Sculpting the land
All this beauty took preparation. Five years ago, Anderson and Olson sculpted the land--a former lime orchard--with a tractor. Then they amended the soil with decomposed granite to enhance drainage, fashioned dry streambeds, covered pathways with pea gravel, and added redwood bridges. At the top of the slope, they built a white stucco pavilion; its orange tile roof echoes the color of aloes in bloom. To provide shade, they planted lacy, drought-tolerant trees, such as Acacia karroo, Cassia nemophila, and mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa and P. chilensis).
They aimed for lushness. "You'd never see these plants growing so closely together in nature," Anderson says. Though the aloes and agaves started out small, by the time Lloyd visited, many had grown to human size and larger.
Anderson's admiration for giant succulents' form, texture, and quirkiness began at the Huntington Botanical Gardens in San Marino, where he works as a volunteer. Much of his collection came from Huntington plant sales, but he also shops in large nurseries and those that specialize in cactus and succulents.
Giant aloes and agaves are the stars of his collection, but they're also the thugs of the plant world. Their sprawling leaves menace with spikes, points, and serrated edges. "These are not plants for children," Anderson says as he examines a small puncture wound he got while weeding. "You're wise to approach them wearing goggles and leather gloves." So why on earth would anyone want to grow them? "Because they're otherworldly," he answers.
When gently squeezed, a sun-warmed, gel-filled Aloe striata feels like a human arm. The plant's gray-green skin is subtly striped with cream, its edges are translucent crimson, and its blooms resemble scarlet feather dusters. The plant looks stunning with a carpet of red lava rock around it. "That's just one plant," says Anderson, adding that a single aloe or agave may be all a patio garden needs.