The otherworldly plants first cast their spell on him as a college kid, when he happened upon a hilltop cactus farm near Castroville with an eclectic collection, many in bloom. “I was fascinated by the flowers,” he recalls. He bought the whole lot on the spot.
Eager to work near the coast where he could surf during his off-hours, Stockwell started a nursery with a friend, selling those cactus and other kinds of succulents amid an array of houseplants. Gradually, he began to specialize in the sculptural, low-water plants, which at the time were sleepers at other nurseries. “They’re beautiful and low maintenance—important in today’s environment,” he says.
He began arranging succulents in creative vertical gardens and in enticing displays as if they were collectibles, with the plants’ jewel-like rosettes not just in colorful containers, but also in unusual formats—as living roofs atop birdhouses, for example. Home gardeners and landscape designers, in the wake of periodic droughts, began seeking out his nursery for water-wise solutions and fresh ideas.
At Succulent Gardens, Stockwell now feeds succulent mania with 700 varieties. And every September, he hosts his Succulent Extravaganza, now in its third year, when some 1,500 visitors fill wagons with potted succulents or line up to purchase finds that they hug close like treasures. Thanks to Stockwell, succulents have latched onto all of us.