Best of Both Worlds: Desert by the Beach

When people think of succulents, they often envision the scorching, sandy environment of the desert southwest. This garden, on the other hand, is adjacent to San Francisco’s Ocean Beach, famous for its swath of fog and salty air. Though it utilizes almost 100 percent succulents, from agaves and aeoniums to fan aloes and cotyledons, nothing about this design really evokes images of New Mexico or rattlesnakes, to me at least.

Perhaps it’s the addition of warm, dark wood, or the sculptural brush strokes of the cypress trees, which also serve to offer a touch of deep evergreen amidst the cool blues, silvers, and corals of the succulents.

There is also no sense of harshness here – the plants spill out, inviting, from the between the rock edges, and the diversity of form is complementary and inclusive. (and note the urbanite wall and the sleek horizontal fence!)

Small ‘n’ Selective

With smaller gardening spaces, we tend to feel limited, like we have to cram it with every plant that grabs our eye at the nursery that morning. Of course, sticking to just one or two species can require a difficult level of restraint. But these two junipers possess a striking architecture, with enough difference in height and form, as well as varying shades of green, to create a powerful design. The addition of the offset rocks and gravel bed contributes to the meditative character. This small spot in the Richmond is a wonderful reminder that clichés are often true: Sometimes less is more.

Mini Desert

Sword-like leaves, an aeonium’s towering rosette, a cacti evoking visions of the desert Southwest: Check out the diversity of species and form here. It’s just a quick strip of soil, a plantable space that could be easily overlooked. The variety in height makes each of these plants pop — like succulent sculptures up against the wall — even though they’re all essentially the same color. And since all these plants are experts at storing water, the resource use and maintenance is about as low as it can get.