Succulent Garden at the Sherman Library & Gardens in Corona del Mar

In my previous post I showed you some of the holiday plantings at the Sherman Library & Gardens in Corona del Mar, a seaside community in Orange County south of Los Angeles. The Sherman Library & Gardens is best known for their succulent mosaic created by Matt Maggio. You'll see it later in this post.

The intricately branched dragon trees (Dracaena draco) at the entrance set the mood. How I wish they grew to this size in our climate, but it's just too cold in the winter for their long-term survival.

Dracaena draco

I could, however, try to grow Dracaena draco in a large container. And at Christmas, I could underplant it with white poinsettias, just like the combo below:

Steely blue of Dracaena draco, creamy white of poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima)

 The Succulent Garden was poinsettia-free, but it did sport all kinds of holiday lights, like these stars:

⬐ I tried to avoid them as much as I could in my photos. This stately Agave salmiana, growing under an even more stately pepper tree (Schinus molle), doesn't need artificial lights to shine.

Variegated Agave salmiana

⬐ The golden barrel and silver torch cacti are pretty, but look closer. See the green vine? It belongs to a Dioscorea elephantipes, aka elephant's foot, a caudiciform from the arid parts of South Africa's Cape region. In this specimen, half the caudex is gone—maybe it rotted away? But the plant itself is still very much alive.

⬐ A wider shot, with one of several towering cactoid euphorbias in the background:

⬐ It looks like Euphorbia ingens:

⬐ The majestic tree aloe on the left is easier to identify: Aloidendron barberae. It's flowering...

⬐ you can see in these photos:

⬐ The ghostly “cactus” next to it is Euphorbia ammak 'Variegata':

⬐ Back to the golden barrels (Echinocactus grusonii) and silver torches (Cleistocactus strausii):

⬐ The beds in the Succulent Garden are small, but they're filled with choice plants appearing to swim in a sea of rocks:

Agave 'Sun Glow'

Agave 'Kissho Kan'

Agave victoriae-reginae

Agave nickelsiae

Close-up of Agave nickelsiae; this is particularly beautiful specimen

⬐ Several clumps of what looks like owl-eye cactus (Mammillaria parkinsonii) growing in a small crevice garden section:

⬐ Dyckias are favorite stand-ins for ocean creatures in under-the-sea-themed gardens. Easy to see why!

⬐ Euphorbias and more dyckias evoking sea anemones and corals:

⬐ Aloes work, too....

⬐ ...especially smaller species like Aloe brevifolia on the right...

⬐ ...and the many fancy dwarf hybrids on the market:

⬐ I admit, I'm drawn to variegated Agave attenuata, and the Sherman has a perfect specimen...

⬐ ...growing next to an equally beautiful Aloe polyphylla that has just begun to form a spiral:

⬐ Agave ovatifolia and Aloe rubroviolaceae growing on the edge of the famous succulent mosaic:

The succulent mosaic, easily the most photographed feature at Sherman Library & Gardens, was created by horticulturist Matt Maggio in 2006 when he was a horticulture student at California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) in San Luis Obispo. For two summers in a row he was awarded a scholarship by Sherman Library & Gardens that included a 6-week paid internship. During these internships, he helped renovate the old Cactus Garden which lacked interest and was often ignored by visitors. The overhaul expanded the scope of plantings (hence the name change from Cactus Garden to Succulent Garden) and significantly amped up the visual appeal. In a 2010 article in Pacific Horticulture Magazine entitled “A Succulent Oasis at Sherman Library & Gardens,” Matt describes the project in great detail:
To foster public appreciation of a xeric garden, we amplified the soft whispers of desert beauty. The concept was to concentrate 1,200 square miles of desert splendor into 1,200 square feet, erasing any empty voids between points of interest. Every square inch was carpeted with detail—no barren soil left at all.
Referring to the succulent mosaic in particular, Matt says:
Masses of color were critical in relating the new Succulent Garden to the overall character of the surrounding garden areas, in order to demonstrate an equal attractiveness between succulents and other ornamentals. For instance, we laid expanses of vibrant echeverias in a mosaic fashion to compliment the seas of annual color elsewhere in Sherman Gardens. 
Matt also discusses the use of rocks:
[...] I reassembled a once incoherent jumble of random stones and boulders into distinct, stratified, geologic formations. Just as the plants were grouped by type, so were the mineral elements. A specific type of stone mirrored each plant pattern—agaves with granite, for instance. The Garden’s geologic diversity includes basalt, schist, slate, sandstone, mudstone, rose quartz, granite, weathered marble, and more. Some existing sandstones were unique in offering numerous pockets for planting little gems; some nooks were made usable by drilling drainage holes through the rock. In addition, an entire section of schist rubble was created from some abandoned steppingstones that had lain forgotten in the back prep area, waiting for someone like me to come along with a sledgehammer.
I highly recommend you read Matt's Pacific Horticulture article. It sheds light not only on the design process but also on the history of Sherman Library & Gardens.

Matt is now a busy landscape design and horticulture professional in the Los Angeles area, but he's still involved as the curator of the Succulent Garden, as he told me in a message. The succulent mosaic is a labor-intensive undertaking, but I think the maintenance effort pays off in spades.

I would have taken more close-ups of the succulent mosaic because the light was good, but there were just too many holiday lights and decorations. I get it, that's what visitors want to see in December, so I won't make any Grinch-y comments.

I'd be perfectly happy... in a place like that!

Soon the holiday decorations will be gone; maybe they're already gone by the time you read this

⬐ Let's ignore the lights and glass balls and focus on rocks and succulents, this case sedums and echeverias:

I love the muted color scheme... this vignette...

...and the simplicity in this one

The succulent fountain looked good. It's not a low-maintenance project either, but striking when done as well as in this example:

⬐ One final shot, with the winter sun peeking through the Aloidendron barberae:

Sherman Library & Gardens is open from 10:30am to 4:00pm daily except Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Year's Day.

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  1. In all the times I've visited Sherman Gardens, I can't recall ever seeing either the vine-like growth of elephant's foot or flowers on the tree aloe. However, one thing I always take away from the the succulent garden is the thought that I need many more rocks in my own...Thanks for sharing your visit, Gerhard.

    1. Rocks--I couldn't agree with you more. I definitely need more. If only the rock yards around here carried the type of rock I like. I collect rocks where I go, but there's no way I can ever bring home enough that home.

  2. Great info, thanks. Thanks for the link, too. I remember the pre-2006 version and it was indeed pretty sad--utterly unloved. It's update was fabulous and continues to be. Not a fan of the colored glass--gaudy compared to the plants, which are colorful but in a non-gaudy way. And don't they know Christmas balls belong on the tips of the Agave leaves, À la Austin, TX?

    1. I understand the economics of having a festive environment in December, but it's not my aesthetic.

  3. Thank you so much for this fantastic post! I also appreciate your inclusion of the link to the Pacific Horticulture article that so poetically described the restoration. Your photographs of the mosaic are stunning, as are countless others. Your blog is an uplifting bright spot, especially in this time of challenge.

    I share your aesthetic regarding December decorations in gardens. :)

    All the best to you.

  4. Most of what's grown in this amazing garden will not work in mine, but anyone can adopt the "rocks and succulents" theme: I love those vignettes.

    1. Rocks! I need to plaster my house with Post-It notes that say "Get more rocks!"


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