Perennial Succulent Color

succulent perennial bed

succulent perennial bed

The gardener’s call for vivid color may be answered not only by water-needy annual flowers but by perennial, drought tolerant succulents as well.  Anyone who doubts the veracity of this claim need only trace a path to the north side of Cahuenga Boulevard, in Universal City, just east of Universal Studios Boulevard.  There you will find kaleidoscopic beds of succulent plants.

The advantages of perennial succulent color, as opposed to traditional annual color, are not only economic but aesthetic, too.  As for saving money, instead of having to plant a color bed three or four times a year with seasonal flowers, you can create the same effect with perennials that will last for several years before they need to be augmented or replaced.  And annual color will have to be watered three times a week, if not more, whereas a single weekly soaking, if not less, should be enough to sustain mulched, succulent, leather-skinned plants.  In addition, succulents are the easiest of all plants to propagate so that once you have a collection of them, you can break off pieces and root them in other garden spots just by sticking them right in the dirt wherever you want those pieces to take root and grow.
From a design perspective, succulent beds also have potentially more to offer than beds of annual color.  A big plus of growing succulents, design wise, is their diversity of colors, shapes – which include stars, roses, cylinders, spheres, and pin cushions — and textures. The possibilities are virtually endless.  Spend a few moments in the Reseda nursery known as California Nursery Specialties, located at 19420 Saticoy Street, just east of Tampa Avenue, and you will understand what I mean.  The nursery is open on Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Each color has its signature succulent plants, as follows:
Red.  Crassula capitella ‘Campfire’ has foliage that is primarily scarlet when mature, to the accompaniment of some green and gold. ‘Campfire’ is a ground cover that will light up a succulent bed where larger, more prosaic subjects in green, such as aloes or cactuses, for example, are the main attraction.  Euphorbia millii ‘Crown of Thorns,’ whether the full-sized, original type that grows into a robust specimen five feet tall, or the compact dwarf from that reaches no more than two feet in height, is a species that is covered with bright red flower-like bracts every day of the year.
Orange.  The biggest issue with Sedum nussbaumerianum ‘Orange Delight’ is pronouncing its scientific, multi-syllabic species name because it is still uncommon enough not to have been given a simpler, more easily recognizable appellation.   Some people call it coppertone stonecrop, but if you go into a nursery requesting a plant by that name, you will probably get blank stares.  In the manner of Sedum ground covers generally, this is a plant that sips water in very limited quantities and, even when water is withheld completely, its crescent shaped leaves may shrivel up slightly, only to rehydrate and fill out again when its roots come in contact with and are able to imbibe some soil moisture. 
Blue.  Every local plant ogler is certainly familiar with blue chalk sticks.  Not too long ago, this plant was a seldom seen curiosity and suddenly, today, it’s everywhere.  Two species go by this name and both feature chalky blue fingers that grow several inches tall.  This plant is widely used in water thrifty gardens, in patio containers, and in hanging baskets, too.  Of the two blue chalk sticks plants in question, Senecio mandraliscae has taller fingers and a more upright, looser growth habit while Senecio serpens exhibits a tighter form as it creeps along.
Grey.  Ever since it was made the principle plant chosen to surround the Getty Museum’s azalea garden, Kalanchoe pumila has been the gray leafed plant of choice in local succulent collections.  Leaves are scalloped and coated with a waxy finish.  Flowers are a deep rose pink and produced in abundance at winter’s end.
Lavender.  The foliage of Echeveria ‘Afterglow’ may be described as lavender in color, yet it has pink and blue and violet and even gray in it as well.  The oversized rosettes are pleasantly soft to the touch and the bright orange to red flowers complete the profile of this highly memorable succulent.
Tip of the Week:  Euphorbias comprise the most diverse group of succulents.  With dozens of Euphorbias available in the nursery trade, many have variegated foliage and/or rich, foamy clusters of flowers.  There are both smooth-stemmed, leafy euphorbias and thorny, cactus-like euphorbias.  Some euphorbias are nothing but stems, the most popular representative of this type being the orange and red and yellow Euphorbia tirucalli ‘Sticks on Fire.’  You could easily cultivate a garden of nothing but euphorbias and never lack for color, flowers, and overall special effects.  There are ground hugging euphorbias, compact sub-shrub, shrub, and arboreal euphorbias, with some species growing more than ten feet tall.

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