Out with the old, in with the new: small succulent bed makeover in backyard

Last week's unplanned makeover of a section of the streetside bed, the result of our 'Sonoran Emerald' palo verde falling flat on its face, proved contagious. Out with the old, in with the new—sometimes there's nothing better to break through the inertia.

Case in point: this small planting strip along the side of the house (the kitchen is behind the wall). It's separated by a concrete walkway from the much larger planting bed against the streetside fence. On the other side of the fence is the streetside bed where the palo verde toppled over, just to give you a sense of place.

Since the bed is only 2½ feet deep, we're limited in what we can plant there. After a long cycle of trial and error (mostly the latter), I decided to stick aloes and agaves in there. I can't even remember when that was—it might have been as long as ten years ago. Likewise, I can't tell you where the yellow columbine on the left came from; probably a volunteer. The nasturtiums were here when we bought the house 22 years ago; I'm sure they'll outlive us, too.

From left to right: Agave 'Red Margin, Agave lophantha 'Quadricolor', Aloe cameronii × maculata, Agave parry var. truncata, Aloe striata, Yucca filamentosa 'Bright Edge', Aloe glauca

There wasn't anything terribly wrong with this bed, but I was tired of the same-o, same-o. Time to switch things up!
The first step was to remove the old plants. That didn't take long, considering aloes and agave are shallow-rooted. I decided to leave the clump of Agave 'Red Margin' since it fills its corner spot nicely. The rest came out.

The next step was the most fun: picking replacement plants. I have trays of small aloes and agaves scattered around the backyard...

...even some larger ones:

Here's the bed after replanting:

Here's what I chose (from left to right in the photo above, or from top to bottom in the photo below):
  • Aloe glauca (this is the large specimen that was under the palo verde in the streetside bed)
  • Aloe lineata var. muirii
  • Aloe pseudorubroviolacea
  • Aloe munchii

The final step: Add a few rocks to soften the severe geometry of the planting—all ducks in a row, as you might say. But there really isn't room to offset the spacing, especially front to back.

Since the aloes I picked aren't all that common, I want to show you some larger specimens:

Aloe munchii in John Miller's garden (Institute for Aloe Studies)

Aloe lineata var. muirii

Aloe lineata var. muirii

Aloe pseudorubroviolacea at Piece of Eden

Aloe rubroviolacea at the Huntington Desert Garden, surrounded by Aloe dorotheae

The last photo is actually of Aloe rubroviolacea, not pseudorubroviolacae. While the two are different species, they're from the same general area (Saudi Arabia/Yemen) and they look an awful lot alike, at least to me. Just compare the Aloe pseudorubroviolacea at Piece of Eden with the Aloe rubroviolacea at the Huntington. 

According to the San Marcos Growers website, my go-to place for all things Aloe and Agave, "in winter, the foliage [of Aloe pseudorubroviolacea] takes on pink tones much like Aloe rubroviolacea, whose specific epithet 'rubraviolacea' means "red-violet" but this species differs in having larger rosettes that produce fewer offsets and more heavily branched inflorescences that appear later." If you grow both and know of a sure-fire way to tell the two apart, please leave a comment.

Another bonus of this small bed: It's southfacing so it gets plenty of afternoon sun, even in the winter. Since it's right up against the house, it's a few degrees warmer there than in other areas of the backyard—enough to let me know grow plants that are iffy in terms of hardiness.

So there you have it, another baby step towards completing the much larger makeover project that is the backyard.

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  1. Looks great! Your collection of extra plants allows you to choose the perfect plants. What happened to the ones you removed?

    1. Many of the small seedlings and offsets in my "nursery" will take a few more years before they're ready to go in the ground. So I'll have material to choose from for quite a while!

      As for the plants I removed, they'll go to a couple of friends in the Bay Area. Pass on the love, and all that.

  2. I have a similar area up against my south wall, one of those difficult exposures that get both too much sun and not enough sun depending on the season . A very similar width to your spot too. Plans are in development-it's a long neglected space. It doesn't look like you are going to run out of plants anytime soon, lol. And I thought I was a hoarder !

    1. I always love seeing what you do since your gardening style is so different from mine. But I continue to branch out...

  3. That looks amazing! How fun to get to plant some of your treasures! One question: In the top picture, there is a plant in right foreground that looks sort of tiger-striped. Is it a bromeliad? I'd love to know the name of it if you remember. Thanks as always for sharing your garden pictures :)

    1. The tiger-striped plant is a bromeliad, Neoregelia carcharodon 'Tiger'. Good name, isn't it?

  4. How cool to have such an amazing selection of plant ready when needed. Those large trunk forming aloes are stunning. It is my big regret that there is not one hardy enough for the UK. It is gth eone thing missing from my main succulent rockery.

    1. A lot of what I do is experimenting so I expect failures. But I'm keeping my fingers crossed that Aloe munchii will be a success :-)

  5. Pseudo and rubro look not alike to me. rubro has stout, triangular leaves, pseudo they are lanky, long with a narrow extended tip to them. pseudo is nearly 6' across here now, rubro about 3'.

    Though I have only one pseudo...they must surely vary. My goodness you have Aloes to spare!

    1. Thank you SO MUCH for your feedback about rubro vs. pseudorubro. Based on what you said, it seems pseudorubro is the wrong plant for this space. I'll look for a rubro instead.


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