Succulents: Beautiful, Easy to Grow, and Drought Tolerant

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One of the pleasures of living in the Bay Area is the seemingly endless number of hidden treasures which await discovery.  Although I’ve lived here some thirty years, only yesterday did I get around to visiting the eye-opening Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek. What makes this garden so relevant is not solely its beauty, but that it displays only drought-tolerant plants, largely succulents. What exactly is a succulent is apparently open to disagreement, but generally, succulents are plants which are able to store moisture in their leaves, stems or roots (all cacti are succulents, for example, but not all succulents are cacti), thus making them great candidates for our gardens of the future when water is likely to be both more scarce and expensive.

All this matters to me because I’m trying to figure out what to do with my yard. Both front and back consist mostly of lawn, something I hope soon to alter.  I have no interest in maintaining the fantasy of a green lawn during our long, dry Mediterranean summers. And so, I went to the Bancroft Garden seeking inspiration for my own garden. And inspiration there was aplenty. I plan to go again in a couple of months when many of the plants will be in bloom and all the protective coverings which are in place to ward off frost will be gone. The three-acre garden, which is open daily 10 a.m.-4 p.m., was begun in 1972 by Ruth Petersson Bancroft, and a docent told us that the 104-year old founder still lives on the grounds. The garden sponsors lectures and demonstrations and offers plants for sale. More photos after the jump…

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A few succulents are edible, these nopales figure prominently in Mexican cuisine.

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These striking aloes grow almost like weeds on sunny hillsides in milder parts of the Bay Area, especially San Francisco.

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Because of the recent cold weather, some plants are covered with plastic boxes. Walnut Creek is inland, and overnight lows are a bit colder than parts of the Bay Area which border on water.

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Succulents come in a startling variety of shapes, colors, sizes and textures.

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Many of the plants are identified with their names, for reference.

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Succulents grouped together in planters suggest the kind of display you might want to create for your home porch or patio.

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You can buy plants to take home, reasonably priced at $6 and up.

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At home: the beginnings of my own succulent garden, in pots on my front steps.

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4 responses

  1. Succulents are also a part of my landscape – both indoors and out. I have a whole bed dedicated to sedum and especially the ice plant in various colors. I live in Zone 6B, and they manage to survive the winters. Although lately our winters have been more Zone 7-ish.

  2. Good luck with your outdoor landscaping plan! It is a very good idea. Long before it was on the public radar, we landscaped with clean, washed, crushed rock (5 Tons)–replacing any grass; bordered with 2x4s; and all native NW plants/trees throughout property. Everything has totally grown up by now–30 years later, but it was such a good thing to do and makes for easier outdoor work and living in the very wet Seattle climate. Lots of mulch throughout garden areas too. The whole property is like a natural sieve! Plus, we got a great tip when removing all grass sod: place it upside down into the 25′ long raised planter we built, top that with lots of newspaper, soak, then place the ‘good’ planting soil on top of all that. Not only has that worked really well all these years, but initially it also saved $$ on planting soil for such a large planter.

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