19 October, 2009

Karoo Koppie - Succulent garden

Our last garden was on a 45 degree slope, with lots of rocks, in Camps Bay. So the Ungardener found this square, flat, featureless, rockless, ex vegetable garden
a bit flat,
and featureless.
We built a pond (see 6th and 7th Oct) with Pani’s Falls to the North East of the house. But on the South side, apart from a row of inherited fruit trees near the wall, the garden railway, and Apple Creek, we still had a large open expanse. We also had a problem. This was a newly built house, why is there so much builder’s rubble? Because first they built it. Wrong. Then they built it right, leaving a mountain of used and broken bricks, and a million bits of concrete. We chipped off the dry mortar and used those bricks to edge the paths.

Clockwise - Cotyledon orbiculata (large green leaves), spekboom Portulacaria afra, lost this name??,
Lampranthus multiradiatus (shrubby vygie), Aloe plicatilis (fan aloe)

Aloe greatheadii (with spots), Cotyledon orbiculata (grey leaves), Sansevieria (stripy),
Aeonium (wine-red leaves) and Crassula (orangey leaves)

Book aloe, tree aloe (A. ciliaris, a climber), Clanwilliam aloe, and nameless puppies
So we collected all the builder’s rubble, arranged it in an umpty-tump which looks “natural”, covered it with soil, and planted succulents. Our Karoo succulents are adapted to winter rainfall, but they still don’t want to stand in sodden clay soil, so a raised bed with a well drained core works. It is also a good home for tree stumps, photogenic dead branches, and my always growing collection of rocks!
An earlier generation here, as in most country towns in South Africa, had leiwater. There was a system of channels thru the town, and a roster, e.g. Tuesdays from 10am to 11am, the water is yours. It flows onto your small holding along your ditches, and waters your vegetables and fruit trees. The Ungardener collected our old sluice gates, recycling history, and arranged them on the Karoo Koppie. Nessie, a sheep’s head, or an eagle’s head?
Most of our garden succulents are South African, from the Klein Karoo (see 30th Sept). Two exceptions – Echevieria, for its Mexican roses, and because it spreads generously, and an Aeonium (also New World) for its gorgeous wine dark rosettes (and it spreads …) And the Agaves, which are going, going, getting gone!

Yellow Aloe, modern cultivar, bought at Rare Plants Fair

Pregnant onion, chincherinchee, Ornithogallum


Sour fig, Carpobrotus, which Californians know as a firescape plant
We have a glorious sweep of deepest orange/red Kalanchoe, which started as a minor ingredient in a gifted pot plant arrangement. Now we have dozens of plants, which are currently covered in garlands of flowers. Since it is such a happy plant, I have bought a very gentle orange/yellow to add to the intensity going forward. Kalanchoe, Echevieria and Sansevieria all prefer afternoon shade, so they are planted at the East end, morning sun, then afternoon shade from the mountain ash trees.
August 2008 we did the first planting. Having just finished the last bit of path, have planted the new East section. This is covered in drifts and swathes of the plants which are already flourishing here. Inspired by the Lurie gardens in Chicago?? There it was blue Salvias, on a far GRANDER scale. But the idea is fun, even in a domestic garden setting. Somehow soothing, and satisfying, and right.

Started in August 2008
Extended this week

Aloe speciosa, Aloe ferox, Sansevieria
PS A Koppie is a small mountain. Very small, in our garden.

Pictures by Jurg and Diana, words by Diana of  Elephant's Eye


  1. I have found succulents to be a lifesaver in my dry climate gardening. These are great plants.
    Thanks for this great post!

  2. Really enjoyed your post. Your plants are much like those we grew in Arizona. Love the succulents...they require so little upkeep once you get them established. Thanks for sharing.

  3. It looks fantastic! I really love those aloes.

    RO :o)

  4. I have learnt to love succulents, since I discovered such a variety of shape and colour in their leaves. From a tiny trailing ground-cover to stately tree aloes. And the sunbirds love the nectar in the depths of our winter.

  5. I am amazed that I can and do grow what you grow! My Darling started the cacti collection, then we both got really interested in them, and succulents, and now it is an 'our' collection. I never was really thrilled about aloes until mine started blooming, and when they bloom, they are beautiful!

    I am also really nuts about agave, since I learned to grow them quickly. Do you grow agave?

  6. I look forward to seeing your garden grow. You are off to a great start. I particularly love your Aloes.

  7. The succulents are a perfect plant for those areas where nothing else will grow. And they have such interesting shapes and textures. Like the way you used them in your garden.

  8. What a beautiful collection of succulents. They are a must in my hot and dry climate.

  9. You have already done so much if your house and garden are brand new. A lot of why I don't level my house and start over is that I can't imagine them squashing all my plantings and beds. I guess we all know my priorities are not completely strait.

  10. I love your succulents, and I am envious that you can grow so many more types than I can. I do grow lots of ice plants of various types, and a few agave that are hardy, but most of my succulents have to spend their winters in the sunroom. You are doing a great job at building your gardens in such an empty space. Reusing the builder's rubble to create your paths is very kind to the earth.


  11. Janie - I had Agave, but they attacked me and are out. How do you avoid those needles??
    Heather - of course the plants come first (that is after your asstd small people!). Told our builder the new house was just a place to drink tea, in between gardening, and he looked quite hurt. The house is 2 1/2 years old. Plus another year for pre-Ungardening.
    "Guardian" Angel - we do try to tread lightly.

  12. Love the succulents. There's a cactus house in our local conservatory that is always fun to visit. None would grow in Toronto without wintering indoors. My sister has had some success (now how can I pair that word with succulent...? hmmm) with them, because she's the houseplant girl around here.

  13. I enjoyed your post! I have to admit I didn't care for succulents when I first started gardening. However, they have "grown" on me and I think they are very interesting and unusual plants. They can tolerate this Texas heat, so I like them!

  14. my love for these plants are growing , and so are the plants. They are what I call 'die hards' they don't need attention and they love it ..
    Love your pics - Pravs

  15. PS Janie - have recently discovered that Sansevieria (mother in law's tongue) is part of the agave family. But NO SPINES!

  16. I'm browsing here from your link on a current post (today is 7/8/12). I'm also getting into succulents as a good addition to a native plant garden in a fire-zone - around the house. I just wrote an article for our local paper about an effort to rid our beautiful coastline - one small section of it anyway - of ice plant brought from South Africa to stabilize slopes here in California - and replace it with native habitat plants. So I am careful in my choices of succulents and little ice plants of course! Also your umpty-tump (lovely term) has made me think about a pile of broken concrete that's been lying around on my property for years, waiting for reuse. So far, I'm not making any reuse of it! Maybe I'll just throw some soil over it where it sits, and plant right on it! Instant umpty-tump ready for planting!


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