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Growing Succulents in the Garden Might Be the Latest Fashion – but How New Is It?

On my recent trip to Reno I visited the Sierra Water Gardens, a garden near downtown that specializes in succulents, water plants, and koi.

The garden’s own landscape in various designs of plants, water, and containers demonstrated quite well what the garden featured. The garden sits right on the Truckee River, which is quite low right now because Reno had little snow this winter, but there was enough water for the occasional water feature I came across as I walked the garden.

I saw succulents by the dozens in tiny pots awaiting the customer. Succulents can store water, or else they adapt to little water.  Cactus is one example, but also the sedum, certain forms of euphorbia, aloes, and, of course, agave, but there are many to choose from for that succulent garden.

I wondered how new is our attraction to growing succulents in the garden.

Nineteenth century Philadelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan wrote in the 1886 April issue of his magazine Gardener’s Monthly, “The question is what to do with pot plants in the summer?…Succulents like aloes, cactuses, and century plants do very much better when set out in the open ground; and this is often a great advantage, as the huge tubs these plants are often kept in all summer are dreadfully troublesome…These succulents can be so arranged that they make pretty effect in the open air.”

Meehan encouraged growing succulents in the garden. Thus cultivating succulents has a long history in the American garden.

In 1901 Cornell University Professor of Horticulture L. H. Bailey wrote in his Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture that succulents would make a fine bed for ornamental planting.

This is a black and white drawing that appeared in Bailey’s volume. [below]

Ccylcopedia of Horticulture, 1901
Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture, 1901

Bailey also suggested a less formal approach might be used. He  wrote, “When a large number of mixed genera and species of succulents is available, exceptionally attractive plantings may be produced by a combination of these in more natural rather than formal designs.”

Here is the entrance to the garden in Reno. [below]

entrance xxx
Entrance to the Sierra Water Gardens in Reno

And of course I had to take a picture of the succulents for sale in their tiny pots. [below]

Succueltns plants for sale at the XX Garden in Reno.
Succulents  for sale at the garden

It was a grand visit to the Sierra Water Gardens. I had never seen so many succulents in one setting and that made the trip so worth taking.  Thanks to my nephew in Sparks, Nevada who let me know about this special garden, and thanks to the sales team we met that morning at the garden who made us feel right at home.


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