SLO Tribune: A Succulent Garden Spot, January 2008

Posted on Friday, January 11th, 2008
Written by Sharon Crawford, Photographed by Lance Kinney

Bob and Joan Field knew when they moved into their Pismo Beach home that they wouldn't want to maintain the existing lawn forever. But it took almost 10 years to decide what they did want. In the meantime, they eliminated some grass by adding a spacious patio and expanding the shrub borders.

The couple, both retired, needed time to acclimate to their new location and find their niches in volunteer activities. Joan is the publicity contact for the Central Coast Cactus and Succulent Society, a school docent for the Museum of Natural History in Morro Bay State Park, and a Literacy Council volunteer. Bob gives natural science talks at the museum, leads walks in the state parks and is an adjunct physics professor at Cal Poly. As research scholar in residence, he supervises natural science student projects.

In 2007, the Fields engaged Gabriel Frank of Gardens by Gabriel to replace the back lawn with a drought-tolerant garden that would showcase plants from Mediterranean climates. Joan, who's had garden design experience, sketched a plan [for the retaining wall] that Bob converted to a computer image. They expected Gabriel to use it as a blueprint.

"I like to bring clients into the landscape creation process when I can," Gabriel says, but most of his clients are not like the Fields and don't have such definite ideas. He also prefers to work with a conceptual image rather than a formal plan and move plants, still in their pots, around on the site until they look just right.

Despite their different methods, the Fields are delighted with the results of Frank's instinctive-design method. And Frank says, "It was great to work with Joan, so knowledgeable about succulents and passionate about gardening. Joan contributed her distinct style to my eclectic taste."

Retaining walls converted the rear slope into two terraces for drought-tolerant shrubs and perennials. The area near the patio was leveled down to bedrock, and cactus soil mix was mounded into two free-form island beds surrounded by decomposed granite pathways.

Plants were selected for their contrasting forms, sizes and colors. Their diverse shapes and subtle colors create numerous compositions, depending on the viewing angle.

Some are mature, while others are tiny, mimicking nature. The varied stones also contribute a more naturalistic appearance, while the pebble mulch helps to maintain soil moisture, prevent erosion, reduce weeding, and hide irrigation hoses.

The garden has one more quality that was important to the Fields: It attracts birds, especially hummingbirds, which visit the bottlebrush, strawberry arbutus, flowering maple, melaleuca and penstemon for nectar, and rest on the South African reeds. This lively garden belies any notion that cacti and succulents are boring.

© 2008 San Luis Obispo Tribune and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.

« All Articles