Sea bed

Re-create the look of an ocean reef with succulent plants

Debra Lee Baldwin

Imagine diving into the cool waters of a cove somewhere along the Pacific Coast, then peering through your diver's mask at the undersea life shimmering in the depths. What might you see? Perhaps a scene that looks much like the planting at Quail Botanical Gardens in Encinitas, California.

Created by Jeff Moore, a surfer, snorkeler, and owner of Solana Succulents nursery, the planting makes use of shapely succulents that mimic marine plants and creatures. For his seascapes, Moore uses small agaves, aloes, and groundcover succulents. Some are easy to find, but others ― like crested cactus, which grows into convoluted mounds resembling brain coral ― aren't.

To plant your own succulent seascape, start by stacking lava rock to suggest a canyon. Fill crevices with fast-draining cactus mix, tuck plants amid the rocks, and mulch with pea gravel. Complete your sea cove by paving its sunlit shallows with white sand.

Many of the tender succulents Moore used in this garden won't tolerate temperature extremes or prolonged periods of rain, so they're best suited to mild, coastal areas of Southern California. But you can achieve a similar subsea effect in other areas by experimenting with hardier succulents. Or use small specimens to create a seascape in a large, shallow bowl that can be set on a patio or tabletop.

Moore has also created undersea succulent-scapes for Sea World, the San Diego County Fair, and the Philadelphia Flower Show. His garden at Quail Botanical Garden, which he created with help from landscaper Bill Teague, is his most recent.

 Next: Succulents that look like sea creatures

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