This week we visit with Tom Harvey at The Atlanta Botanical
Garden. Tom shows us their Succulent Garden, talks about
the installation and maintenance of this garden and introduces
us to several of his favorites.
A succulent is any plant that stores vast
amounts of water in its leaves, stems or roots. These plants
normally live in a water restricted environment, what we
usually think of as a desert environment. However, they
do live in other parts of the world. They live in the Southeast,
the Southwest, the Northwest, they come from Africa or Asia,
all over the world. Typically when talking about Succulents
one is talking about Cactuses, Agaves or Daisy Lerions.
They have massive root systems that often extend out yards
in every direction. They must mine water from the environment
where they compete with other plants. As always, the strong
survive. The roots aren't necessarily big and they aren't
deep. They're shallow rooters because in their environment,
when there is rain there may only be a quarter of an inch
or so and that amount doesn't go deep into the earth. Since
they store water, their leaves are usually uniquely shaped.
Most don't attempt to incorporate Succulents
into an annual bed, it just doesn't look natural. However,
Tom has seen environments where Agaves were growing with
Hostas. As well, Agaves and Yuccas can provide visual emphasis
in a traditional perennial or annual border as accent plants.
Whether you like the combination or not, it will cause one
to look further, because it is different. It draws your
attention to that area. Succulents look good when grouped
together, they play off one another. They look good in a
rock garden, in an area with a lot of masonry or rock mulch.
When working with Succulents one needs
to be slow and deliberate because they have thorns on them
and those thorns will stick you. The thorns are barbed,
when stuck they're like a fish hook coming out.
Tom has created a beautiful Succulent
garden. To do so he has employed methods entirely different
than with a traditional garden. Organic matter and double
digging isn't required. Tom had a flat space next to a building
and wanted some relief, something different. He literally
added construction materials- rubble, bricks, concrete,
dry wall and rocks. They were piled up to provide the ideal
terrain and environment for these plants roots to grow.
These materials help with drainage and aid in root growth.
On top of the construction rubble, Tom added what would
normally be soil media, but in this case he used various
sizes of stones and sand. It was back filled to ensure all
cracks and crevices were filled. This creates a similar
environment to their native environment, allowing their
roots to move and bring in nutrients and water. Tom has
bermed up the bed and Dr. Rick thinks it provides a nice
design effect. It not only is attractive but it is effective.
If the soil underneath is clay, for example, one doesn't
need to dig up the clay, just add the rubble on top.
How do you care for these plants? Succulents
require a very low Nitrogen source. Tom usually fertilizes
one time per year.
Everybody loves a beautiful green lawn.
Studies suggest that a green lawn and trees are the two
most desired landscape elements. Lawns typically require
a lot of water and many parts of the country are experiencing
drought conditions. Therefore selecting a grass that requires
less water is important. Zoysia, once established, provides
an excellent summer turf that doesn't require a lot of watering,
fertilization or mowing. Since it's a warm season grass
it has no water requirements during winter dormancy. Zoysia
thrives during hot summers and tends to go dormant during
long, dry summers.
Bermuda is another great turf for low
water use. It has the same low water use as Zoysia but it's
more susceptible to winter kill. Bermuda is another low
maintenance turf. It can be invasive, so planting it next
to a flower bed or other areas where it might creep is not
advised. It works well as a roaming turf, in large non-irrigated
areas, in parks or in isolated areas such as parking medians.
Buffalo Grass is also well suited for
arid and low water use areas. It only needs mowed about
twice a month particularly if it is kept about 2 1/2 inches
high. It tolerates drought, in fact it's rarely bother by
lack of water.
Regardless of the turf selected, drought
stress most likely will occur with all turf at some point
if it isn't irrigated. Be on the look out for browning on
the tip of the leaves, that is a sure sign the plant isn't
getting enough water. It doesn't mean the plant is dying.
Many warm season grasses go into what is known as summer
dormancy. This means the plant actually stops growing. When
this happens do not mow as often and don't fertilized as
heavily. In case of a severe drought some turf may be lost,
but these grasses are fast growing and should come back
and establish themselves as soon as water returns.
Tom shows Dr. Rick one of his favorite
Succulents, the Prickly Pear, or Opuntia. This one is thornless,
it has a smooth look. Tom likes it because it doesn't have
thorns, therefore it doesn't hurt him. The plants with thorns
are hurtful, often times just by brushing against the plant,
one gets stuck or cut. Thus the thornless variety is nice
to have around, particularly if children or pets are present.
Thorns are normally a protection mechanism to keep predators
and animals away so this variety is a hybrid. It was developed
for its' lack of thorns. This plant is edible. The fruit
and small pads and the pear itself can all be sautéed.
The fruit part or the pear part turns a burgundy color when
ripe, rub off the spines, slice it and sauté it.
It is wonderful. It flowers are a golden yellow blossom.
All Succulents have incredible blooms, they're bright, vivid
almost electric. This is its way of attracting a pollinator.
