succulent dish garden

A bowl of showy water-retaining plants.

UCanGrowThat 2






Of all the plants for the garden, I believe succulents are the most versatile. They not only come in a wide range of size, shape, color and form, but they are so adaptable that they can become an ornamental garden building material. Use succulents to sculpt beautiful or bizarre focal points, populate sunny or shady garden beds, surface flat areas of different angles, disguise walls, create miniature landscapes in containers or cover roofs. What other plants can boast such versatility?


The Epiphyllum — a succulent called Orchid Cactus — has huge, showy flowers.


landscape cactus garden

Landscape with mature cactus and succulent plants

Succulents in large areas

The cactus is a succulent – a plant with leaves or stems that has adapted to store water. Using cacti and other adapted plants can make a decorative garden ideal for dry climates. Mix in pieces of wood or even cactus skeletons for texture and add some boulders to have this kind of garden paint a picture all of its own. These landscapes are low maintenance and save water in hot areas.  They thrive in poor soils, too.

Use them in small spaces

Since succulent plants come in all sizes, you can find plenty of plants to decorate a small garden, a patio, a balcony – or even build a whole landscape in a pot or dish garden with them.

Living benches

Little succulent-planted benches

Covering surfaces with them

These are fine plants for ground-cover use. The Ice plant (a common name given to several low, creeping succulents with daisy-rayed flowers) are often put to work carpeting large expanses of hillside. Using water-retaining plants is a good way to landscape for wildfire resistance. But remember that due to heavy leaf forms, top-heavy plants can tug on root systems on a hillside where gravity will weigh them down. Large rugs that are superficially rooted can pull lose and slide down steep inclines. They will do better on more gentle slopes or flat spaces. There are plenty of succulent plants with smaller leaves that are good for ground cover, too – many low-growing sedums, for example.

living roof

Here is a partially planted green roof. In dry areas, succulents offer an excellent material for covering a living roof like this.

Flooring is not the only way to use these handy plants. Grow them up in vertical gardens, plant them in pockets on walls, roof small structures like sheds with a top layer of decorative, insulating plants, or spill them over retaining walls.

The succulent as art

There are plants in this group that create their own artistic sculptures. Big, bold specimens can turn into unique-looking trees, single forms become artistic-looking focal points, and rows of them can create an interesting fencing – and a very protective one if you choose plants armed with thorns! Most succulents not only grow with interesting growth habits, but offer fuzzy, spiny, hairy or other textural surfaces. And most have flowers that can rival the showiest of the garden bloomers. In short, you’ll be pressed to find any other group of plants that will offer so much versatility as living building materials for the landscape — no matter what surface you cover with them.

large succulent blooms

Succulents come in large sizes with ornamental flowers like yuccas, puyas and dasylirions.