Surprise driveway bed makeover

On Saturday morning, I went over to my friend Kyle’s house in Sacramento (a 20-minute drive on a good day) to drop off some nursery pots. Little did I know that four hours later, our driveway bed would have had a complete makeover:

Driveway bed, December 2, 2:00 pm

Let’s back up a bit.

The driveway bed used to be anchored by our beloved ‘Desert Museum’ palo verde. It would be in flower from mid-spring into late summer, pleasing both humans and nectar-loving insects alike:

Then, last New Year’s Eve, this happened:

January 1, 2023 – the morning after

January 1, 2023

The trunk of our palo verde had snapped off at the graft line in what was one of the worst storms in recent memory, both in terms of wind strength and total rainfall. Countless trees were damaged or completely uprooted across the Sacramento metro area, downing power lines and crushing cars and buildings. We got off easy; even though the palo verde landed on our van, there was no real damage beyond some scratches.

The morning after, my wife and I, with the help of a friend, cut the tree into manageable pieces, which were hauled away by our biweekly yard waste service. The leftover stump sat there untouched for the better part of a year – very much alive, as evidenced by vigorously sprouting rootstock suckers (Parkinsonia microphylla, or foothill palo verde, judging by the tiny leaves and the multitude of small thorns on the stems).

Finally, last Thursday, the stump was ground out (big shoutout to Alliance Tree Service of Woodland), leaving a level area for planting:

Driveway bed after the palo verde stump had been removed. The dark brown stuff is used coffee grounds from our local Starbucks; they add organic matter to the soil and provide a (small) boost of nitrogen.

With the stump gone, there were no more excuses to dilly dally!

This is where we circle back to the beginning of this post.

This past Saturday, I was going to pick up some bagged garden soil and lava fines in Sacramento to build up the driveway bed before replanting. On my way to the rock yard, I stopped at my friend Kyle’s house to drop off a few dozen 2-inch nursery pots. When I told Kyle that I wanted to get bagged stuff (I can’t transport loose material in our van), he offered to take his pickup truck to the rock yard so I could get soil and lava rock in bulk – at a fraction of the price of bagged material. I thought long and hard about it (OK, for 0.5 seconds), and 45 minutes later we were back at our house with ¼ cubic yard of garden mix and ¼ cubic yard of 5⁄16 inch lava, purchased at the cost of $32:

My plan had been to mound soil and lava rock where the palo verde stump had been to compensate for the compaction that had occurred over the years. Kyle took one look at the bed and said, “Wanna do the whole thing?” That had never been on my mind, but Kyle’s suggestion was too tantalizing to ignore. He was right. Now was the time to do it.

Kyle’s idea of redoing the entire bed encompassed creating a blank slate by removing the existing plants (all except the 4-foot Aloe helenae). So that’s what we did:

Kyle’s boundless energy is both infectious and enviable. This guy does not shy away from hard work. I’m immensely grateful for everything he did.

Existing plants removed, new soil and lava rock unloaded and distributed (mostly):

The next step was the most fun: (re)planting. A few plants (Dioon edule, Aloe wilsonii, Aloes mawii × globuligemma) went back more or less where they had been. Others were moved from elsewhere in the garden or grounded for the first time. Hoarding has its benefits: There are always new plants waiting to be put to use.

Aloe helenae (top left), Hechtia stenopetala (in flue liner), Agave ‘Cornelius’ (bottom left)

With Kyle’s help (he has a great eye for design), I was finally able to use three of the four chimney flue liners I’d picked up years ago at Urban Ore in Berkeley. They’re now home to hechtias that previously been in pots (Hechtia stenopetala, Hechtia podantha, and Hechtia ‘Wildfire’). The flue liners raise them up by 2 feet, allowing their leaves to drape down.

Agave ‘Cornelius’ and Hechtia stenopetala

I also planted three agaves: Agave ‘Cornelius’ (see above), Agave montana and Agave bovicornuta ‘Holstein’ (see below):

Aloe mawii × globuligemma, Hechtia ‘Wildfire’, Agave montana, Dioon edule ‘Palma Sola’, Agave bovicornuta ‘Holstein’

Aloe mawii × globuligemma, Hechtia ‘Wildfire’, Agave montana

Hechtia ‘Wildfire’

Kyle also helped me straighten the large Yucca rostrata ‘Sapphire Skies’ you see in the photos below. It had developed a pronounced lean towards our neighbor’s house. We attached a strap from the yucca to the trailer hitch on Kyle’s pickup, and Kyle carefully pulled it forward just enough to allow us to shove a concrete paver and a rock under the trunk of the yucca to keep it upright. Another niggly to-do item accomplished!

