just as true: Everything is so much greener and lusher in the Pacific Northwest :-).

  9. I visit this garden every time I go to MB. The owners are super nice, just ring their doorbell and say "hi", I did! ;-) I love your article on this paradise!


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