In-depth tour of the Succulents and More front garden

Last Saturday I hosted an open garden for members of the Sacramento Cactus and Succulent Society. In preparation I did a fairly thorough clean-up of the front yard. I even hauled out the pressure washer and blasted away years of grime from the flagstone. The wind undid my raking and leaf-blowing efforts three times (grrrr), and in the end I simply had to accept the fact there were more stray leaves than I wanted. Such is the life of a gardener.

This coming Saturday I'm hosting the California Horticultural Society for coffee in the garden, so I'm able to kill two birds with one stone. In addition, the front garden is finally looking good enough to give you an in-depth tour. It's been a while since I did that.

There are 70+ photos in this post so grab your favorite drink and settle in for the duration. All photos are available in a higher-resolution version. Simply click any photo to access the lightbox view. From there you can scroll through all the images.

View from the street

Let's start with the planting strip outside the front yard fence, beginning in front of the house (the spot you see in the photo above). Here are some highlights:

LEFT: Aloe marlothii  MIDDLE: Agave weberi 'Arizona Star'  RIGHT: Eye-lash grass (Bouteloua gracilis 'Blonde Ambition')

Agave weberi 'Arizona Star'  and Bouteloua gracilis 'Blonde Ambition'

Catmint (Nepeta 'Walker's Low'), Aloe elgonica, yellow horned poppy (Glaucium flavum), and silvery cassia (Cassia phyllodinea). The small blue flowers on the left are from electric-blue sage (Salvia chamaedryoides).

Three of a dozen potted plants on top of the fence: Epostoa lanata, Fouquieria columnaris, Agave × leopoldii

This is the desert bed we created 3½ years ago as a replacement for an overgrown Pittosporum tobira hedge. It's hard to believe how much these plants have grown. Everything you see here came home in our minivan—even the Aloidendron 'Hercules' and the 'Sonoran Emerald' palo verde!

Aloe 'Erik the Red', now with two heads

Agave capitata var. quartziticola (Leucophytum brownii on the right)

Clockwise starting on the lower left: Agave americana 'Mediopicta alba', Yucca rostrata 'Sapphire Skies', Agave ovatifolia, Aloe hereroensis

Take a look at the mighty Aloidendron 'Hercules'. It wasn't even four feet talled when we planted it in March 2014. For comparison, this is a 6-foot fence!

Agave parrasana, Aloe broomii, Agave mitis

Aloe hereroensis (left), Aloe petricola (front), Aloe mitis (back)

Can you see why I love agaves and aloes?

Aloe broomii (left), Aloe hereroensis (right)

Agave parrasana (front), Agave parrasana × colorata (back)

Aloe ferox and Baja fairy duster (Calliandra californica)

Aloe ferox and Baja fairy duster (Calliandra californica)

The silver tree in the backyard attracted quite a bit of interest among the SCSS members who came on Saturday

It's a seed-grown Acacia baileyana 'Purpurea' I received from a friend

Agave gentryi 'Jaws' (left), Yucca linearifolia (middle), Calliandra californica (right)

Textural contrast: Manihot grahamii (top left), Sambucus nigra 'Black Lace' (bottom left), Salvia leucantha (right)

Now we're entering the front garden proper. It has seen many changes over the years. Most recently, we removed the lawn in February 2016 and replaced it with two succulent mounds.

The foliage on the left is a trio of ponytail palms (Beaucarnea recurvata), the bamboo on the right is Bambusa chungii 'Barbellata'

Three Ferocactus glaucescens on the fence to the left of the gate

The potted plants on the walkway are recent purchases waiting to be put in the ground

The wood-and-metal tower was made by Alan "It's Not Work, It's Gardening!" Lorence

Glimpse of the larger of the two succulent mounds

The flowering aloe in the center is Aloe reitzii. It's been in this pot for many years; this is the first time it's flowered.

Agave 'Red Margin' and Beaucarnea recurvata

Looking towards the bamboo; the gate is on the right behind the ponytail palm

Agave cupreata

View of the front door bed

My main goal was to have as many different textures as possible

Clockwise starting on the bottom left: Agave cupreata, Yucca recurvifolia 'Margaritaville', Beaucarnea stricta, Yucca linearifolia, Agave schidigera, Agave guadalajarana 'Leon'

These are two clumping bamboos: Bambusa chungii 'Barbellata' in the front and slightly to the right, Bambusa oldhamii in the back

There are plants everywhere, even next to the front door...

...and in the walkthrough to the front porch

Looking back towards the front door

Front door (left), front porch (right)

Leucadendron argenteum planted in the ground against the post to the right of the front door. Not sure how tall it will get in our climate, seeing how it isn't very hardy.

Front porch

Agave attenuata 'Boutin Blue', one of the few plants I cover religiously in the winter

Agave attenuata 'Boutin Blue' (left), Aloidendron ramossisimum (center), assorted cactus

Pot ghetto around the corner from the front porch. The foliage on the right is Canna musifolia.

Agave victoria-reginae 'White Rhino'

One of my favorite views

Potted plants on the edge of the front porch and suculent mounds beyond

The white cactus in the middle is a slowly expanding clump of silver torch (Cleistocactus strausii)

Silver torch (Cleistocactus strausii) and  Agave schidigera 'Shira ito no Ohi' 

Tylecodon wallichii × paniculatus

Larger of the two succulent mounds. The whispy tree is a palo blanco (Mariosousa willardiana), an acacia native to Sonora, Mexico.

There are lot of plants here. I fully expect I'll have to do some targeted thinning in the years to come.