This is what the driveway bed looked like when Kyle left on Saturday afternoon:

On Sunday morning, I added more plants along the outer perimeter, mostly small aloes and a few dudleyas:

Gonialoe variegata (bottom), Aloe broomii var. tarkaensis (left), Agave ‘Cornelius’ (top)

Aloe juvenna

Boophone disticha

Aloe humilis, Dudleya candida, Dudleya traskiae, Aloe ‘Silver Fox’

There’s still some room left, but I want to proceed at a deliberate pace rather than overstuffing the bed right away. All plants will continue to get bigger, some dramatically so (especially Agave montana and Agave bovicornuta).

The bed isn’t completely finished yet – I need to get more rocks and eventually more lava as a top dressing – but there’s no hurry on that. Thanks to Kyle’s hard work, I’m much farther ahead than I ever expected to be.

Driveway bed plant inventory:
  1. Agave bovicornuta ‘Holstein’
  2. Agave ‘Cornelius’
  3. Agave montana
  4. Aloe arenicola
  5. Aloe broomii var. tarkaensis
  6. Aloe excelsa, yellow-flowering form
  7. Aloe helenae
  8. Aloe ‘Hellskloof Bells’
  9. Aloe humilis
  10. Aloe juvenna
  11. Aloe mawii × globuligemma ‘Maui Gem’
  12. Aloe ‘Silver Fox’
  13. Aloe wilsonii
  14. Boophone disticha
  15. Dioon edule ‘Palma Sola’ (2x)
  16. Dudleya candida
  17. Dudleya traskiae
  18. Gonialoe variegata
  19. Haemanthus albiflos
  20. Haemanthus coccineus
  21. Hechtia podantha
  22. Hechtia stenopetala
  23. Hechtia ‘Wildfire’

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


  1. Looks fabulous, and you’ve got a heck of a friend. Congratulations on both accounts.

  2. Wow, we could all use a friend like Kyle. The front remake looks fantastic. Raising Wildfire up in the flue pot really shows what a stunning plant it is. Looks like a day well spent and so nice to have a fellow gardener who is equally as enthusiastic help.

    1. I agree, 'Wildfire' looks great raised like that. I'm so happy I was finally able to use those flue liners.

  3. "Hoarding has its benefits"... as does having friends with trucks who are willing to work. Wow... this is fantastic! I love the hechtia in the flue liners and I'm so glad you mentioned the straightened Yucca rostata as I'd feared it had been cleared out when you said only the aloe remained.

    1. I'm hoping our Yucca rostrata will remain straight. It was becoming a real problem for our neighbor, making it harder for her to access her backyard.

  4. Brilliant! I love a makeover, and that you got it all done in one day- including the new mound of soil! I'm quite envious of the chimney flues - they look great.

    1. Having a truck at your disposal is a huge benefit. Unlike so many pickup owners, Kyle actually uses his the way it was intended - to haul stuff.

  5. You are so lucky to have such a friend, Gerhard! Wow! I'd give anything to have help but that is totally amazing! The area is looking great!

  6. Wow, now that's a makeover! You and Kyle could start a reality TV show on marvelous makeovers of succulent gardens. (We could use a return of garden-related TV shows.) If you take up that challenge, I'll raise my hand to be a client ;)

    1. Aren't you right about the dearth of good garden-related TV shows! I loved Gary Gragg's Superscapes and Jamie Durie's The Outdoor Room on HGTV all these years ago. There hasn't been anything like that in forever.

    2. BBC's Gardeners World! It's the bestest! --hb

  7. You have 1 heck of a great friend there. Re-do looks wonderful

    Is that a citrus tree at the front of the bed?

  8. Beautiful results. What's the (citrus?) tree?

    1. It's a Bearss lime (aka Persian lime or Tahitian lime). We call it "supermarket lime." If you leave the fruit on the tree, it turns yellow, just like a lemon, but the inside is still lime green.

  9. Gosh, the drive on that Saturday morning to Kyle’s house was rather consequential! A terrific friend Kyle is, with a timely idea, and I have a feeling he quite enjoyed himself, too. The refreshed bed looks amazing (what palo verde...), and you can take your time tinkering with it now. I was wondering about the agave in bloom, as I see it in the back... is it done?

    1. Several palo verde roots ran right under the agave so we had to lift the agave to get to the palo verde roots. It turns out the agave didn't have a lot of roots left so Kyle simply propped it up against the lime tree. It can root there if it wants to; even if it doesn't, it should flower next spring.

  10. In your excitement, don't forget to put some Preen down, before the next rainfall, Gerhard. It will save you a ton of meticulous weeding in a couple of months, if you do it now.


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