Succulent Gardens for South Florida
South Florida gardens often strive to be lush representations of the idealized tropics: perhaps the wet, windward sides of the Hawaiian Islands, or maybe the Andean foothills of Ecuador without the biting insects and stinging vines.
The plants in our gardens are selected to provide a rich, green presence punctuated by frequent colorful bursts of bloom. Maintaining the tropical look in our poor, rocky, alkaline soils and annual dry season can require diligent watering, fertilizing, pest control and worry. Without a doubt, we can have fantastic, moist tropical gardens, but maintaining them can be labor- and resource-intensive.
Instead of emphasizing the wet end of our gardening spectrum, why not take garden design all the way over to the opposite side and consider installing a dry garden? How about a distinctive theme that looks great during winter and spring, our most comfortable seasons?
We aren’t in the American Southwest, and our gardens would never resemble that landscape, no matter how hard we might try. What we can grow to perfection are many plants from seasonally dry climates found in South America, the Caribbean and Africa. Think of raised gardens that use gravel mulch; of the brilliant red, orange or yellow of aloe flowers; of the variety of blooms of desert rose (adenium) cultivars; of the amazing shapes and diversity of succulents and cacti.
Succulent gardens are infrequently seen in South Florida. Because most people aren’t familiar with them, gardeners don’t consider creating their own.
A few succulent species regularly are incorporated in local landscaping, but the best way of learning about the amazing possibilities of succulent gardens is to visit the inspiring public ones at Pinecrest Gardens and Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden.
Through years of horticultural experimentation, the two institutions have developed robust and beautiful dry gardens. These botanical displays offer the tantalizing possibilities of a different sort of plant palette and garden design than is usually encountered. They demonstrate that the dry tropical look can be visually striking and just as well suited to our region.
Next month, I’ll discuss the approach and materials needed to install a succulent garden in a home landscape.
Harvey Bernstein is the horticulturist at Pinecrest Gardens.