John B's amazing urban aloe garden

When plant people think of Richmond, California, they immediately think of Annie's Annuals. I do as well, but I also have a plant friend who has created an amazing aloe garden on a residential street. The planting areas in front of and next to John's house aren't huge, but they're packed with wonderful specimens you're not going to see just anywhere.

Every time I visit, there's something new to see. This is what the garden looked like the last time I stopped by:

Aloes in front of John B's house

Take a look at these two Google Streets images. The difference between 2018 and 2021 is astounding:

John took advantage of the extra time spent at home during the pandemic and revamped the street-side plantings, adding not only more plants but also more rocks. I don't think there's another garden like his anywhere in town. The vibrant turquoise of the house is a great backdrop for the plants.

John was very patient and provided IDs for the plants in these photos. Without his help, I would have had to hazard more than one guess.

Bottom: Aloe vaombe, Aloidendron ramosissimum. Middle: Aloe lukeana, Aloe chabaudiiAloe cipolinicola. Top: Aloe africana, Aloe rubroviolacea, Agave oteroi

Aloe vaombe (top center), Aloe cipolinicola (bottom right). To me, this vignette is pretty darn close to perfection.

Aloes from left to right: Aloe vaombe, Aloe cipolinicola, Aloe peglerae, Aloe chabaudii, Aloe lukeana, Aloe rubroviolacea, Aloe africana. Behind is Salvia confertiflora. Groundcovers: Senecio serpens, various sempervivums, sedums and graptosedums.

Aloe marlothii, Aloidendron ramosissimum (small), Aloe vaombe, Aloe cipolinicola, Aloe peglerae, Aloe chabaudii, Aloe lukeana

Aloe distans

Aloe vaombe, Aloe cipolinicola, Aloe peglerae, Aloe chabaudii, Aloe lukeana, Aloe rubroviolacea, Aloe africana

Aloe lukeana

Bottom: Aloe chabaudii, Aloe rubroviolacea, Agave oteroi. Top: Aloe lukeana, Aloe africana, Aloe marlothii, Agave ‘Blue Glow’, Aloe pseudorubroviolacea

Agave oteroi (left), Agave ‘Blue Glow’ (center right). Aloes clockwise l to r: Aloe rubroviolacea, Aloe lukeana Aloe africana, Aloe marlothii, Aloe pseudorubroviolacea.

Aloe cipolinicola, Aloe peglerae, Aloe chabaudii, Aloe lukeana, Aloe rubroviolacea, Aloe africana, Aloe marlothii; Agave oteroi (bottom off center), Agave ‘Blue Glow’ (right)

Agave ‘Blue Ember’ surrounded by Sedum rubrotinctum and ×Graptosedum ‘Alpenglow’

Aloe africana, Aloe marlothii, Aloe pseudorubroviolacea, Agave ‘Blue Glow’, Aeonium ‘Sunburst’, Aeonium ‘Kiwi’

Aloe ankoberensis

Aloe ankoberensis, Dudleya virens ssp. hassei, Dudleya pulverulentaAloe broomii

Aloe betsileensis in the front

Aloe peglerae and Dudleya farinosa (Noyo River form)

John next to a small planting bed carved out of the concrete. Living proof that hell strips don't have to look like hell!

Same bed, looking in the other direction

On the mound in the center: Aloe labworana (on top of the mound); Notocactus magnificus, Notocactus uebelmannianus, Notocactus schlosseri; Dudleya farinosa (two different forms, including ‘Noyo River’), Dudleya cymosa (ssp. cymosa and ssp. paniculata), Dudleya lanceolata

Dudleya farinosa (North Coast form)

Haworthia fasciata

Ferocactus macrodiscus

×Mangave ‘Sponge Paint’

Aloe parvula or pseudoparvula

Aloe humilis × ferox (Nick Deinhart hybrid)

Around the corner on the east side of the house:

Aloe comosa, Dudleya brittonii (La Misión form), Echinopsis oxygona, Pilosocereus azureus, a complex Nick Deinhart aloe hybrid

Aloe mitsioanaAloe aculeata, Agave titanota ‘White Ice’, Echeveria ‘Afterglow’
Aloe mitsioana, Aloe aculeata

Aloe aculeata

Dudleya sp., Aeonium ‘Zwartkop’, Agave titanota ‘White Ice’, Echeveria ‘Afterglow’

Crassula ‘Buddha’s Temple’, Dudleya sp.

