March 09, 2021
After the prolonged deep freeze that Texas endured last month, which reduced our beloved agaves and other succulents to oozing mush and browned nearly everything else back to the roots, it may not seem…timely…for a Texan to review a book about succulent gardening. But it would be short-sighted for gardeners here to write off agaves, prickly pears, golden barrels, and other “hardy” succulents due to a freak freeze unlike anything we’ve seen in 30 years. Agaves in particular are too useful (as heat lovers and drought survivors), sculptural, and stunning to do without. I will be replanting with the hardiest of succulents, and I’m sure many other Texas gardeners will as well.
A new book that will give you tons of practical design advice as you start planning your succulent garden — or garden that incorporates focal-point succulents, as we do in Texas — is Striking Succulent Gardens: Plants and Plans for Designing Your Low-Maintenance Landscape (Ten Speed Press, 2021). Written by Morro Bay, California, designer Gabriel Frank, this attractively designed book is most useful for gardeners in coastal California and other frost-free (or nearly so) Mediterranean climates. But even those of us in Texas and other hot/dry regions can apply Frank’s design lessons for our use of hardy agaves, yuccas, sotols, and the like. Plenty of the plants I like to grow — Yucca rostrata, squid agave, whale’s tongue agave, aloes — show up in his featured gardens. And if you enjoy growing succulents in containers, regardless of climate, you’ll glean helpful design tips too.
Striking Succulent Gardens will inspire anyone who loves succulents, especially if you live where you can grow a whole garden of them. But for Frank they’re far more than just beautiful plants. He emphasizes their value for gardens where water is increasingly scarce, as an ecologically sensitive and money-saving choice. His design advice is geared to the do-it-yourself gardener and to collectors who want their succulent gardens to have a strong, pleasing design, not be just a hodgepodge of cool plants. Standard concepts like rhythm, form, texture, contrast, and scale are helpfully illustrated with succulent garden photos so you can understand just what he means.
Chapters zoom in on topics like designing small spaces, container gardens, cactus gardens, and fusion gardens. You’ll also find two chapters devoted to tools, techniques, and plant care, as well as propagation, so you can grow more plants for your own garden or to share. Twelve garden projects flesh out each chapter. In each, Frank provides a full-page photo of a particular style of succulent garden with step-by-step info about how to create it, including plant lists, compost and gravel amounts, and details on layering plants from the biggest focal points down to the groundcovers. Descriptions and growing information about his favorite plants are sprinkled throughout the chapters, as well as how-tos for projects like building your own metal container, growing succulents in cold climates, handling spiky cacti, and figuring out how much soil and mulch you need.
As a writer about water-saving gardens and a fellow succulent lover, I was asked to blurb the book before publication, so I actually read it last summer and then re-read it when I received a hard copy, thoroughly enjoying it both times. If you like succulents for their otherworldly beauty and/or want to save water with supremely drought-tolerant (and fire-resistant) plants, succulents have a place in your garden, and Frank shows how to use them.
Disclosure: A copy of Striking Succulent Gardens was sent to me by the publisher, and I reviewed it at my own discretion and without any compensation. This post, as with everything at Digging, is my own personal opinion.
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