By Marsha Fottler.
Suddenly, succulents are everywhere. For years these tough and textural plants were consigned to residential patches of dessert that couldn’t support a stick. You’d see them in the Southwest as clustered borders (echeveria) and tall sculptural foundation plants (aloe, senecio, agave). In the South and Northeast hardy clumps of rubbery sedum poke through stone walls or rocky garden pathways.
Succulents seem to have a minor role in a garden cast of characters that takes its springtime bow sheathed in gaudy color and heady scent. But when the divas – the azaleas, lilies, peonies, roses and gardenias – have peaked and retired, those chorus-line succulents are still full of ingenue vitality. They have staying power and unexpected stage presence.
Uncharacteristically, succulents are assuming a major role in gardens all over America lately and I know why. You can feel environmentally virtuous about cultivating them. Succulents are easy to grow and earth-friendly because they don’t need much water. And, succulents require practically no attention from the gardener. Succulents grow in poor soil, but do need drainage. Most are happy with hot sun. They are inexpensive and simple to propagate.
All cacti are succulents; not all succulents are cacti. You don’t have to fool with prickly succulents. I don’t house prickly ones in my container gardens, but prefer the rounded more velvety specimens, the plump and juicy varieties that convey the meaning of succulent when used as a culinary term.
I’m also experimenting with succulent wreaths and vertical gardens composed of rectangular boxes of succulents you hang on the wall. The secret is a layer of chicken wire that keeps the succulents in place when you first plant them in what looks like a shadow box.
Another reason for the renaissance of succulents is that modernism is a trend in both architecture and interior design. Succulents are ideal to pair with modern schemes. Succulents enhance the angular planes of modern furniture and succulents look just right framed by steel, glass, polished stone and miles of stark white walls. Succulents are modern sculpture.
Most modernist architects I know will lay down in a client’s yard and make angry snow angels in the dirt rather than see their pristine lines and geometric shapes diminished by puny curving beds of annuals and traditional shrubs. But almost all modernist architects approve of succulents judiciously placed in a landscape scheme. If you’re building a modern house or renovating a mid-century bargain, investigate succulents. Some grow almost as big as trees.
Your garden is an artist’s palette; indulge in some creativity with succulents. And share. A collection of succulents in an attractive container is an exceptional hostess gift or housewarming present. Web sites are that are helpful and include beautiful photos to inspire you are:
Suddenly, you’ll be seeking succulents.