Small but splendid succulent garden at Orange Coast College (New World section)

Quite a while ago, somebody told me about the succulent garden at a community college in Orange County. I couldn't remember who I'd gotten the tip from or what the name of the college was, but I decided to do some research when I was in Orange County a couple of weeks ago. A simple Google search led me to Orange Coast College (OCC) in Costa Mesa. As luck would have it, our hotel was less than 5 miles away, and it took me just 10 minutes to get there.

From a brief article on the OCC web site, I knew that the succulent garden was behind the chemistry building which, in turn, is right next to the main parking lot. In other words, it didn't take me long to find what I'd come to see:

According to the article, the succulent garden began as a project in horticulture instructor Joe Stead's class “Cactus, Succulents, and their Use in Landscaping.” The hardscape and plants were installed in January 2012. Currently the small garden contains 60 species from 35 succulent genera from both the Old and the New World. Plant biology classes use the garden as a living laboratory to study parallel evolution.

Often a display garden at a public institution is a fairly modest affair—a sparse selection of common varieties necessitated, as much as anything, by a shoestring budget. That's what I expected to find at OCC as well. Fortunately, the reality is a lot more exciting. This is Orange County, after all.

The succulent garden at OCC is small—you can see all of it in the photo above and below:

It's not how much there is (or isn't) that makes it special. It's what there is: perfectly grown specimens representing the two major ecozones where succulents are found, the Americas and Africa.

Mexican fence post cactus (Pachycereus marginata) and Yucca rostrata

But this garden is more just a collection of plants. It also incorporates design features like rocks, petrified wood and a dry stream bed that add aesthetic value.

Mammillaria geminispina

The mass planting of Agave victoria-reginae you see below is the most beautiful of its kind I've ever seen. I like it even more than the display at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix.

If this isn't perfection, then I don't know what is.

Agave 'Blue Glow'

Agave 'Blue Glow' and Agave parryi var. truncata

Dudleya pulverulenta and Agave victoria-reginae

If this makes you think of ocotillo...'re in the ballpark. But instead of Fouquieria splendens commonly seen all over the Sonoran Desert, this is a very special hybrid created by OCC horticulture instructor Joe Stead, the creator of this garden.

Named 'Pink Instead', it's a cross between the white-flowering Fouquieria purpusii and the red-flowering Fouquieria macdougalii. It was made available through the Huntington's International Succulent Introductions program in 2013 (ISI 2013-19) but is sadly out of stock now.

Fouquieria 'Pink Instead' with Agave parryi var. truncata and Agave 'Blue Glow'

Fouquieria 'Pink Instead' with Agave parryi var. truncata and Agave 'Blue Glow'

Fouquieria 'Pink Instead' with Agave parryi var. truncata

Looking back at most of the New World section

A perfect capsule of New World succulent beauty

Cleistocactus sp. I'm not sure what it is but it doesn't quite look like C. strausii, the most common species.

But like all Cleistocactus, it's magnificent when backlit

A new Baja California section is being added adjacent to the main succulent garden (you can get a peek of it all the way on the right in the next photo).  It features similar hardscaping (dry creek bed and rocks) but since it's so recent, it looks quite a bit sparser. Give it time, though!

Typical Baja California succulents including various Fouquieria species and the giant cardón (Pachycereus pringlei)

On the left, one of the weirdest and most wonderful Baja California desert dwellers, the Boojum tree (Fouquieria columnaris)

I took a lot of photos at OCC, like I tend to do, and instead of overwhelming you, I've decided to save the Old World section for a separate post. Think aloes and euphorbias! Click here to see the Old World section.


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  1. Nice! I have a vague recollection that OCC has an active landscape design program and that, in the past, the students have created displays for the South Coast Plaza Spring Garden show.

    1. Giving horticulture and landscape design students opportunities to showcase their skills and talents in public is the best way to motivate them, I would think!

  2. What an elegant little garden. I dearly love seeing the large expansive gardens you show us, but from this one can get some great ideas about how to arrange various succulents in a small space.

    1. I agree 100%! It's much easier to relate to human-sized gardens on a personal level.

  3. Replies
    1. Proof that it doesn't take over-the-top frills to create something that's appropriate and attractive.

  4. Wow that looks great, and it looks well cared for, too. Thanks for showing that.

    1. As I was leaving OCC, I was wondering how many such hidden treasures are out there?

  5. Not often you see so many perfect Agave victoria-reginae together. The Agave parryi are also quite gorgeous. A well designed little garden.

    1. I still get lightheaded thinking of all these perfect Agave v-r!

  6. “Cactus, Succulents, and their Use in Landscaping.” sounds like a class I'd like to take. The large, vertical boulder rising from the sea of Agave victoria-reginae reminds me of a Japanese garden. gorgeous.

    1. That vertical stone is EVERYTHING. I'd love one for the bed next to our front door, which I'm about to redo....

  7. I'd make a detour to go here and have plenty of call for a journey south again. I wonder if you've gotten to the new garden at he natural history museum in L.A. Well worth it I think. Lots of spiky, arid wonders but also lots of natives supporting a rich bird and insect community.

    1. Not yet. I haven't been to L.A. proper in a while. Maybe after Christmas. I'm trying to figure out where to go this year on my customary post-Christmas trip.


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