Succulents for Fun and Defensibility in the WUI

I may write about GUIs but I live in a WUI - how'zat! - spelled out them's Graphical User Interface, and Wildland Urban Interface. Though the Urbs are a few miles from us, technically that's where we are living here in my neck of the mountains. And in the California WUI, we think about fire. A lot. If we're me.

I'm also thinking about how to have more varieties of garden fun. In addition to my mania for local- local plants and restoration, I've decided to explore the world of succulents and cacti. Not only are they fun, and some are very good food for hummingbirds, and - well of course - they are extremely drought tolerant - but in addition they are composed largely of water, which as we all know beats fire, in the game of Fire Water Wood, whereas fire beats wood all to heck and gone. Also, these exotics from other parts of the Americas are not likely to survive here without a bit of gardening support, so I am not worried - global warming aside - that they would invade the wilderness here (With one or two exceptions which are listed on the IPC web site.).

When I aired my plan to some folk recently, one told me of a place they had heard about where the owners had planted a lot of very large aloes like a sort of hedge around their property - and a wildfire came up to the aloes, and no further!

So after the native plant sale on the 8th Oct - which was a great success! - I popped over to the neighboring University of California Santa Cruz Arboretum sale, grabbed a shallow cardboard box, and buttonholed Steve, an expert on succulents. "Fill 'er up!" I commanded, cheerfully, and cheerfully he complied.

And last weekend I attended the first of a two day class on Succulents and Cacti, offered by Foothill Community College, taught by Christie Smith, who is in charge of a very special garden on the Stanford University campus. As you can read here:
The Arizona Cactus Garden was planted in the late 1880s by the Stanfords, adjacent to the site of their proposed new residence at the Palo Alto Stock Farm. The home was never built, and the Garden was abandoned during WWII. It currently is being restored.
Here is how it looked in the 1880s:

And here is a view I took on Saturday - followed by photos of amazing plants! We walked all over the garden with Christie who focused on a set of about 20 or so plants for us to learn more about. I hope you enjoy these colors and textures. Interestingly it's the tiny fluff of the Saguaro - the traditional cactus with arms we all think about - that is so irritating, more than the spines. I forget the name of that fluff now but it was used as itching powder - and very nasty stuff it is too. Don't touch any of those types of cactus!

I do hope you enjoyed the show!


Elephant's Eye said…
The box looks promising. Would like to see them planted out, or are they going in pots?
I wish I could grow A. parryi. So stunning large! I've heard of the succulent firebreaks as well. Good luck wit your efforts!
Wow, they have kept a lovely succulent garden! I have been adding them more and more in the garden. And I love hens and chicks in planters. They overwinter so nicely.
If I thought succulents could squelch our wildfire risk, I'd plant a whole 7 acres of them! ;) Unfortunately, our terrain will control any significant fire much more so than what I plant here. Steep slopes tend to alter fire dynamics considerably. That said though, we do what we can to keep understory growth in check. I've never really given succulents much thought though. They just haven't been to my personal taste, although I do love the look of the mature succulent garden. I'll be curious to see how yours look as they fill in.
Country Mouse said…
Thanks for coming by - I still haven't planted my succulents, and yesterday I got a bunch of cuttings and offsets. One thing about succulents, once you get started, you'll never run short - if they settle in! Claire if we get a mild to moderate local wildfire I think preparations can make a difference, from what I read (Fremontia issue on fire was very good). If we get a funnel o fire obviously we just hope we can get out with enough advance warning!
James said…
Does your box include any of those cool blue agaves from the garden? Interesting how one part of the garden you show looks almost like a colorize version of the earlier photo. These look like they could be great long-lived plants, as well as slowing down any pesky fires.