Front door succulent bed makeover

Gardens are anything but static. Plants grow, and grow—and then grow some more. Sometimes they end up outgrowing their spot, requiring us to make choices whether we like it or not. Here's a case in point, the bed near our front door:

I wasn't exactly unhappy with how things looked, but the Agave schidigera in the front had flowered and was dying; the Yucca recurvifolia 'Margaritaville' in the back had bloomed for the first time and was likely going to sprout multiple heads, meaning it would get even bigger; and the Agave cupreata in the lower left was just a bit too ungainly for where it was. Beyond the Agave cupreata was a hybrid Hesperaloe (Hesperaloe parviflora × campanulata) from the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden; it had flowered only once in 9 years, taking up valuable real estate without giving us much payback.

As summer merged into fall, it became clear that this bed needed an overhaul. Since it's right next to the front door, we see it all the time. As a result, what might be a minor niggle elsewhere became a persistent thorn in my side. And who wants to live with that when you don't have to?

Taking out the unwanted plants went much faster than I'd expected, thanks in no small part to my trusted Root Slayer. (If I were ever banished to a remote island and could only bring one tool, it would be a Root Slayer.) Here's the “after” photo:

The three ponytail palms (Beaucarnea recurvata) are staying, as are the blue Agave guadalajarana 'Leon' and some of the smaller aloes along the front.

The potted Yucca linearifolia has stayed, too, it just got moved further away from the path.

One major goal was to raise up the bed and add rocks. All it took was 1 cubic yard of top soil and 1,200 pounds of rock:

Quite a few rocks were hidden under the soil,

After a few hours of concerted soil and rock hauling, the bed looked much improved, even prior to planting:

The next photo gives you a better idea of how much height we added. Even factoring in the inevitable compaction, the bed will remain at least a foot higher than it was before.

The Agave 'Red Margin' and the dudleyas you see at the bottom of the next photo had been there all along, but the plants behind the ponytail palms are new.

Also new are the totem pole cactus (Lophocereus schottii 'Monstrose') I brought home from Arizona last December:

Next photo: In the 11 o'clock position is an Aloe vaombe I bought several years ago with the express intention of putting it in this spot. At the 2 o'clock position is a fan aloe (Kumara plicatilis) that had been languishing in a pot, and to the right of it an Agave 'Snow Glow'. And finally, at the 4 o'clock position, a Cleistocactus brookeae I brought home from the CSSA Show and Sale at the Huntington this summer.

Here's a view from the front:

As you can see, I've added a bunch of plants towards front. Some will stay on the small side, others will fill in over the time. A little more work needs to be done in the back, but I'm not in a hurry now that the foundation has been laid.

New plants added to this bed:

Agave 'Snow Glow'
Agave albopilosa
Agave pintilla 2x
Agave victoriae-reginae 'Himesanoyuki'
Agave utahensis var. eborispina
Aloe dorotheae 2x
Aloe lukeana
Aloe vaombe
Cleistocactus brookeae
Hechtia aff. fosteriana
Hechtia argentea
Lophocereus schottii 'Monstrose' 4x
Mangave 'Red Wing'

I'll post plenty of updates as the plants mature.

On to the next project!

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  1. That is a fabulous transformation. I take home unproven hybrids like your hesperaloe from plant sales too -- sometimes it's a win, sometimes not. Gardens have to constantly be adjudicated! Really nice, Gerhard.

    1. I love how you phrased that: gardens need to be adjudicated. So true!

  2. Adding height and rocks really made a difference. I like all the planting pockets too. Isn't it lucky you had all those plants on hand, waiting for a home ;) I'm looking to do something similar with my former bromeliad bed but I can't build up the height much due to the narrowness of the bed and the fact that it borders the property line.

    1. I suppose I hoard plants so I have suitable candidates on hand when I need them. At least that's as a good as rationalization as any.

      As for your bromeliad bed, I think you could add more height than you think as long as you build a bit of a border to prevent the soil from sliding off.

  3. Your garden reno looks great! It brings the plants more in scale with the narrowness of the area and the height brings the smaller plants closer to eye level to be appreciated. Had a chuckle over the "only 1 yard of soil but 1200 lbs of rock were needed". That's a lot of rock to move.

    1. Fortunately, the soil and rock were in the driveway, which is literally steps away from this bed. Otherwise I would have been a lot more sore!

  4. Oh that looks absolutely fabulous! Glad your AZ totem poles got a home in the ground.

    1. Thank you, Loree. I've been planning this since January so it's been a long time coming!

  5. Love it! This bed gets a fair amount of direct sun, right? I'm a little concerned that the totem poles will end up leaning away from the house side where it is darker.

    You don't happen to have video of you carrying the totem pots do you? Having had to move my shorter one just recently I suspect it would have been fun to watch you moving those. :)

    1. Yes, it gets late morning and afternoon sun in the summer, a bit less in the winter.

      I need to monitor the lean of the cactus if it becomes pronounced, I'll have to stake them. I definitely don't want them to lean forward too much.

      No video of me carrying them, but the taller one is still in a pot--I haven't gotten around to planting it yet. I'll see if I can weigh it.

  6. Nice to get enough time to work in your own garden, enjoy seeing your new plantings fill in. You aren't worried about those columnar cacti hitting the overhang too quickly?

    1. This bed isn't the ideal spot for columnar cacti, but Lophocereus schottii is supposed to be slow-growing. If and when the tops get close to the overhang, I'll either take a foot or two off the top, or I'll move the cactus altogether (easy to say now, ha ha). In a small suburban garden, it's all about dealing with compromises.

  7. Great work. Love the rocks. Want to come redo my front slope?


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