They have an ephemeral bloom. Some last for a day, others
several days, it varies from plant to plant. The blooms
on the Prickly Pear last 2 or 3 days but it blooms so prolifically
that it can be covered with blooms. Although this plant
has yellow blooms others may have a purple, pink or lavender
blooms. This plant has three seasons of interest. Dr. Rick
spots a dark brown area at the bottom of the plant. Tom
assures us this is just an old plant, the stem has become
woody. It has been cut back 3 or 4 times, otherwise it would
have taken over. This is normal bark, its been shaded and
getting old. The stem is very fibrous, the veination of
the fibers is what allows water storage. They can be hacked
back pretty hard and it doesn't hurt them, although they
may not look great afterwards. They do recover quickly,
typically by the middle to end of the next season, by then
no one will know the plant was cut back dramatically.
Opuntias take different forms. One is
called Chain Link Opuntia. Where the other plant had pads
this develops a chain link or joint. It too produces a fruit,
although not as edible as the first plant. It is more upright
plant providing interest from that respect. It has an electric,
almost magenta bloom.
Plain's Opuntia, Optuntia Polyacantha,
is a more prostrate form. It spreads, then little pads fall
off and root, thus it regenerates itself. It sprawls and
rambles almost like a ground cover. It can be found in Texas,
Arizona and as far north as North Dakota, which provides
an idea about plant hardiness. Tom has these plants somewhat
grouped together, the upright forms, the Chain Link and
the prostrate, all have a variety of habits which makes
an interesting grouping.
Georgia this week visits Rose Court, a
very special home on the east coast. Rose Court at one time
was a plain jane and was totally transformed into this magical
setting. The gates were an important part of the transformation.
Gates at the front of a home or garden add a sense of mystery.
One is called to look through and see what's on the other
side. As well they create a beautiful, formal entrance to
this grand home. Columns have been added which provide a
great architectural look. Combining the columns with lattice
creates a wonderful trellis. When the plants start to take
over the trellis, as the Roses have done, it becomes magical.
Bob Rich shares with Georgia the thought
process behind this beautiful restoration. Bob wanted to
create a sense of privacy. And he wanted to create a number
of outside rooms. It is captivating when coming through
the gates and under the pergola. Looking to the left Bob
created a sunken garden. This became a very welcoming, inviting,
private space. It was sunk two feet, which according to
building code, allowed the wall to be 8 feet tall rather
than 6 feet. On top of that is a foot of lattice, giving
in effect a 9 foot wall of privacy. This is particularly
important because the lot is 60 feet wide making it close
to the neighboring home. When entering the property you
come through the gate and under the pergola and you're headed
towards the front door. Suddenly, once you come to the wide
opening, accented by the end of the lattice work and with
the steps on the left, you look down. Bob has often seen
this happen, people stop and look in. It is an inviting
place, people are drawn in. As well it provides a sense
of surprise, all of a sudden a New England courtyard and
garden, it's unique. As well from the inside of the house
looking out, its inviting from the terrace, from the french
doors on the first level and the french doors on the second
level. Bob has created a spectacular oasis. Georgia thanks
him for sharing his home and creative ideas with us.
Agave, Parryi is another of Tom's favorites.
It doesn't look mean, the color looks almost ceramic or
plastic. Tom thinks it's a compliment to a plant when we
say it doesn't look real, because it's so beautiful. This
has an ice blue color and stays that way all the time. It
has black thorns that are wicked, but it makes for an unusual,
very striking color combination. Agaves put up a gigantic
bloom stock that may reach 6-8 feet tall. The plant uses
so much energy blooming that it dies after blooming. It
does produce pups, little offsets, and that is its primary
means of reproducing. These pups can be prolific and some
may need to be removed from the ground to keep it from overrunning
an area. Therefore it requires a little more maintenance
but it has a long interest. Tom leaves the bloom stock for
over a season and a half because woodpeckers peck holes
in them and nest. Other animals may use the bloom stock
as a food source or a nesting area.
Agave Victoria Reginae is one of the most
spectacular of the Agaves. It has white edges around its
green leaves which makes a dramatic show. It is striking
in texture and form. It would go well with a ground cover
or something upright. This plant is native to Mexico but
works in zone 8 and 9, as well.
Agave Americana is majestic. It needs
a lot of room to grow and live. It is almost other-worldly,
something from a science fiction movie. Tom started this
plant from a small pup and it has grown to this size in
5 years. They are vigorous growers. They need full sun,
but depending on your location could live in partial sun
depending on what's hardy in your area.
If space is a consideration try a Succulent
container. Tom has a trough garden made from hypertufa.
It would work well on a deck or in a pool area. The plants
can often be purchased at a grocery store or certainly a
garden center. Stick the plants in the ground and they grow
well. Tom used 3 or 4 different Cactus, a barrel type, a
post cactus, a cat tail, the choices are unlimited and you
don't need to spend a lot of money. Top dress by using permatil,
which is an expanded slate, this will increase drainage
and creates a wonderful contrast between the plant and the
Tom has several important tips for growing
Succulents. Make sure that you have good drainage. Secondly
when putting these plants together keep the design simple.
By that Tom doesn't mean don't have plant diversity because
there is an incredible amount of diversity in Succulents;
instead don't make the area cluttered, determine how you
want to organize your plants. Keep it simple, then it will
Dr. Rick thanks Tom for educating us on
Succulents. We appreciate his time and talents.
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