Kay's garden: hillside haven for succulents and bromeliads

When I visited Piece of Eden on my Southern California trip at the end of December, Hoover Boo took me to see her friend Kay's garden a few streets away. Kay and her husband bought their ¾ acre hillside hideaway in the 1970s. There were very few houses in those days. Now virtually all buildable land has been built on although the area is still peaceful and quiet, probably due to the fact that most properties are large (½ acres or more, it seems). I'm sure the residents are happy that their corner of the world continues to feel like a sanctuary far removed from the hustle and bustle of Orange County, which is home to over 3 million people and major attractions like Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm.

Left to right: Agave vilmoriniana 'Stained Glass', Aloe cameroniiAgave 'Mr Ripple'

Kay's garden has many different faces. Looking up from the bottom of the east slope, you see agaves and aloes. Yet approaching the front of the house...

...you're greeted by palm trees:

What a perfect spot for relaxing:

Who says benches are only for people?

I'd love to brighten up the area outside our front door with sansevierias, too, but unfortunately it gets too cold in Davis. Not so at Kay's house!

Look what else she can grow outside!

Bromeliads of all description, both terrestrial and epiphytic. Can you imagine shopping in the house plant section of a nursery or garden center and putting your purchases right in the ground!

Tillandsia bergeri (ground), Tillandsia streptophylla (tree trunk)

Somebody asked me recently what I thought of staghorn ferns (Platycerium sp.). Simple: If I could grow them outside—and to the size you see below—I'd be all over them.

Staghorn fern (Platycerium superbum)

A courtyard off the entryway is home to even more subtropical plants:

In the side yard behind the house there's a long raised bed planted with more bromeliads and succulents, including superb specimens of Agave attenuata. It grows so effortlessly in Southern California while I have to fight every winter to keep mine pristine (even light frost can mar the leaves).

Agave attenuata

A hollowed-out pumice rock serves as a planter for tillandsias. I will replicate this brilliant idea in my own garden—and fill the rock with the Tillandsia bergeri babies Kay gifted me.

Tillandsia bergeri

A mature female sago palm (Cycas revoluta) with a seed cone:

The next photo is one of my favorites from Kay's garden. To me, this view holds so much promise of wonderful things to come just around the corner.

Some people think paperbark trees (Melaleuca sp.) are messy. I think they're beautiful.

Another sitting area with views of the hills in the distance.

The east-facing slope (see first photo of this post) is home to many different agaves and aloes.

Agave 'Mr Ripple' (with Aloe thraskii on the top left)

Aloe cameronii grown from a cutting (Kay, thank you for the ID)

Up against the house, I was surprised (and yet not surprised) to find a crown of thorns (Euphorbia milii) of a size I've rarely encountered in person. 

 A flowering coral tree (Erythrina bidwillii), another sight rarely seen in the Sacramento Valley:

Finally a few plants I can (and do) grow. They're tied together by multicolored lantanas (Lantana camara or hybrid).

Agave 'Moon Glow' and Aloe brevifolia

Agave potatorum

Same Agave potatorum looking towards Cotyledon orbiculata var. oblonga 'Macrantha'

Agave bovicornuta.

This sago palm duo (Cycas revoluta) must be 50 years old!

More Cotyledon orbiculata var. oblonga 'Macrantha'. I need to grow it, too!

View towards the southwestern edge of the property:

Flowering Agave desmettiana 'Joe Hoak'

Looking towards the house from the same spot

Aloidendron barberae

Another palm that's not a palm: ponytail palm (Beaucarnea recurvata)

Photos from the path along the bottom of the east slope

Aloe thraskii (left), Agave vilmoriniana 'Stained Glass' (right)

Aloe thraskii, Agave 'Mr Ripple' (the big guy on the right), Agave parryi var. truncata (in the front)

A terracotta pot filled to the brim with Kalanchoe luciae: so simple, yet so perfect

Ever-blooming bougainvilleas: to me, that's Southern California distilled into one plant

I saw Kay's garden on my first afternoon in Southern California, but I already knew that it would be very hard to go back home!



  1. Inspirational. I love when I can look at a garden and say to myself, "I can do that!"

  2. Stunning house and garden. I wish my euphorbia milii drew so well here. I lose some every Year!

  3. Isn't that 1 awesome garden? You got great photos.

    1. Your garden and Kay's all in one afternoon--what could have been better!

  4. Kay's garden, like HB's, is a marvel! I still remember my shock at seeing just how big some of my favorite agaves could get. I don't remember seeing all those bromeliads but perhaps my brain was on overload by the time I made it to that area.

    1. I believe many of the bromeliads were a relatively recent addition. You need to go back!

  5. Jaw hanging open. Wow! Thank you for sharing the pictures!

  6. Lovely photos Gerhard. It looks like Kay has added to her Bromeliad collection since my visit, and why wouldn't she!? Oh to be able to grow those plants in the ground.

    1. Yes, Kay says she has added quite a few bromelias over the course of 2017. Exactly, why not when they are so easy to grow in the ground. I dream of that as well!

  7. Oh god, that Sago Palm. Just magnificent. Beautiful garden !


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