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Get creative with water-saving succulents

Written by  Nikki van Coller
| in Tuin
| May 14, 2015

Turn your garden into a work of art with succulents, stones and bits and pieces from your travels, around the home and scrap heap.

This month, inspired by our Northern Cape theme, we look at ways you can use succulents and cacti to great effect in your green spaces.  Interesting pathways, paving centrepieces, unique garden mobiles and all sorts of other eye-catching displays are surprisingly easy to create. All you need is a little imagination, a few water-saving plants and a day or two spent playing in the garden. The Plaastoe! team also asked our garden guru for some tips and put our heads (and hands) together to create a succulent display. See the step-by-step instructions at the end of this article.

Inspired by the Northern Cape

        The Northern Cape Province is a semi-arid region that receives hardly any summer rainfall and very little in winter, only along a strip of the coast. The weather conditions in the province are extreme; the winters are very cold and summers very, very hot.
        The vegetation is well-adapted to the climate, the soil and the lack of water, and most of the Northern Cape falls within the Nama-Karoo biome. The plants of this region are truly fascinating and include a variety of succulents and cacti, the “half-mens” (also known as the half-man or elephant's trunk) and the tree aloe or quiver tree. The region is also rich in a variety of gemstones; malachite, jasper, citrine and rose quartz can be found along the river banks. Rose quartz and other gems, as well as good old-fashioned river stones, pebbles and small rocks can also be used in wonderful ways in your own garden.
Our team wondered how we could bring a little piece of the Northern Cape to the Western Cape and enlisted the help of garden guru


Willie Schmidt, who owns the fabulous Aspidistra Garden Centre near Stellenbosch. 

       “Succulents are really great because they don’t need a lot of water; they are hardy and can easily be propagated,” says Willie. “Aloe is also a  good plant to have in your garden because it attracts many birds and of course also has plenty of medicinal uses – for instance for sunburn. Succulents and cacti are generally low maintenance plants and require very little attention or fuss, so they are ideal to plant where water-loving plants have struggled to grow,” explains Willie. “Whether you live in the Northern Cape, Western Cape, West Coast or Boland, you can have a thriving succulent garden or mini-garden.”


How to create your mini-succulent garden

may-2015-tuin-4        Below are the easy-to-follow instructions. You will need about an hour or two for planning and design, an hour for clearing and prepping and an hour or so for the planting and completion. Ask around and find out where the best place is to find succulents near you.


Find a sunny area of your garden that could do with a point of interest. This could be smack bang in the middle of the lawn, or as part of your paving. You could consider an area where you have been struggling to grow flowers, herbs or shrubs. Because you’re using plants that are water-wise and thrive in arid regions, they are likely to do well, but it’s important that there is sunlight – think hot, light and dry, rather than dark, cold and damp.


Find an interesting piece of steel to act as the “frame”. This could be part of an old security gate or ornamental fence, 2 or 3 steel rings from a wooden barrel, old fashioned burglar bars… basically anything can be placed flat on the ground that has “compartments” for planting.


Design your piece around the steel structure. You might want to measure and then draw your design on a piece of paper (or on your iPad, if you’re that way inclined). Decide where you’ll place stones, gems or rocks and where the succulents will go, and make a list of the sizes you need to buy. Include any other creative ideas you may have.

may-2015-tuin-6STEP 4

Once you’ve finalised your design, it’s time to find your plants and anything else on your list. Most nurseries have a great selection of succulents – buy the plants according to your list/design, for instance two aloes, four large and eight small succulents. If you are lucky enough to find yourself in the Northern Cape before you tackle this project, you could find beautiful rose quartz, jasper, river rocks and pebbles along the banks of the Orange River. If you’re relying on what you can find nearer to home, check at your local nursery, visit crystal shops, pick up interesting stones you find on the beach or along the river. Try to use what you have, or can find, and your creation will have so much more meaning to you.


Prepare the area by making sure it’s level, clean and free of weeds. Place your frame or steel structure, making sure it’s straight, level and exactly where you want it. You might need to make a furrow of sorts so that your structure is slightly buried and therefore more secure. The soil should be well-drained with a bit of compost added – one bag should be enough. Moisten the soil before planting, but don’t overwater.


Now, simply plant your succulents and use the rose quartz or any other stones or objects you decided on to complete your design.

Succulent Care

may-2015-tuin-5Below are a few tips for looking after your succulent display:
•   When planting your succulents, plant in damp soil and then water lightly in a week or so. You probably won’t need to water in winter because of the winter rainfall, and in summer a light watering once every two weeks or so will suffice.
•   Aloe is inclined to lice. If there are only a few, don’t worry about it too much, because insects will eat it. If it does become a problem, there is an easy spray you can make – simply mix one teaspoon of sunlight dishwashing liquid with about a litre and a half of water and spray once a week, until the infestation is under control.
•   For most succulent pests, a mixture of strong scents acts as a great, natural deterrent. Steep lavender in warm water overnight and spray when needed. Garlic and chilli steeped in hot water works too – and it’s all natural, no chemicals!

•   Succulents don’t really need food; they are very self-sufficient plants. If you want to, once a year, you could add khakibos that’s been steeped in water for a week, or chicken manure.
•   Succulents are great because they are so easy to propagate. You can literally break a piece off and stick it in the ground! You can’t always plant a leaf – for instance an aloe leaf – but any piece of stem broken off and planted into moist soil should take root and start growing in no time.
•   Once or twice a year, take the stones out and wash them and just neaten up your mini succulent garden. The great thing is that because the plants are so hardy and easy to replant, you can even rearrange everything every couple of years if you want to.
        Remember, succulents are water-saving plants, making them a great addition to your garden. But don’t plant them right next to plants that require a lot of watering, as you will either be wasting water on the succulents, or not watering the other plants enough. Try to keep succulents together.
        We hope you enjoyed this simple succulent tutorial and wish you luck with creating your own mini succulent garden.

april-tuin-5Dankie aan Willie Schreuder, eienaar en tuinier van Aspedistra Kwekery. Foto’s geneem by Aspidistra Kwekery.

Address: Vlaeberg Road, Stellenbosch
Phone:021 881 3494