If there is one hot plant group I couldn’t live without, it would be succulents. Their luxurious textures, shapes, and colors offer incomparable bold structure. I often create succulent gardens as miniature landscapes; they are perfect for outdoor dining tables or as centerpieces for seating areas, where you can appreciate them at close proximity. Plus, you can’t do better for low care and forgiveness for neglect. I became addicted to them for these reasons years ago. It’s a healthy addiction that I have no desire to give up.

Blue chalk sticks

Photo: Kerry Ann Moore

Name: Senecio mandraliscae

Zones: 10–11

Conditions: Full sun

The fantastic color and interesting texture of blue chalk sticks make this a standout choice in many of my favorite succulent combinations. It also has a refreshing upright shape, complementing the prevalent mound and ground-cover forms more common among succulents.

Purslane

Purslane
Photo: Susan A. Roth

Name: Portulaca grandiflora cvs.

Zones: Annual

Conditions: Full sun

Showy flowers aren’t often a characteristic of succulents. Purslane, however, is all about the flower. Roselike blooms float above a solid mat of small green leaves. Flower colors range from pure white to yellow, magenta, clear pink, and blush. A fair-weather friend, purslane has flowers that open only on sunny days. The plant is also useful for softening container edges because it spills out over the sides.

Madagascar palm

Madagascar palm
Photo: Jerry Pavia

Name: Pachypodium lamerei

Zones: 10–11

Conditions: Full sun

This interesting character has a thick, spine-covered trunk with leaves at the top, resembling a palm tree. Despite its common name, Madagascar palm is not really a palm—it just looks like one. Its exotic good looks and height make it a shoo-in for focal interest in seating areas. As a bonus, Madagascar palm makes a great houseplant during the winter, as it is one of the easiest succulents to grow.

Agave

Agave
Photo: Kerry Ann Moore

Name: Agave spp. and cvs.

Zones: 7–11

Conditions: Full sun

Whatever the species or cultivar, agaves (Agave americana var. marginata, pictured) are a no-brainer for my containers. They love summer vacations outside by themselves or mixed in with other succulents basking in the sun. When winter nears, I bring them inside with me. Unlike most plants, agaves hold their own indoors and look equally handsome when returned back outdoors.

Paddle plant

Paddle plant

Name: Kalanchoe thyrsiflora

Zone: 11

Conditions: Full sun

Grown mostly for its paddle-like architectural foliage, paddle plant commands attention in any container it inhabits. The flat, rounded, blue-green leaves have intense pinkish red margins—the more sun, the more striking the margin color.

‘Ogon’ sedum

Ogon sedum

Name: Sedum makinoi ‘Ogon’

Zones: 6–9

Conditions: Full sun with afternoon shade

This tiny ground-cover sedum forms a tight mat of dense 2-inch-high foliage. Unlike most sedums and succulents, its best color occurs with at least a bit of afternoon shade. This can easily be achieved by planting it on the north side of a container grouping, where the taller plants will offer a break from the sun. Although tiny star-shaped flowers grace the plant in summer, I grow ‘Ogon’ sedum for its foliage, which has the ability to soften and highlight the edge of a container unlike any other plant.

‘Zwartkop’ aeonium

Zwartkop aeonium

Name: Aeonium arboreum ‘Zwartkop’

Zones: 9–11

Conditions: Full sun

This bushy plant has gorgeous, tightly packed leaf rosettes at the end of narrow branches, giving a miniature-palm-tree effect. This plant is useful in succulent containers, offering a level of vertical interest as the rosettes tower above their shorter neighbors.

Pink vygie

Pink vygie

Name: Lampranthus blandus

Zones: 9–11

Conditions: Full sun

This versatile plant performs well with succulents or other sun-loving plants in mixed containers. The pudgy leaves of pink vygie are highly textural and visually engaging. I use the plant to soften edges in mixed combinations and to offer textural contrast to larger leaves found nearby. It’s also easy to grow.

Pencil cactus

Pencil cactus

Name: Euphorbia tirucalli

Zones: 9–11

Conditions: Full sun

This bizarre-looking succulent is easy to grow and can be overwintered indoors in direct sunshine or bright indirect light. Pencil cactus adds vertical interest to succulent gardens when small but can become large over time. Larger pencil cacti look interesting on their own or act as a great addition to a group of containers. Water sparingly, or let nature do the watering. When it gets too big for its britches, prune it back, but exercise caution—the white milky sap may cause skin irritation.

Zebra plant

Zebra plant
Photo: Dorling Kindersley/www.dkimages.com

Name: Haworthia fasciata

Zone: 11

Conditions: Full sun

Zebra plant can take—and actually thrives on—neglect. Because of this, it is an easy candidate to bring inside during winter in cold climates. Zebra plant is composed of an upright, slender rosette with tapering leaves. The plant makes an excellent accent in succulent gardens: It’s interesting up close, but it won’t steal the show from its more dramatic neighbors.

Not enough sun for succulents?

Succulents are easy but need the sun to thrive. No sun? Maybe succulents are best admired in someone else’s containers. To create textural wonderlands in the shade, try foliage-forward small hostas (Hosta cvs., Zones 3–9), club mosses (Selaginella spp. and cvs., Zones 8–11), baby tears (Soleirolia soleirolii, Zones 10–11), and bugleweed (Ajuga reptans* cvs., Zones 3–9). These shady characters will be right at home in your containers and offer similar results.

Small hosta

Small hosta
Photo: Michelle Gervais

Club moss

Club moss

Baby tears

Baby tears plant
Photo: Jerry Pavia

Bugleweed

Bugleweed
Photo: Michelle Gervais

 

Photos, except where noted: Brandi Spade 

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