Succulents That Don’t Suck in Winter

Succulents are my one true love (sorry, honey). Even though everyone is now drinking the succulent Kool-Aid and they’ve become more ubiquitous and overexposed than the Kardashians—I still covet them, design with them, and plant them with abandon.

Succulents are the ultimate in no-fuss plants.  That is, until the winter season hits. We all know that (blah blah blah)—succulents are filled with water which will freeze once the temperature drops. This will cause your once-pretty little plant to suddenly look like something the Swamp Thing smeared behind him when he came crawling out of his marshy bog.

We also know that, if a succulent has marginal hardiness, you’re supposed to venture out into the icy night and cover up your precious babies before the frost descends. Hmmm. Am I the only one that doesn’t have time for that crap? There is nothing worse than having to babysit a damn plant. I, for one, have way better things to do, like curling up on the couch with a pug, a Fat Tire, and an episode of “Portlandia.”

The answer, then, is to plant succulents than don’t need to be babied. Here are some of my tried and true plants for the Bay Area that seem to take all that frosty air in stride, and continue to add a “wow” factor even when it’s winter. This is not a comprehensive list, but just a few of the plants that are in my yard at the moment that are looking kinda’ purdy. And I almost forgot—freezing temps aside—if ANY succulent doesn’t have reeeeeally good drainage (add a boatload of 1/4″ lava rock or pumice to the planting hole) it will rot out in the rainy season. Keep it loose, people.

SENECIO MANDRALISCAE: HARDY DOWN TO 15 DEGREES, AND A BITCHIN' ICY BLUE.

ECHEVERIA SECUNDA: SUPER HARDY AND ADORABLE, EVEN WITHOUT IT'S SUMMERTIME CANDY-CORN FLOWERS.

AGAVE POTATORUM 'KISSHO KAN': HARDY DOWN TO 20 DEGREES, AND SERIOUSLY FABULOUS. A REAL CONVERSATION STARTER.

COTYLEDON ORBICULATA VAR. OBLONGA 'FLAVIDA': A MOUTHFUL OF A BOTANICAL NAME. MY FAVORITE SUCCULENT OF ALL TIME. IN SUMMER, IT SPORTS PEACHY FLOWERS THAT THE HUMMINGBIRDS DIVE BOMB.

SEDUM RUPESTRE 'ANGELINA': A ROCK STAR IN THE GARDEN. ALWAYS LOOKS GOOD. CAN TAKE ON A REDDISH TINT IN WINTER. SO HOT.

DUDLEYA BRITTONII: A CALIFORNIA NATIVE. CHALKY WHITE/GREY. 18" ACROSS. STUNNING, EVEN IN JANUARY.

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Getting Down and Dirty at the Salvage Yard

My family members are die-hard garage sale freaks. This is how we spent our weekends growing up. A large chunk of my childhood was spent picking through other people’s undesirables. This was our idea of fun. Other families played sports, hung out at the beach, enjoyed other normal, healthy pursuits. Not us, my friend. We were junkers.

Which is why I now think a Saturday spent schlepping around at a salvage yard (the garage sale’s cool cousin) is about as good as it gets. I can yap on and on about how earth-friendly I’m being, by finding old stuff and reusing and repurposing it for my garden. But that’s not the real reason I do it. I like salvaged stuff because it’s so freaking cool. And because it’s in my blood. I love finding random stuff and figuring out how I can transform it into something completely different, completely original. And I’m not alone. Oh no– not by a long shot.

One of my favorite local salvage yards is Building REsources in San Francisco. This place is a major hipster hang-out. You may have to shove a few skinny-jeaned-and knit-capped guys out of the way to get at the good stuff, but oh—it’s so worth it. Check out a few of the amazing finds from my last excursion:

I should probably know what this is. I don’t, nor do I care. All I see is some funky, rusty, radiatior-looking object that would be perfect embedded into a rock wall. Or laid on its side on top of an outdoor dining table, with tapered candles shoved in it. Yum.

