Sonoma Succulents Hilltop

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Garden Features

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Drought Tolerant

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Deer Resistant

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Drip Irrigation

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Smart Irrigation Controller

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Xeriscape

When life gave me lemons, I made a succulent garden. 

My husband and I spent five years building a staycation backyard, and then lost it all in one night to the Tubbs Fire—just five months after our garden had been featured on the Santa Rosa Medical Association Foundation’s 25th Annual Garden Tour and one month before it was scheduled to be featured on the cover of Fountaingrove Life magazine. Hundreds of plants, fifty trees and multiple lounge areas were gone, along with the backside of our house and our detached garage. Losing the garden, especially a prolific Meyer lemon tree, was the hardest part. We had no choice but to make lemonade.  

Rebuilding the garden took 2-3 years, moving in phases as construction on the house and garage was completed. Because we were underinsured, we had to take on all of the garden demolition, plant research, landscape design and construction ourselves, along with a fair amount of the installation. Trips to Santa Barbara and Baja from 2015 to 2018, along with the full sun exposure we gained from the fire, inspired us to convert the garden to succulents. Countless hours of online research—and learning that most of the damages to our property were caused by mulch and plastics near the home—led us to fully embrace hardscape and xeriscaping in our garden rebuild. Not only would the garden be a defensible space against future fires, it would use much less water. The environment and climate had changed, and our garden needed to change with it.

Our succulent garden is filled with 100 varieties of succulents, many of which were propagated from backyard garden to rebuild the landscaping in front of the house and around the garage over the next two years. At last count, there were 22 different types of agaves, 11 aloes, 10 cacti, 8 Euphorbias, 7 aeoniums, 5 cotyledons and 4 senecios—to name a few. Now mature, these succulents only need irrigation once a month from May through October (or whenever there is no rain for 30 days). In addition to drought tolerance, other rewards of this succulent garden are year-round beauty and bloom diversity spanning all seasons.

The result of our hard work was so striking that Sonoma magazine and the Press Democrat wrote about our rebuild, and neighbors started asking me to design their gardens to be water- and fire-wise. I found a new calling that I did not set out searching for, but I am enjoying using my creative abilities in new ways through garden design. The garden acts as a nursery for plants to use in my client’s succulent garden designs and to gift to friends. I’m overrun with agave pups, iceplant and aeonium cuttings—I never expected to have this many babies in my forties.

Special Events
Propagation Demo

Plants in this Garden

Aloe spp

Aloe
Organization

Large, variable group of succulents, primarily from South Africa, that produce yellow, orange, or red tubular flowers. Many are somewhat tender and are best grown in mostly frost-free areas. Plant in well-drained soils in full sun in coastal areas and with partial shade in hot locations.
Examples: A. arborescens (tree aloe, 6-8’ x 5-6’), A. ferox (bitter aloe, 3-5’ x 3-5’), A. maculata (soap aloe, 18” x 2-3’), A. striata (coral aloe, 2’ x 2’), A. vera (medicinal aloe, 2’ x 3-4’).

  • Water: Low
  • Light: Full SunPartial Shade
  • Soil: Well Drained
  • Foliage: Herbaceous
  • Leaf Color: BlueGreenSilver
  • Flower Color: OrangeRedYellow
  • Blooming Season (s): SpringSummerFallWinter

Dudleya spp

Cliff Lettuce, Live Forever
Organization

Group of succulent perennials with a characteristic rosette shape and chalky appearance that are mostly native to central and southern California where they grow on rocky outcroppings and coastal cliffs. Provide these plants with good drainage and afternoon shade in hotter areas. Larger forms can provide a striking accent plant in summer-dry gardens. Plant dudleyas at a slight angle to help water drain away.

Examples: giant chalk dudleya (D. brittonii, 12-18”), sand lettuce (D. caespitosa, up to 8”), bluff lettuce (D. farinosa, 4”, forms small colonies), chalk liveforever (D. pulverulenta, up to 2’).

  • Water: Low
  • Light: Full SunPartial Shade
  • Soil: Well Drained
  • Foliage: Herbaceous
  • Leaf Color: GraySilverWhite
  • Flower Color: RedYellow
  • Blooming Season (s): SpringSummer

Sedum spp

Stonecrop
Organization

Large group of succulent plants that vary considerably in appearance and cold tolerance. Sedums can provide variety in texture among other plants and also work well in containers.

Examples:

  • S. ruprestre ‘Angelina’ has brilliant chartreuse-yellow, needle-like foliage that turns rust- red in winter to form a striking groundcover.
  • S. spathulifolium is a mat-forming, evergreen perennial native to California’s coast ranges and Sierra Nevada to British Columbia. Yellow, star-like flowers appear in late spring and early summer. S. s. ‘Cape Blanco’ has chalky-white foliage and S. s. ‘Purpureum’ has purple foliage.
  • S. spurium is a ground-hugging succulent with trailing stems and small dark green, bronzy leaves about an inch long, and bears pink, white, or purple flowers in dome-shaped clusters in mid-summer. S. s. ‘Dragon’s Blood’ has red-margined, green leaves that become brilliantly red with cool autumn temperatures. S. s. ‘Bronze Carpet’ bears rich bronze-red foliage with pink flowers. S. s. ‘Tricolor’ leaves are variegated in green, creamy white, and pink.
  • S. telephium ‘Autumn Joy’ (2’ x 2’) is a popular and robust hybrid with bright green leaves and clusters of pink flowers in summer that turn rusty brown in autumn. It dies back in winter and reemerges in spring.
  • Water: Low
  • Light: Full SunPartial Shade
  • Soil: Well Drained
  • Foliage: Evergreen
  • Leaf Color: BronzeGreenReddish
  • Flower Color: PinkRedYellowWhite
  • Blooming Season (s): SpringSummerFall

Agave spp

Agave
Organization

Large group of succulents that can provide a sculptural focal point. Mostly from warm, dry areas of the southwestern United States, Mexico, and Central America. Well-adapted to California gardens, especially with well-drained soils.

Examples: A. americana, (century plant, 6’ x 10’), A. filifera (threadleaf agave, 2’ x 2’), A. parryi (artichoke agave, 3’ x 3’), A. shawii (Shaw’s agave, 2’ x 5’), A. weberi (5’ x 10’).

  • Water: Very LowLow
  • Light: Full SunPartial Shade
  • Soil: Well Drained
  • Foliage: Herbaceous
  • Leaf Color: BlueGreenSilver
  • Flower Color: RedYellow
  • Blooming Season (s): SpringSummerFall

Favorite Plants

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Vanzie agave

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Lady Slipper euphorbia

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Finger aloe

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Baby Rita prickly pear cactus

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Firespinner ice plant

Favorite Garden Suppliers

Lone Pine Gardens

6450 Lone Pine Road Sebastopol

Devil Mountain Wholesale Nursery

499 Pepper Road Petaluma

Recommended Resources

Gardening Tips

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If you’re interesting is transitioning to a succulent garden, if you don’t like to throw away live plants, make space for a small nursery or potting area if you don’t have enough land to continue planting plants. One of the greatest joys of succulents is that many have pups that need to be removed to keep the garden tidy. I pot them, grow them and gift many of them.