By Francesca Filanc, for Let's Talk Plants! January 2022.
Succulents have long been good plants for San Diego County. Although many succulents like water they can survive on very little, so they are perfect for our climate.
We are in an ongoing drought, and succulents make a great planting choice. I never really cared for succulents until my late husband, Pete, and I designed and built a Santa Fe style home. Looking at beautiful books about Santa Fe style, I saw the gardens surrounding these homes and studied how I wanted to design gardens to go with our organic home. Studying the books, along with help from a friend, Annie, I learned there is beauty incorporating succulents into garden design.
Planting succulents then took on a new excitement, becoming an artistic adventure. I would squeal with delight after creating a beautiful arrangement in large pots. One such arrangement was a stunning pot to the right of our front door, three feet high, filled with succulents of varying shades and hues of green that was thrilling to the eye. What I discovered was that succulents planted in an artistically pleasing manner, with an array of shapes, colors and textures can be sophisticated and organically earthy at the same time. Annie planted blue senecio to border paths that meandered through the garden; this plant has a deep blue green color and finger shapes that line paths artistically and beautifully. It also looks divine draping over the outer edge of a large, tall pot.
Another property, following the southwest style home and garden, had eight acres. My wonderful gardener at the time, Sergio, helped me to create a Monet-style Giverny garden on a hillside that was previously covered with a dying orchard. We were going to tear down the fixer upper house and build an Italian style home on that property, and we even had one designed by an architect. When getting ready for that large building project, a close friend, Dean, along with his sons Matt and Andrew, built the new hardscape that my mum, Pat Welsh, and I designed for a large parterre. The parterre was sophisticated and stunning all planted with succulents. The walls were built from rocks that were found all over the property. Dean and his sons built terraces using these rocks which made the project organic. Unfortunately, we never built the home because my husband became gravely ill with cancer. Instead, we moved to a beautiful, finished home nearby and I brought many of the succulents with me to the new place and planted them in the landscape. Sadly, Pete passed after a year and I lived at that home for nine years.
When I moved to my present home six years ago, I brought many of the succulents from the previous garden. The gardener planted them in the landscape, along with roses and shrubs. Succulents make a great filler along with many other plants and shrubs. As a sophisticated design they stand on their own.
Succulents are easy to grow and transplant. Break a piece off or cut a piece off and let it lay where it will not get wet so it will not rot. The succulents can then be planted after the cut end has calloused over when you are out working or your gardener comes next.
Mum has what I call a ‘Jurassic Park‘ garden on her property that her close friend Bill Teague designed and planted for her years ago. I have always loved and admired this hillside covered with different varieties of succulents that are growing where nothing else grew. Bill also put rocks of varying shapes and sizes that don’t even show any more because the plants took over. There is one variety ‘Napoleon’s Hat‘ that I adore. Napoleon’s Hat, Kalanchoe beharensis, is tall and prehistoric looking. I decided, since I had a hillside off of my driveway, that it would look great covered with succulents of different heights and shapes. Mum has shared with me from her Jurassic Park garden and now I am pleased that mine is filling in.
As a child growing up, I never cared for succulents. But I have learned to love the beauty of them when placed artistically in the landscape and also in pots. Succulents are easy to grow, water wise and can give lasting pleasure in the garden.
A good resource for growing succulents is my friend and SDHS Horticulturist of the Year 2017 Debra Lee Baldwin. Debra has written two books on the subject, Designing with Succulents and Succulents Simplified, as well as countless articles, and my plants are in both of her books. Above are the two photos that Debra took at my home. I made the hypertufa trough on the right that the Kalanchoe blossfeldiana is planted in. The other photo is a full page from the home where I later built the succulent parterre.
Artist, author, photographer, fly-fisher woman, Francesca Filanc grew up in old Del Mar and these days lives, paints and gardens in historic Olivenhain with two French poodles.
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