Collecting rocks and succulents: Kyle's garden in Sacramento

My friend Kyle is a geologist by profession, and many pieces of his extensive rock and mineral collection have found their way into his garden in Sacramento. This post from July has been one of 2022’s most viewed posts on Succulents and More.

Kyle was interested in some offsets from a clump of Agave macroacantha I’d recently removed from our sidewalk bed and I offered to make a home delivery. Of course I had an ulterior motive: to see the latest changes in his garden. This was the day after Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and since traffic was surprisingly light, I made it to Kyle’s house in under 25 minutes.

Kyle’s potted cactus collection is in the bed of a 1946 Ford pickup. The truck runs and is mostly used for dump runs when needed—but for now it’s a perfect stage for Kyle’s immaculately grown plants. As you can see below, many of the arrangements feature colorful pieces of rock.

Two forms of Opuntia microdasys. They may look soft to the touch, but the fuzzy parts are actually glochid bundles that will embed themselves in your skin.

The window you see in the next photo is in the wall of the garage facing the side yard. Many of pots on the shelves contain seedlings. Having a garage window that opens is a perfect way of protecting the plants while giving them light and air. One more feature I wish our house had!

I love these pieces Kyle made out of slices of rock cut from core samples:

Entering the backyard proper:

Aloe Mawii among Miscanthus sinensis ‘Gracillimus’, a plant Kyle bought mature at the Ruth Bancroft Garden Nursery so he wouldn’t have to wait as long for flower. This is the first season in the garden. 

The flowering vine on the metal trellis is a Mexican flame vine. It used to have an easy-to-remember botanical name, Senecio confusus, but the powers-that-be have changed it to Pseudogynoxys chenopodioides—a tongue twister to beat all tongue twisters!

The rock-lined mounds Kyle has built are textbook examples of how to provide sharp drainage (and add visual interest) when your native soil is heavy clay

Rocks create nooks and crannies to tuck plants into

Hechtia argentea

Hechtia ‘Silver Star’

Kyle has a choice collection of succulents, not just spikes but also softies like this ruffled echeveria bought at Succulent Gardening by Tina in Solana Beach in San Diego County

Echeveria agavoides ‘Ebony’ with Aloe Vacillans and blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium)

Echeveria agavoides ‘Ebony’

Aloe schoelleri

But there are plenty of well-armed plants, like this Dyckia hybrid...

...and Mangave ‘Racing Stripes’

Cactus bowl...

...with cool amethyst and minerals

Some wider views of the backyard:

The shed Kyle built for his wife on the upper left

Aloe ‘Tangerine’ reigns supreme over this mound

Along the fence on the far side of the yard

Mangave ‘Purple People Eater’ and a piece of petrified wood

Mangave ‘Falling Waters’ beautifully staged in a tall blue urn, with Rusty, the guardian of the garden, behind it

The shed, built by Kyle, in all its glory. I want one so bad!

Aloe pulcherrima with Oscularia deltoides (bottom) and Geranium ‘Rozanne’ (right)

Another Dyckia hybrid

A perfect specimen of Agave utahensis var. nevadensis

Agave pygmae ‘Dragon Toes’

Trichocereus pachanoi among Aloe acutissima

Potted plants enjoying the warm sun; many of the them will go in the ground in the spring

Another Aloe ‘Tangerine’ in front of a Fatsia japonica, with the grape vine-covered pergola behind it

A propane heater allows Kyle and his wife to enjoy the backyard even in cooler temperatures. The Darcy mandarin behind it is laden with fruit.

Mexican fence post cactus (Lophocereus marginatus) in full flower. Just kidding, the flower is from a potted aloe in front of the cactus.

On this visit, I made a conscious effort to document how Kyle has interspersed pieces from his rock and mineral collection in the garden. He has a great eye for design and combines plants and rocks in a way that looks seamless and organic:

Mangave ’Toothfairy’ among orbicular diorite from a small geological area in the Sierra Nevada

Opal veins within host rock from Australia and a chrysocolla (a hydrated copper phyllosilicate) from an abandoned mine in Arizona

A brecciated rock filled with quartz and secondary minerals galena (lead-bearing), sphalerite (zinc-bearing) and chalcopyrite (copper-bearing) next to a Mangave ‘Man of Steel’

I will admit, seeing these beautiful pieces gave me major rock envy!

After focusing on the backyard for the last few years, Kyle is now working on transforming the front yard. It’s a challenge because of a mature liquidambar (Liquidambar styraciflua) with an extensive shallow root system, but he adds soil where needed to create enough depth for succulents.

Mangave ‘CXC’ (according to the label), new to me and apparently to the world, seeing how there isn’t a single Google hit. Kyle bought it recently at a local nursery. Mystery solved: This is actually an agave  hybrid named 'CxC' for its parents, Agave colorata × Agave celsii (the old name for Agave mitis). This is the same parentage as 'Blue Wave', propagated by Rancho Tissue.

I love Kyle’s garden for a variety of reasons. The mounds he’s built and all the special rocks he’s added are one, for sure. And the plant palette he’s chosen, which is very much in line with what I like best, is another. But above all, he’s combined the two in such a masterful way that I walk away from each visit full of inspiration and new ideas.

Note: Kyle helped with plant and mineral IDs. I’d love to learn more about rocks and minerals, but at the moment, my knowledge is extremely limited.

© Gerhard Bock, 2022. All rights reserved. To receive all new posts by email, please subscribe here.


  1. What a pristine and very personal garden, all the plants grown so well. Very impressive!

  2. Kyle is an expert at styling his massive succulent collection - he makes it look effortless. I love the rock collages/mobiles made from sliced core samples.

  3. Such a great sense of composition, and the neutral d.g. paths perfectly setting off the extravaganza of rock and succulents! And little 'Dragon Toes' is such a charmer.

  4. A really excellent garden. Great plants beautifully arranged and some wonderful geology displayed.

    You find so many gems out there. Our good luck you photograph and share them.

  5. It certainly is our good luck. I love rocks and Kyle's collection is amazing! Thanks for this update, Gerhard!

  6. Rocks and cacti go together so well. There's something quite fascinating about rock collector's gardens. We too have a geologist neighbour who's alpine rock garden is stunning. Kyle's garden is quite eclectic as it has a bit of the tropics as well as desert spaces. In some ways the garden design is reminiscent of yours. A gorgeous spot with some really cool plants

  7. Beautiful! Thank you for sharing.
    I wonder if the mineral rocks has any positive effect on the well being of the plants.

  8. I would also offer to make a home delivery. One can't miss an opportunity to take in the views of this inspiring garden, instantly recognizable by the vintage planted-up pick-up truck. What I appreciate the most is how Kyle combined two of his passions: plants and rocks. The eye for design is the cherry on the cake.

  9. I love this garden so much. So many interesting plants and other elements working perfectly together in a manageable sized block. I agree with Denise that the simple paths help to showcase the planted mounds.
    Do you know how many years has it taken Kyle to build the garden? Was there much on the block to begin with?

    1. Kyle started when he found himself working at home during the pandemic. In other words, the garden is only a few years old. Kyle is a very active gardener and has done an enormous amount of work. There wasn't much there when they bought the house.

  10. wow worthy ! Do you have tips on where i can find various colors boulders/rocks
    in bay area ?

    1. American Soil & Stone in Richmond has a huge selection. Well worth a visit. They also sell pumice in bags, among many other things.


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