Behind our black shed, facing the intense summer sun is a space that I thought I could do something interesting with.
It’s an exposed spot. Whatever I decided to do there had to withstand both intense summer sun, heat, and drought; as well as some pretty mean winds that slam in that direction in spring (at least until the shelter we planted last year grows up enough).
Seemed like it might be the right spot for some cacti and succulents. So for the last year or so I’ve been collecting plants, rocks, and old broken pots with the vision of making something interesting and eye-catching.
There were a few goals here: first, spend absolutely no additional money. I had the plants, and a whole bunch of junk. Everything I needed was available – it was just a matter of putting in the effort and actually committing to the project.
Second, use as much stuff as possible. Broken pots, rocks, old blocks of concrete, broken crockery… I’d been collecting crap for this project for a while and I was done with it lying about. Much of it had been sitting in a wheelbarrow for the better part of a year and I wanted my wheelbarrow back!
Finally, I needed to get plants out of the nursery. It’s getting crowded in there! An abundance of succulents and cacti had been added. There’s aloes, echeverias, sedums, crassulas, haworthias, echinopsis, opuntia, and more. Anytime something different came into the garden centre I’d worked in, I snapped it up, then I propagated it.
I knew I could create something cool and special with this collection of plants
I wanted to make something rustic, where the colours and contrasting textures of the succulents create the show.
I wanted them crammed into surprising nooks and crannies so they grew out of everywhere. Which meant I had to create a whole bunch of nooks and crannies.
There’s a local garden center I’m quite fond of. If you like plants and you’re near the Bay of Islands, I’d recommend a visit to Plant Zone Direct. They’ve got some cool things going on with succulents when you look closely.
I had materials, a space, plants, and my inspiration. Then, last weekend it all came together on a bit of a whim.
The truth is, I’m getting a bit overwhelmed with how much bad news there is at the moment. Mind-boggling attacks on human rights from the Supreme Court; war in Europe; inflation; pandemic; climate change; white nationalism; gun violence… it’s all a bit much.
I’m so angry about it, and I don’t even know which one is more important or what I can do about it. Let alone what to do with, or where to place my anger. How on Earth did we get here?!
On Saturday morning when the news about Roe v. Wade broke in New Zealand, I had to get off my computer. I wasn’t feeling great physically so I only wanted ‘slow, easy’ jobs. For some reason I found myself behind the black shed, clearing it off, and finally starting the succulent garden.
Making a start
The area had been sprayed back and we’d dumped a few bits of the ‘crap collection’ there. Then the grass grew back over the crap and got sprayed back again. So it wasn’t the most attractive looking part of the property when I started.
I wasn’t working from any particular design. This came together naturally by playing with what I had on hand.
I started by clearing out the space and half-burying a hunk of old concrete that had once held a post in the ground.
On top of that I stacked a chunk of wood I’d dragged up the hill from the paddock below the compound. I think it’s part of the root-base of a long-gone puriri – which is great because puriri is particularly durable and full of nooks and crannies.
I found a large pot Dad had given me, and half-buried that. Then went in a large broken pot my friend Helen had given me. I started arranging rocks and other bits around them.
I put things in, and took them out again. Richard and I went for a walk and found some more rocks on the property. Slowly it came together over the course of a few days.
There were a few plants I knew were going in here: a large crassula that had outgrown its pot; a 1.5m San Pedro cactus; and my Burn Jelly plant have been part of the plan for a while.
I thought about – and ultimately rejected – some Fan Aloe. I decided I wanted the San Pedros to be the star. They should outgrow the shed pretty quickly, and I hear their flowers are stunning.
I’d purchased the Burn Jelly from Koru Kai Herb Farm last year and I’d been letting it grow in a pot. It had grown enough that I could place in a few divisions to eventually create one fairly large area of it. It has lovely yellow flowers, a nice spiky texture, and medicinal benefits, so I wanted it group-planted to create a carpet-effect on one side of the garden.
Then I just started looking at what I had – both in plants on hand, and spaces to fill. I spent an afternoon pottering between the nursery and the garden bed, just experimenting and moving things around, planting them when I thought I’d found the right plant for the right spot.
By my count there’s 24 different varieties in there. It barely put a dent in my nursery.
The first test
About 20 minutes after I’d decided I was done, tidied up, and come inside; the heavens opened and just dumped rain on us.
My imagination decided the entire garden had washed away. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case. It withstood the first test magnificently.
There’s probably a few gaps left to fill, and I’ll do that when the inspiration strikes. For now, I look forward to seeing this thing grow and evolve. I think it’s going to be quite special.