Autumn in the Far Southwest

– Posted in: Garden Musings, Garden Plants, Succulents

When you think of fall color, Southern California probably doesn’t come to mind. It’s more a Berkshires kind of thing, with entire hillsides ablaze with leaves about to fall. And yet, here in the far southwestern corner of the US, we have our own ways of interpreting the autumn garden—cactus, succulents, dry gardens, fruit and pumpkins all come into play. For example, in a nursery, I saw pumpkins juxtaposed with a blue agave—a nice contrast of color, shape and texture.

Prickly pear (Opuntia ficus-indica) is decked out with orange, egg-shaped fruit. It’s edible, but filled with seeds. The pads (leaves) are edible, too, and a delicacy in the Mexican culture. Called nopales, the skinned pads are chopped and mixed with egg dishes. I’ve eaten nopales once, and didn’t care for it—too sour. In open-air markets in Mexico, vendors sit and scrape the spines off the pads. How would you like THAT job?

A simple tabletop composition perfect for a patio is by Chicweed, a mother-daughter floral boutique in Solana Beach, CA. It showcases Euphorbia tirucalli ‘Sticks on Fire’ and Kalanchoe luciae (paddle plant).

Moon cacti, which are the colors of candy corn, sort of suggest pumpkins. The spherical cacti contain no chlorophyll, and are grafted atop a columnar cactus that does.

Another composition, this time in the landscape, also has Euphorbia tirucalli ‘Sticks on Fire’, which in this instance echoes the color of lantana flowers. Cactus also populates the dry streambed.

So, what’s growing on in your autumn garden?

My goal is to share the beauty of waterwise, easy-care succulents in gardens, containers and landscapes via blog postsnewsletterspublic speaking and workshopsphotosvideosmerchandise, and social media (Facebook and Pinterest). My books: Designing with Succulents, Succulent Container Gardensand Succulents Simplified. 

Debra Lee Baldwin
Award-winning garden photojournalist Debra Lee Baldwin authored Designing with Succulents, Succulent Container Gardens, and Succulents Simplified, all Timber Press bestsellers. Her goal is to enhance others' enjoyment and awareness of waterwise plants and gardens by showcasing the beauty and design potential of succulents via books, articles, newsletters, photos, videos, social media and more. Debra and husband Jeff live in the foothills north of San Diego. She grew up in Southern California on an avocado ranch, speaks conversational Spanish, and at age 18 graduated magna cum laude from USIU with a degree in English Literature. Her hobbies include thrifting, birding and watercolor painting. Debra's YouTube channel has had over 3,000,000 views.
Debra Lee Baldwin
Debra Lee Baldwin
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karen mulhern October 20, 2012, 6:35 am

Here in Fl where we garden year round same as you, there ARE unique seasonal variations, especially among the zillions of kalanchoe and cacus varieties. I’ve started to think of them as a replacement for my beloved fall foliage (that I miss terribly!)

Linda Jones October 20, 2012, 9:06 am

Great photos full of great colors! I love sticks on fire but am not crazy about the large agaves I see in landscapes. I understand they are almost impossible to dig up, too.

ann October 21, 2012, 7:07 am

Agave may be best in tequila, does not do well here in Dakota where we have freezing winter. A few Aloes can be overwintered in house but never see agave. I so covet that blue agave, Gorgeous photo

Cathy October 21, 2012, 8:02 am

We have prickly pear in our garden in New England, and being a novice with it, I made the mistake of touching it with my bare hands. I had dozens of those tiny little bristles stuck in my flesh — it took hours with a magnifier and a pair of tweezers to remove them. I am highly motivated to grow this and hope to see it bloom one day, but some guidance on the mechanics of its care would be helpful. The bristles also penetrated some fairly heavy duty gardening gloves! (So no, I would NOT like the job of scraping the bristles in preparation for cooking!)

tamara cucchiara October 21, 2012, 9:11 am

Karen, where in Florida? We are vacationing there in Jan. I love love succulents and cactus.

Reed Pugh October 21, 2012, 5:05 pm

Very cool and very foreign for a New Englander.

Debra Lee Baldwin October 23, 2012, 11:59 am

Hi, Karen — I’d love to know more about growing kalanchoes and cactus in Florida. Isn’t it too humid and wet for them?

Linda, yes, large agaves can be challenging to remove. It’s a major downside of growing them. But nothing matches a Volkswagen-sized Agave americana for adding a sculptural statement to a landscape!

Ann, glad you like the photo. Btw, only one kind of agave is used for tequila, the aptly named Agave tequilana. Hm. Maybe I should do a post on it?

Cathy, I use kitchen tongs when transplanting cactus. Also I don’t grow anything with glochids—the tiny fish hook-shaped spines that come off easily and are nearly impossible to remove. My sympathies!

Reed, New England is where it’s at for fall color! I’d love to see the Berkshires ablaze. Thanks for stopping by.

Nicole October 23, 2012, 5:22 pm

Beautiful pictures, inspiring too. I have an agave blue glow, opuntia and Euphorbia tirucalli. The latter I bought after being inspired by your book. But my sticks of fire doesn’t change color as it doesn’t get cold enough! Pretty, still.

I tried roasted nopales in salad with an olive oil and lemon dressing and enjoyed it (made it myself with a young pad from my spineless opuntia). In Berkeley a couple years we tried it at a popular Mexican restaurant –it tasted awful. After I convinced my husband and friends to try it! So how it tastes must be related to its freshness and preparation.

Geri Elfman October 24, 2012, 2:52 pm

Remember as a child when you would put Elmer’s glue on your hands and peal it off? Well this works good for removing small cactus spines also, it just pulls them right out!

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