Looking at the larger succulent mound from outside the front door

Smaller succulent mound

Clockwise from bottom left: Agave pumila, Agave vilmoriniana 'Stained Glass', Yucca queretaroensis, Ferocactus acanthodes

Yucca queretaroensis and Ferocactus acanthodes

Agave bovicornuta and Encephalartos lehmannii

Agave bovicornuta

Agave 'Royal Spine'

Eye-lash grass (Bouteloua gracilis 'Blonde Ambition') and Grevillea 'Superb'

Eye-lash grass (Bouteloua gracilis 'Blonde Ambition')

Eye-lash grass (Bouteloua gracilis 'Blonde Ambition')

OId man of the Andes (Oreocereus celsianus)

New Zealand wind grass (Anemanthele lessoniana) and a large terracotta bowl with Agave touymeana ssp. bella and three varieties of claret cup cactus (Echinocereus triglochidiatus)

My baby ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens) I brought home from Tucson in December 2015

Dasylirion serratifolium.

Agave 'Blue Glow' and red buckwheat (Eriogonum grande var. rubescens)

Agave 'Blue Glow'. Yes, it does glow like that when backlit by the late afternoon sun.

Ferocactus emoryi

Agave applanata 'Cream Spike'

Agave applanata 'Cream Spike'


  1. Such a lovely garden. While it can be stressful to have people tour your garden, it's nice to have a reason to get to those gardening tasks that have been on the back burner. I LOVE your 'Desert Museum' palo verde tree in the front yard.

    1. Thank you, Noelle. We have three palo verdes now, two 'Desert Museum' and one 'Sonoran Emerald'.

  2. A tour of your garden is as good as one through most any botanic garden's succulent display, Gerhard. I like the buckwheat/'Blue glow' combination and may have to copy that.

    1. Awww, stop it :-).

      I think that red buckwheat looks good with just about anything!

  3. Oh Gerhard, your guests must have fallen in love with your awesome garden. So many groovy plants beautifully combined. Heaven.

    1. Peter, I know what you mean because that's how I felt when I visited your garden :-).

  4. Aren't you so happy you got rid of that lawn? Wow. The front garden looks fantabulous! Is this the first time you've opened your garden? Was it a great experience? I bet everyone was in awe.

    Looking at these photos the front fence appears to be about waist high, but I remember it being much taller — like I couldn't easily see over it. Which is it? Important in that the answer hugely changes the size of some of your plants...

    Thanks for all the photos!

    1. I haven't missed the lawn one bit. I guess we could Freecycle our lawnmower now!

      Yes, this was the first time I had a group of people over. The 3 hours went by in a heartbeat, and my throat was parched because of all the talking I must have done.

      The fence is about 3½ ft. high. From the street it looks higher because the front yard slopes down to the sidewalk. Because of that, the fence is actually about a foot above the sidewalk.

  5. Wow, you must have spent HOURS getting out the leaves. I cried uncle after Saturday's inundation, the third in as many weeks, and will wait to be sure the windy days are over before starting one more time to clean up. The winds were so bad they even knocked arms of my tall cereus pachanoi over, grr.

    1. Let's say I got a good workout. I did feel a bit like Sisyphus rolling that damn boulder up the hill.

  6. Spectacular! You'd never know that the front door bed had a huge plant removed fairly recently! Those new mound beds are going to be fantastic in a year or two. I wish I lived where I could leave all of those pots outdoors all winter...

    1. It's true, I thought the absence of the Agave desmettiana in the bed by the front door would be noticeable for years but the Agave cupreata I planted in its place has filled out very nicely.

  7. When I think back on the temps your garden endured over the summer -- incredible how well-sited and happy everything looks! Agaves cupreata and bovicornuta always seem to be standouts for me. And now I'm resolved to get some 'Cream Spikes' into the ground, since they're just not happy with my pot culture. Congrats on the tour!

    1. I think this summer was worse on people than on plants. While I did lose my Grevillea 'Peaches and Cream' and my Phylica pubescens (most likely because they didn't get enough water), the succulents breezed through the prolonged summer heat.

      Agave 'Cream Spike' doesn't seem to like being a pot. I've had several in pots over the years and they always looked unhappy. The one in the ground looks spectactular because its roots can go wherever they want.

  8. Looking great Gerhard! I would love to crash your Calhort shindig but I'll up on the north coast trying to find some fresh air to breathe. I finally moved my Cream Spike into the ground-it's been languishing in it's pot for far too long-yours is just a beaut.

    1. As I said in my comment to Denise above, 'Cream Spike' appears to do SIGNFICANTLY better in the ground.

      Sorry you can't make it this coming Saturday but there's always the UC Davis Arboretum close-out sale on November 4...

  9. What a lot of work has gone into your garden. The porch area looks like a wonderful place to sit and mull over what's next on the agenda. Wonderful plants.

    1. It's funny, somebody in the Sacramento Cactus & Succulent Society group said that it must have been a lot of work. I'm sure it was but most of the work was done in small steps so it never felt overwhelming.

      Yes, sitting on the porch is really nice :-)

  10. What a beautiful yard and amazing collection of succulents. I love the three blue barrels and the A. v-r White Rhino. My cramped apartment collection is envious, haha. But I think I can confirm I too have a Ferocactus emoryi - mine has the giant death spines too, so thanks!

    1. I think it's awesome that you have a succulent collection in your apartment. I sometimes think what I would do if I lived in an apartment. Potted succulents would probably take up most of the space!

  11. Wow, you were so right about the afternoon light! Wonderful light. Nothing quite like watching them glow like this. Really enjoyed the visit and I was inspired to grab about a dozen new plants at the sale.

    1. Glad to hear I inspired you. "Enabled" is probably a better word :-)

  12. Thank you for sharing all the pictures of your beautiful plants. Everything looks so robust!

    1. Rachel, here's hoping that we'll have a mild winter. That's really the only enemy here.


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