Like many homeowners in drought-plagued San Luis Obispo, Warren and Vanessa Fujimoto decided to conserve water by removing most of the lawn from their suburban lot.
What to do next wasn’t as clear. Warren preferred a cohesive, minimalist design, while his creative wife craved variety and color.
The solution? A front and back yard reflecting the dual personalities of the property’s owners. Succulents’ colorful, softer side appealed to Vanessa, while their sculptural cactus cousins fit Warren’s vision of a modern, uncluttered landscape.
The Fujimotos began by eliminating all the grass from their front yard in 2015, replacing it with a base of beige crushed granite.
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A large magnolia tree now centers the curved driveway, while a trio of tall, existing palms anchors one side of the house.
Distinct groupings of large cacti, succulents and small grasses interspersed with boulders fill out the landscape. A showy, orange blooming protea shamelessly draws attention.
This desert-like scene warrants closer scrutiny. Rusted metal art pieces in the shape of cacti and insects nestle discreetly amongst the plantings, lending a touch of humor to the restrained design.
And then there’s the backyard. This is clearly Vanessa’s domain — a succulent Garden of Eden bursting with color, with barely a flower in sight. There are green, yellow and purple aeoniums, pink echeverias, soft blue-gray dudleya, and brilliant orange-and-yellow euphorbia.
A large, dry creek bed meanders alongside a small stretch of grass left for the benefit of the couple’s two small dogs. Succulents line the creek bed and fill several stone-rimmed “islands,” numerous pots and planting beds.
According to Vanessa, all this succulent bounty came from the same source 15 years ago. That’s when she received her first cuttings from a friend.
At first, Vanessa planted several of the cuttings in the west-facing front yard, but she soon discovered most didn’t like the hot afternoon sun.
So Vanessa concentrated her planting efforts in the cooler east-facing backyard, where the succulents have thrived and multiplied many times over.
Those initial cuttings not only served as the inspiration for the backyard, but developed into what Vanessa refers to as her recycling passion.
“You can break these things up and stick them just about anywhere,” she said. “I’ve given away thousands.” She enjoys knowing that she’s helped launch numerous mini-gardens for friends and neighbors.
The Fujimotos’ embrace of succulents has given them the drought-tolerant, low-maintenance landscape they both wanted, while allowing their distinctly different style choices the freedom to grow.
- Experiment using succulents in different places. Some tolerate full sun, while others need shade protection on hot afternoons.
- Don’t overwater. It’s lethal to succulents. Provide good drainage, and water just enough to keep leaves plump.
- Improvise by doing what looks good to you.
- Share the wealth. Give succulent cuttings to friends and neighbors.