Dave Roberts' small but mighty Sacramento succulent garden

A couple of weekends ago, Dave Roberts and Kyle Johnson opened their gardens to fellow members of the Sacramento Cactus and Succulent Society (SCSS). Events like these are a great opportunity to see how others incorporate succulents into their landscaping and promote lively discussions and an exchange of ideas. I was happy to see that quite a few club members showed up. This should encourage others to open their gardens and share their personal space with like-minded folks. I’m planning to hold an open garden in the fall.

Dave Roberts’ garden, installed about five years ago, is a great example of what you can do with a small lot (his is about 4,800 sq.ft.). Small spaces require flexibility, discipline, and the ability to make tough decisions. I can’t speak from practical experience, but I imagine it’s far more difficult to design a visually exciting 5,000 sq.ft. garden than one that’s three or four times larger. The task becomes even harder when you’re a plant collector like Dave who wants one of everything.

Dave’s front yard is dedicated to shrubs and perennials selected for contrasting textures and year-round interest. It’s a relaxed shady space, but since it doesn’t contain any succulents, I only took one photo (sorry!):

Smokebush (Cotinus coggygria cv.) full of “smoke” puffs

The succulent action begins in the side yard:

Columnar cacti paired with flowering plants like salvia and abutilon

One bed lining the walkway is planting with perennials such as day lilies; the other bed contains succulents ranging from spiky to soft

Aloes, agaves, cacti, aeoniums, yuccas & co.

Dave is brave for planting a cholla within reaching distance

It does have a nice upright form and pretty flowers

Variegated Agave desmetiana with its club-shaped inflorescence

This succulent bed is watered once a month from May-September

Rounding the bend into the backyard

The backyard has an L-shaped planter in the far corner. That’s the only in-ground planting space. To compensate, Dave grows dozens of plants in containers. He estimates that about ⅓ of them are succulents; depending on the weather, they get watered once every two or three weeks. 

Covered porch

The backyard may not be large, but it’s designed for entertaining

Potted Furcraea macdougalii is an unexpected vertical surprise

This structure once was a barbecue, but when Dave bought the house, he decided to convert it to a display table

The royal blue tile, installed by Dave, makes for a beautiful surface

Built by Dave, a small greenhouse is home to tender succulents. I love the colors Dave chose for the greenhouse and the rest of his backyard: vibrant, but not overpowering.

I know the agave is trying to steal the show, but take a look at the massive staghorn fern behind it. It’s almost 50 years old.

Three succulents, three different colors and textures 

Dave’s backyard may be small...

...but it makes smart use of the available space

Shade plants provide layered textures and brilliant pops of color. The very sight of them creates the impression that the air temperature is 10 degrees lower than it actually is.

The man himself  

Last year, Green Acres, a family-owned nursery with seven locations in the Sacramento area (and one in Texas!), produced a 15-minute video on Dave’s garden. In the video, Dave gives viewers a tour of the various garden areas and explains the importance of excellent drainage for succulents. Check it out on Green Acres’ YouTube channel.

© Gerhard Bock, 2023. All rights reserved. To receive all new posts by email, please subscribe here.


  1. Dave has mad an extremely functional and beautiful garden. Love the little greenhouse. Sometimes having a smaller space forces you to be more creative.

    1. I can't imagine Dave's garden being bigger. It's perfectly balanced the way it is.

  2. Love your tour, Gerhard, and also Dave's tour and discussion on YouTube. He gives us so much excellent practical information about growing in a small garden. His certainly is fantastic!

    1. Practical information borne out of experience: Dave worked in the nursery and landscaping business for 40+ years.

  3. Amazing! I love all the color and masterful use of space. The paned door to the greenhouse is so cool. Cholla looks positively cuddly. The staghorn! Fabulous garden, I'm off to watch the video.

    1. I also love the color. I wish I found a good way to incorporate painted surfaces into our garden.

  4. Wonderful use of space and a nice balance between people and plants. Retaining and retiling that old barbecue was a great idea -- along with his choice of colors, it really adds to the old southwest vibe.

  5. Small perhaps but beautifully organized and so tidy. I'm in love with that greenhouse. I really need to figure out a way to squeeze one in.

    1. Hey, your husband is handy! He might be able to build something similar for you!

  6. Wow. And glad you shared a pic of Dave. When I see something fabulous like this, I start imagining the artist behind it, and want to know them a bit more. Picture is worth a thousand words :)

  7. Bravo Dave! Warm friendly garden--vibrant colors but as you say not overpowering. Yes, that greenhouse, the Platycerium, and a lot of beautifully grown plants.


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