South African Adventure

– Posted in: Garden Adventures, Garden Travels, Succulents

One of the great things about being a horticulturist specializing in succulents is that I’m part of a worldwide community of like-minded enthusiasts. Case in point is an email I received this week from Jeremy Proctor, who lives in the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico. He had visited South Africa and sent me a link to a Picasa page with his photos of the marvelous succulents he saw. Below are some of the highlights, with his comments and then mine in italics.

“A kokerboom tree (Aloe dichotoma) — the first of many I saw up-close on this trip.”

And it’s in bloom! People may not realize that there are succulent trees. This one grows well in Southern CA, too, if given excellent drainage.

“Aloes blooming in front of the Cape Agulhas lighthouse, near Africa’s southernmost tip. Even this most challenging environment is teeming with life, including many succulent plants.”

I like the way the color of the aloes repeats that of the lighthouse.

“It is hard to resist climbing down to see what’s growing in the nooks.”

Uh…you go ahead, Jeremy.

“The biodiversity in South Africa is such that one can be completely flummoxed by the morphology. This plant, which had been uprooted, seems to be one thing at is base, another at its stem, and still another at the leaf. Surreal!”
 It looks a little like a pelargonium or artemisia to me…at least, the leaves do.
“The iconic Aloe ferox (I believe) were in copious bloom here in July.”
I agree they look like Aloe ferox due to their size and smooth leaves. But based on the horizontal inflorescence some exhibit, those might also have Aloe marlothi in their lineage.
“Conophytum, I believe. Effortlessly growing at the Kokerboom Kwekery.”
That’s a large South African nursery. These are each about the size of a wine cork. They have ice plant blooms.
“It wasn’t technically flower season, but this little succulent still obliged us with this lovely blossom.”
A lovely ice plant.
“I must have this plant in my garden!! Somebody please tell me what it is named. Look at those awesome seed heads.”
I’m thinking it’s another ice plant, possibly related to carpobrotus. 
“Bulb plants scratching out an existence at the (literal) ends of the earth.”
“A wonderfully savage euphorbia (I think). In African gardens, these are largely substituted for cactus, which are exotic — and often destructively invasive.”
Cacti are native to the New World, euphorbias—many of which look similar—are native to the Old World. I love all the multiple star bursts. Odd we have so many euphorbias in cultivation and available in nurseries in Southern CA, but not this one. It certainly looks commercial. 

“Some great compositions in gardens of Pretoria.”


This looks like it came right out of a Southern CA garden. The large red succulent is Kalanchoe luciae. It’s surrounded by graptoverias (on the left) and echeverias.

“These plantable retaining walls were everywhere in Pretoria.”

This one has Crassula ‘Campfire’ and echeverias. It’s a clever and easy idea for a retaining wall/planter, and concrete blocks are inexpensive and readily available. 

“I don’t know if everyone buried in this cemetery was a succulent lover, but it certainly seems that the succulents love everyone buried in this cemetery.”

Hm. Being buried beneath a blanket of ice plant…what a cool idea! (Forgive the pun.) This has got to be one of the most unusual uses for succulents I’ve yet seen.

See more of Jeremy’s photos of South African succulents. Thanks very much, Jeremy, for sharing!

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
12 comments… add one

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Marian StClair January 20, 2013, 6:51 am

All seems so alien until you get to the last photo, which could be in nearly anyone’s garden. After viewing the plants in their more usual settings, I want to dub this one “Bringing Succulents Home.”

Vidya Sury January 20, 2013, 9:25 am

The photos are breathtaking. Love the retaining wall!

Thanks – such a treat to read this post!

Belinda January 20, 2013, 10:11 am

Beautiful images! Thanks Jeremy and Debra.

Laura Balaoro January 20, 2013, 10:56 am

Thank you for sharing. So much more that we need to be available in our California garden.

karen January 20, 2013, 11:40 am

Oh the fun I could have planting up a retaining wall system!
Love imag 1094: it looks a “green” replica of Epcot’s Spaceship Earth!

Nicole January 20, 2013, 2:25 pm

Lovely photos and interesting post, a window into another type of landscape.

Who’d have thought, a succulent cemetery! But very practical in that environment.

I have 2 Aloe dichotomas that I grew from seed imported from South Africa, they are now 4 years old. I can’t wait for my aloe arborescens to bloom, they are also now 4 years. I also recently planted some South African bulbs for the first time: belladonna, babaina, ixia etc.

Sheila Schultz January 20, 2013, 6:00 pm

Thanks for posting these photos, Debra. The succulents are a delight… yet another reason to win the lottery so a trip to South Africa can be added to the bucket list!

Debra Lee Baldwin January 20, 2013, 10:04 pm

Thanks, all! Nicole, you don’t say where you’re located, but just about anything indigenous to South Africa grows well in southern and coastal CA because of the mild climate and no summer rainfall.

Jeremy adds: If anyone happens to want my contact information for more details on the pictures or on South Africa generally, please feel free to supply this e-mail address: [email protected].

andy January 22, 2013, 12:21 pm

Thank you for sharing a nice picture, I liked the picture of Pretoria

Candy Suter January 23, 2013, 2:44 am

How wonderful to be able to see these in person. What a lucky guy but it is so cool of him to share. I love the succulent grave yard. What a cool idea! Imagine them in flower.

Diana Studer January 26, 2013, 4:58 pm

yes, that’s a succulent pelargonium.

Willem January 31, 2013, 7:41 am

These are some truly spectacular plants. Thank you for these amazing photos.

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