Old window sash weights would look really neat pushed halfway into the dirt, forming a little edging border for a planter bed. Or dangling from a pergola to form some sort of kinetic sculpture.

Don’t get me started on old traffic light lenses. I’m a sucker for color and circles, so I would use these anywhere: embed them in a patio, afix them to a clear polycarbonate panel to make a poor man’s stained glass window, or screw them onto a fence in a geometric pattern.

Here’s a couple of things that I couldn’t live without, so I parted with some cash:

A bitchin’ manhole cover. This puppy is getting embedded in my front walkway (made of salvaged driveway concrete, natch). I’ll post pics later of the project.

A piece of steel with a “d” cut out of it. Perfect for a girl named Dawn, no?

Okay, these almost came home with me. I figured I would half-bury them throughout my back yard, to add color and some humor. Then I realized that these were no ordinary painted bowling pins. These were juggling pins that belonged to a clown. Clowns are the supreme ultimate in creepiness. I passed.

There is so much fun stuff to be found at salvage yards. And salvaged stuff can work in almost any garden style. Even ultra-modern gardens can benefit from a little age and patina being worked into the design. Roughs it up a bit. But for Pete’s sake, don’t go overboard with junk strewn all over the place. You don’t want the film crew for “Hoarders” showing up at your door. Keep it classy. And never, ever buy salvaged stuff that was used by a clown. That is just disturbing.

Tattoos: They’re Not Just For Hipsters Anymore

Every now and then I get a landscape client that is fully open to any design idea that I can dream up. When a recent client professed her love for rock and roll, I knew I had to incorporate something in the design that stood out, looked a little edgy, and reflected her inner rocker. What would be more edgy than a garden tattoo?

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Dawn, haven’t tattoos lost their edge by now? I mean, come on! The girl at the grocery checkout, my Aunt Millie, and even Justin Bieber have tattoos, for crying out loud. Justin Bieber!

Despite their ubiquitousness, I still think tattoos are kinda cool, especially when in an unexpected spot, like a garden. And there are many advantages to tattooing your garden vs. tattooing your butt, for example. First, there’s no needles and no pain. Secondly, there’s very little risk of contracting Hepatitis A, B, or C. And lastly, you won’t end up looking like a complete idiot, like when you get your boyfriend’s name tattooed on your booty, only to have him dump you soon after. That would suck. Tattoos for your garden definitely don’t suck.

Basically, a garden tattoo is a stenciled image that you can apply to a driveway, walkway, patio, wall, or any other flat and boring surface. I found my stencil from a company on the internet. Just do an internet search for “concrete stencils:” lots of fun stuff will pop up. You can also buy stencil film from an art supply store and make your own. Just make sure the image is not something lame. Remember: this is rock and roll, man.

Once you have your stencil, then you can begin. Start by cleaning the area really good, so whatever you use for the color–concrete stain, acrylic paint, organic beet juice if you’re into that sort of thing—will adhere properly. Here’s a picture of our space, all gussied up and ready for tattooing:

Next, stick the stencil paper onto the surface and peel off the top protective paper. Then, use a burnishing tool (either comes with the stencil or just use a credit card) to get all of the air bubbles out. Here’s a picture of the mind-numbingly tedious, pain-in-the-ass burnishing process:

Then, mask off the whole area so the stain or paint doesn’t get everywhere, and apply your coloring.

Apply any and all necessary coats of paint or stain and give them time to cure (this varies according to what you’re using. I’m pretty sure organic beet juice only takes an hour or so). Then peel the sticky paper off, do a happy dance, and immediately take a whole mess of photos of your handiwork. Lastly, plug your camera into your computer so you can download the pics and share your supreme awesomeness with your friends on Facebook and Twitter.

Make sure to take time to inwardly gloat about how your garden is a whole lot hipper and edgier than your neighbor’s. You may not have a retro handlebar moustache, wear a fedora, or have a tongue piercing, but you are cool, man, cool. Or at least your garden is.