Aloe vanbalenii in the hell strip along the east side of the house

Aloe pulcherrima and Aloe glauca sitting pretty on top of a particularly tall mound of rocks

NOID Echinopsis hybrid adding beauty where there would otherwise be very little of it

Great specimen of fan aloe (Kumara plicatilis)

NOID Echinopsis hybrid, Kumara plicatilis, Agave parrasana

What John has created here is not only a showcase for his aloes and other succulents, but also a gift to the neighborhood—a small slice of nature, surprisingly poignant because it's so unexpected.

The backyard is home to more aloes, dudleyas, and other succulents. Here are just a few I had time to photograph:

Dudleya greenei in a planter assembled of small rocks

Dudleya farinosa, Dudleya traskiae, Dudleya attenuata, Agave albopilosa, Kalanchoe sp.

Aloe erinacea

Aloe polyphylla pushing six inflorescences!

Aloe polyphylla, impressively large and impressively pristine, and Aloe mawii

Aloe suprafoliata and Aloe peglerae, Agave utahensis var. eborispina

Yep, "regular" flowers, too!

I love plants. They're wonderful, but plant friends are even better. And John is a great one.

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  1. John's garden is absolutely amazing. He has designed everything so perfectly. It was a joy to look at all these photos.
    You did a fantastic job as well taking the photos, highlighting the various areas and with all the names added. Good job, Gerhard.

    1. Than you very much! I tried to document John's garden as thoroughly as possible.

  2. I had no idea as to all the varieties of Aloes there are. And I am amazed about that very narrow strip of land next to his house. He has made it so beautiful.

    1. There are about 600 species of aloes, as well as countless cultivars and hybrids. Pretty mind-boggling!

  3. Splendid! A gorgeous tapestry of plants. I'm astonished a the level of knowledge and name recognition of those beauties. I only recognized the Senecio blue, which I always wish was hardy in my zone. This blue ground cover mimics the blue house color very well.

  4. WOW! Small space but crammed full of fabulous, colorful plants. Well done John! And that house color is perfect.

  5. What a great pandemic project! And there's that A. aculeata again. Long ago our hell strip was planted with succulents, but the city's maturing jacaranda trees and foot traffic issues took the joy out of it. I love what John has done and note his vanbalenii on the east side is in a pot -- I might try something like that to ease back into owning the hell strip again!

    1. Are you looking for an aculeata? I may be able to get a smallish one for you.

      Gotta check your blog for photos of your hell strip. I don't remember you writing about it.

  6. There's a lot more packed into the space than I realized at first glance! The turquoise walls do a great job of showing off the succulents. I think a need an Aloe lukeana - and more rocks.

    1. I can hook you up with an Aloe lukeana on my next trip south.

      Regarding rocks: Everybody needs more rocks :)

  7. Man, those east bay cities with coastal influence---you can grow anything. I love how John has packed it in.

  8. Huge collection in a little bitty space. The Kumara is a particularly impressive specimen. Nice gift to the neighbourhood.

    1. Some people find Kumara plicatilis fussy. In my experience, it thrives on neglect. Perfect for a hell strip!

  9. What lovely planting for relatively small spaces, managing to have a great collection of succulents too. The colour of his house is fab!!

  10. A few comments Gerhard: First, I can not help but compare the difference between the hell strips in one of your photos. Ugly water sucking grass vs John's beautiful creation! I don't understand why more people in southern CA (especially near the coastal areas) don't plant as John has, especially with the water situation here in the West which is only going to get worse over time. Second, I wondered if he is concerned at all about theft of especially the small plants. They would seem so easy to just pluck out and take! Third, growing these wonderful plants must be such a joy living in southern CA because it is the perfect environment for them to shine. Here in Phoenix out in the sun they would literally be toast (and look like it!).

    1. I still see so many narrow strips of grass on either side of the sidewalk. They're difficult to mow, difficult to irrigate efficiently, and completely superfluous.

      The issue is that so many people are scared of succulents because they think all of them are spiny. A lot of education is needed!

  11. Beautifully grown plants--I recall Richmond being very mild with strong ocean influence--heaven for plants. John has a very choice collection--makes this Aloe lover's heart sing to see them.

  12. An Alluaudia procera, to the right of window and to the left of the electric meter, would be an interesting addition.

    1. That would be a great choice. Alluaudias should do really well in Richmond!

  13. Beautiful garden and selection of succulents. I live in inland San Diego county and the summer temps were in the high 90's this year. Sadly, I lost many aloes.


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