By Evelyn Alemanni
California’s historic drought has this bouquet fanatic frustrated. For years my garden has been filled with blossoms of all kinds — annuals, perennials, flowers from bulbs, trees, and shrubs. But the drought has changed my gardening style with an eye to conserving water and giving valuable garden space only to those plants that “drink responsibly.”
Converting an English cottage garden style into something more “dry” isn’t the least bit boring though. I like to use these aeoniums as edging in the garden, just as people in other climates might use boxwoods. They grow so quickly that within a few months after planting them, you’re pulling off rosettes to share with friends and neighbors.
Another aeonium that brings color to the garden is ‘Sunburst’. While slower growing than its cousins, its foliage ranges from yellow to pink and green, so it’s an easy plant to pair with lots of other colors. Here, it is growing with Sedum adolphii and Graptopetalum paraguayense.
Aeonium arborescens is a fast-growing succulent that looks amazing when planted with Aeonium haworthii, another rapid grower but with much smaller rosettes.
Breeders of succulent plants have been working hard to make sure we have a wide variety of interesting colors, shapes, and textures to work with. We love succulents because they need so little water. A few minutes once a week will suffice.
Some vendors have gotten creative and are spray-painting succulents and cacti with garish colors. If you like the colors, just remember the paint may shorten the plant’s life — and wear off with time, watering, or plant growth. If you like color variation, it’s good to know the same succulent plant changes color depending on light, water, and nutrients. So you can have fun experimenting!
Good to Know: Some succulents, such as Agave americana and Opuntia, thrive with nothing other than our sparse Southern California rainfall. In fact if you water them, one of two things happen: They rot; or they get so big, you have to do what I did and hire a backhoe operator to dig them out.
Agave americana has sharp spines, and I like to slide glass ornaments over them during the holidays. It makes people smile.
When my neighbor gave me three little cuttings of Graptoveria, I had no idea it would become a favorite. Its foliage ranges from purple to turquoise, sometimes tinged with a bit of yellow green. It’s shown growing here with Graptopetalum paraguayense.
To satisfy my need for bouquets (after all, I did write eight books about bouquets), I turned to the rosettes of succulents and their interesting foliage. There are so many benefits to using succulents for bouquets. They last for weeks; and once you’re tired of the bouquet, you can reuse its elements in another arrangement, or plant the cuttings in the garden. Succulents also tolerate being hot-glued to sticks, to each other, and to whatever you can think of, giving you lots of creative options.
Good to Know: Succulent bouquets last for weeks without water. Here are some small succulents glued to an aloe leaf. This arrangement lasts at least four weeks.
When longer stems are needed, insert wooden skewers or toothpicks into the backs of the rosettes to extend them. Here’s a handheld bouquet made with Aeonium arboreum var. atropurpureum, Aeonium ‘Kiwi’, and golden jade (Crassula ovata ‘Hummel’s Sunset’).
Chandeliers in trees create a lot of unexpected garden interest. My trees are too far from the house to take advantage of electricity, so I decorate them with plants. This one has small clay flowerpots glued where lightbulbs would normally be. Because succulents last so long without water, I can fill the pots with succulents of any kind. They often last for months without special care.
Typically, succulents need some sun and well-drained soil. Often, people are surprised to learn that they can also grow succulents in part shade. They perform well in the ground and in containers. Fertilize them monthly with a balanced fertilizer such as 10-10-10 diluted to one-quarter strength. Water them weekly during hot weather, and minimally during cool, rainy months.
Good to Know: When you’re at the garden center, compare the price of pre-planted containers with small individual pots of succulents. You often can get a lot more for your money with a pre-planted container. Just take it apart and use the plants elsewhere when they get bigger. Click here for even more on succulents.