SLO Tribune: A Succulent Solution to Low Maintenance, November 2009

November 14th, 2009
Written by Sharon Crawford

Busy with a boutique business and nostalgic for Arizona, Ann Reeves--with help from landscaper Gabriel Frank--created beautiful cacti beds that save water and effort.

Like many locals, Ann Reeves came to San Luis Obispo to attend Cal Poly, and stayed. A home economics major interested in clothing design, she followed the Poly mantra "learn by doing" and opened a clothing store near campus as her junior year project. After graduation, she established ANN'S clothing store, now on Morro Street, its third San Luis Obispo location.

Ann's house was custom-built to her design in 1986. High windows allow an ever-changing pattern of natural light into the living areas. Outside, decks at several levels relate to the hilly site. In the backyard, a wooden footbridge over a seasonal creek allows access to the "croquet lawn" on the other side.
When the family moved in, they didn't realize that the usually dry creek could become a torrent during heavy rains.

Ann recounts a "teaching moment" when her two children witnessed the power of water as it shredded the vegetation it carried beneath the footbridge. Since then, the creek banks have been rebuilt and stabilized.

Originally, the front yard was the typical lawn and shrubs, maintained "mow-and-blow" fashion. Maintaining her store throughout the child-rearing years, Ann didn't have much spare time for the garden until the kids moved away.

Ann loves cacti; she regretted losing the desert garden around a Scottsdale, Ariz., home that she had to sell.

In 2006, she consulted Gabriel Frank of Gardens by Gabriel about growing cacti and succulents in the San Luis Obispo climate. He designed and planted two spaces: one at the terminus of the driveway, and a larger, mounded bed that follows the curve of the cul-de-sac street."These succulents grow far better here than any I've seen in Arizona," Ann said.

During summer 2007, Frank laid a flagstone pathway to direct visitors to the hidden front door. In the shade of an existing Leyland cypress, he created a lush tropical garden of foliage plants there. Ann has further enhanced the entrance area with assorted container plants. Later, the flagstone path was extended around the house and expanded into a patio adjacent to a backyard deck.

In 2008, Ann and her neighbor Jackie decided to remove the sickly Ceanothus hedge that defined their property line. After Frank replaced the hedge with succulents, Jackie asked him to extend the succulent bed further onto her property. The diversity of this street-side planting provides more visual interest than a single-plant hedge.

In addition to their appearance, Ann appreciates the succulents for economic reasons. The drip system for the succulents runs 45 minutes every two weeks. Ann noticed an immediate reduction in her monthly water bill.

Frank enjoys continuing with routine maintenance, explaining, "Ann has such a dynamic piece of property, the way it wraps around the house with the different slopes, the creek and the bridge. It has been amazing to work with Ann and see the gardens flourish in time."

Sharon Crawford is a freelance writer who lives in Los Osos.


  • Rethink your water usage and consider replacing some grass with succulents.
  • Learn about the great variety of succulents (they aren't all spiny).
  • Prickly pear cactus (nopales) can be cooked as side dishes; the fruit (tunas) can be pureed for a salad dressing, or cooked down to syrup to sweeten lemonade or tea.

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