Featured Plant: Succulents

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Featured Plant:  Succulents

Succulent, what does that word make you think of? Tasty, mouth watering?  Well, yes although many succulents (like Aloe Vera –a healing plant) are bitter, they do look thick enough to eat. Their relatively impervious or stiff skins helps seal in the water stored in their leaves (and sometimes in their roots as well).  Like cactus (a related botanical group), these water-filled plants are drought tolerant and can be found in dessert-like conditions.  But they can also be found at the beach, where they collect condensation from fog mist.  These plants are often low to the ground and many make excellent ground covers.

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Succulents are a popular landscaping plant here in Northern California and they have been often featured in home-design magazines as adding a modern elegance to both indoor and outdoor plantings.  On a recent trip to San Francisco, I was struck by just how popular these plants are (visiting one shop that only sold succulents, and admiring the many plantings to be found outside the hilly urban homes).  But you don’t have to go as far as the city to see succulent being appreciated.  Here in Sonoma County, there are several local nurseries that sell succulents, especially at this time of the year (perhaps because they appear healthy and full of life before most blooming plants are plentiful).   One such nursery is Cottage Gardens in Petaluma where they grow several varieties of succulents.

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Succulents can be used in wall gardens, indoor plantings, and outdoors to add texture and shape to landscaping, water conservation landscaping, and hanging containers…but did you know succulents can be used in floral design?  Yes, for the last several wedding seasons it was very on trend to add succulents to floral bouquets.  You want to find plants with long stable stems for these type of arrangements, but they can add a lovely, dusty bluish-green to the color palette and offer wonderfully solid contrasting shapes to the delicate beauty of your standard flower blossoms.

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Form:

Succulents offer a pleasing sense of symmetry and visual simplicity.  They offer “compact, reduced, cushion-like, columnar, or spherical growth forms”  (according to Wikipedia).

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Colors:

In addition to various hues of green and grayish blue, and the occasional pop of red as winter weather approaches, I was surprised to find there are black succulents.

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A Growing Example:

In our yard we had an area of high sun with low water area along a fence.  At first we were not sure what to do with this very limited space.  We had rocks left over from the front of the house, and then I got inspired by something I saw in Martha Stewart Living. I filled some concrete forms I found with soil and added some hen-and chicks donated from my aunt’s garden and a few store-bought plants for contrast.  They have done very nicely in this hot, seldom-watered location.  Here they are now, several years later, doing well, adding visual interest to an otherwise blah area.

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By Nadja Masura

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