Succulent sitting area

Wreath-inspired planting makes for cozy sitting alcove
Debra Lee Baldwin

A wreath inspired this bank planting, which curves behind my semicircular sitting area in Escondido, California. I'd made a wreath using various kinds of succulents, and I admired the beauty of their fleshy leaves, sculptural shapes, and colors like silver green, jade green, and bronze. So why not plant a big half-wreath to sit in? In Southern California, most succulents do fine in partial shade, and many of them cascade beautifully. The best place to view their rosettes and whorls is at eye level, in a spot designed for lingering.

In early fall, I gathered my garden's ignored aeoniums, kalanchoes, and sedums and massed them above the sitting area's wood retaining walls (where the soil is fast draining and enriched with leaf mold and a potting mix formulated for cactus and succulents). Plants that stay small went in front, larger ones in back.

Next I prowled specialty nurseries for succulents with unusual shapes and colors, such as purple-black Aeonium arboreum 'Zwartkop', frilly-edged echeverias, and Aloe striata, which resembles a fleshy gray-blue star.

In addition to their evergreen foliage, many of these succulents offer a seasonal bonus: flowers of yellow, red, cream, or coral that last a month or more.

SUCCULENTS FOR SLOPES

Cascaders Sedums such as donkey tail ( S. morganianum) produce fat, overlapping, downward-pointing leaves. For color, you can't beat pork and beans ( S. rubrotinctum); the more sun you give it, the redder it gets.

Clumpers Aeoniums form lush clusters of rosettes that range from dime- to dinner plate-size, depending on the variety. Striking varieties include A. decorum 'Sunburst', with green, pink, and cream stripes; and A. arboreum 'Zwartkop', which is nearly black.

Showstoppers One large agave or aloe packs a lot of punch, but many kinds have vicious spines. For a great backdrop plant, use smooth-edged, solid-green Agave attenuata, which grows 5 to 6 feet across and produces pups.