In 1998, when Maggie Wagner and Markus Mumper bought their house in Pismo Beach, their small lot had no recognizable garden. In the backyard, a rotting redwood deck was engulfed in weeds. And it was accessible only by walking around the house from the front.
Both work full time: She’s a veterinarian, co-owner of Nipomo Dog and Cat Hospital; he’s employed by REC Solar. Their “leisure time” during their first year was spent clearing weeds, including masses of ice plant that dominated the steep slope on the uphill side of their lot. That’s one succulent plant they dislike.
Wanting to learn more about growing the succulents that they do like, they attended a meeting of the American Cactus and Succulent Society in Phoenix.
There, they met gardeners from the Central Coast branch and soon became active members. Currently, Markus is editor of the newsletter; Maggie is co-librarian and treasurer-elect.
Now, their yard could be a demonstration garden, using cacti and succulents as landscape plants.
Beginning at street side, a Pachycereus pringlei cactus, purchased in Baja California 10 years ago, is now 10 feet tall. (They thought the seller said it would grow one inch a year, not one foot.) A small tree, golden barrel cacti and a sun-bleached animal skull share the concrete planter.
Maggie says they are “casual propagators” of their favorite succulent, Haworthia truncata, which they’ve grown from seeds purchased from the British Haworthia Society. Three shelves attached to the house wall support about 70 four-inch pots of the odd, stubby-leaved plants; they look like they’ve been sliced flat across, then diced and fanned out.
Across the walkway, several varieties of sanseveria and Tylecodon reticulatus (a jade plant relative) grow at ground level and in an eye-level raised bed atop a retaining wall. The concrete wall is masked by creeping fig vines and a delicate bamboo in a Japanese-style wooden barrel.
To gain better access to their backyard, Maggie and Markus installed a sliding door from their bedroom onto a small, wisteria-draped patio. Hanging baskets support vining cacti, including hoya, Rhipsalis (rope cactus), and another called Hindi rope. Hummingbirds sometimes nest in a staghorn fern attached to the house wall.
A 10-year-old Australian Willow (Geijera parviflora) and a low, bubbling fountain are the backyard’s centerpieces. Potted succulents line the broad backrest of a wooden bench near the fountain. Cacti, agaves, gasterias, haworthias and aloes grow naturalistically in mounded soil topped with gravel mulch. A small greenhouse at the back of the lot is evidence of the couple’s more-thancasual interest in propagating show plants.
While at the Central Coast Cactus and Succulent shows, Maggie admired the hand-built pots of fellow member-exhibitor, Charles Varni. She asked him to teach her his technique. Now she also displays show plants in her own hand-built pots.
She and Markus will take about a dozen plants to this year’s show, including Haworthia truncata and a stunning Adromischus “red coral,” a jade plant relative obtained from the Huntington Garden.