Mariel's garden: succulents, gargoyles, pottery, and a bottle tree!

This year the Sacramento Cactus and Succulent Society (SCSS) has started a garden tour program where members are encouraged to open their garden for other members. Yesterday I had the pleasure of visiting the garden of SCSS vice president Mariel Dennis. 

As you will see below, Mariel's garden is totally unique. Yes, there are succulents, but there are roses, gladiolas, butterfly bushes, geraniums, hydrangeas, fig trees, herbs, and a plethora of other plants as well. Then there's the garden art: glass ornaments, talavera pieces, head planters, and a whole lot more. And keeping watch over the front entryway are gargoyles that are unapologetically creepy.

At night, the backyard is lit up by a variety of light sources--from solar lanterns with glass blocks placed in front of them for added effect to rope lights laid on top of a gravel walkway. Mariel said that people have told her the backyard looks like an alien landing strip at night. But she loves it, and that's all that matters. I couldn't agree more. It may seem like a simple and obvious statement, but all too many gardeners are focused on what others might think of their garden. That should be completely secondary. We should create the kind of garden that makes us happy. If others like it, too--that's great. If not--well, too bad for them.

 Let's start in the front of the house:

I must admit, I wasn't sure initially about the two Italian cypresses flanking the entryway but by the time I left, I had a hard time imaging what the house would look like without them.

The cypresses do frame this pot very nicely

The blue flowers are from a plectranthus, not sure which species

The aloe on the left is a stunner. My guess is Aloe conifera


What a fantastic combination!

The happiest hydrangea I've seen in years in the Sacramento area

Every nook and cranny is used for plants or decorations

Not for the faint of heart!

Now we're in the north side yard. The lot is wedge-shaped, with the narrowest point in the front, and the widest along the back fence. The side yards flare out and are actually larger than the area behind the house.

One of a half dozen sitting areas in the garden

The gravel area used to be lawn. Mariel and her husband took it out several years ago and created raised planters to compensate for the slow-draining clay soil.

Just a few of Mariel's many talavera containers

A series of racks against the north side of the house are home to a small portion of Mariel's potted succulents, including a nice collection of haworthias. I could have spent hours looking at all the plants.

I don't think I've ever seen Lithops staged better. Because the rocks and the plants look so similar, guessing which is which becomes a fun game. 

Crested beauty in the perfect pot

Echeveria 'Compton's Carousel'

The head pot is by Sacramento area potter Connie Esquibel

A very simple combo, but I found it strikingly beautiful. Not sure about the plant, but it looks like a Graptosedum.

Mariel has all the head planters I've always wanted!

Let's continue in the northeastern corner of the backyard:

The purple-flowering perennial is Canary Island sage (Salvia canariensis)

Yucca elephantipes

Mariel calls this bed "Aloe Heaven"

Aloidendron 'Hercules'

I was trying to figure out what the pink-flowering shrub was until I realized it's just regular Mexican evening primrose (Oenothera speciosa) weaving its way through the variegated Buddleja.

Variegated Yucca gloriosa

Agave multifilifera

Yucca 'Blue Boy' and lavender cotton (Santolina sp.)

Agave 'Cornelius'

Agave 'Cornelius' and gazanias

Epiphyllums in hanging baskets under a pepper tree

This was my favorite piece of glass art in Mariel's garden

Standing at the eastern fence looking towards the north side yard (right) and the house

The racks you saw earlier from a different angle

Mariel leading SCSS members through the north side yard

Another inviting spot to sit

Looking south towards the greenhouse and the south side yard

Rope lights and transparent glass tiles. This strip used to be lawn as well.

I can only imagine how beautiful this must be at night!

I must replicate some of Mariel's combinations!

Looking back towards the north side yard

LEFT: Euphorbia horrida 'Snowflake' in a Connie Equibel pot   RIGHT: Euphorbia ammak 'Variegata'

Two fairy gardens Mariel recently made. The attention to detail is amazing!

Another sitting area next to the greenhouse (currently empty)

Now we're in the south side yard. It's the same shape and size as as the north side yard.

Mariel's handyman Steve (in the tan T-shirt in the photo above) built the greenhouse to Mariel's specifications

Sitting area under the pepper tree in the southeastern corner

Tapestry of sedums and thymes

I must admit, I have a weakness for bottle trees. I don't have one myself, but it's just a matter of time...

One last look at the south side yard

A big thank you to Mariel and her husband Ian for their hospitality! I thoroughly enjoyed my visit.


  1. Wow! So many interesting areas and her collections of beauties. Thanjs for the tour.

    1. What I loved most about Mariel's garden was how _personal_ it was.

  2. There are an incredible number of pots in that back garden - and everything seems to be in impeccable condition too. I love the head planters and the gargoyle. I love gargoyles in general, although I'd be hard-pressed to explain why.

    1. I love gargoyles, too. If I found a nice one, I'd stick in somewhere in the garden.

  3. Fab garden! And boy do I covet some of those pots...

  4. Really interesting, one-of-a-kind garden. Challenging shape to the lot, but they did a great job on it. Lots of shade sails to protect the plants in summer. Thank you for the tour.

    Is that Plectranthus neochilus?

    1. Shade sails are great--and still underused in my opinion.

      Yes, I also think it's Plectranthus neochilus. That one seems to be the most common around here.

  5. What a cool garden. Love the head planters especially and all of the other great collections. The tidiness of this space is something I can only dream of. (Because I'm too lazy!)

    1. I noticed right away how clean Mariel's garden was. Mine doesn't look like that on its best day!

  6. I realized I saw the garden in your 2020 photos but hadn't seen this 2017! Gardens do change all the time!

  7. This is wonderful and quite a collection. How does Mariel keep up? Great use of broken pots. Is there away to find out what species the plectranthus is? I have one exactly like this. Trying to find out if it is edible, Google search has not been sucessful. Many thanks.

    1. Your comment did go through. I just needed to approve it.

      The plectranthus is neochilus. I know some species of plectranthus are edible, but I don't know about this particular species.

  8. Wow Mariel has a way with combining the right plants with the right pots! The best I've seen! I only wish I was that creative. Her garden is such a pleasure to view. Thank you, Gerhard. I also am trying to remember the concept that it is my garden and if I love it that is what matters.


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