Jeff Pavlat and Ray Clayton accept steep challenges with creativity and curiosity. When they bought a house on a rocky slope in deer country, they’d never built a retaining wall planter for succulents or a staircase patio from the ground up. They’d never even grown a succulent. Now Jeffs become an educator as well as a collector who experiments with propagating all kinds of plants along with succulents. I wasn’t really much of a gardener and then. When we bought this property, there was absolutely nothing here, and I was looking for things that I could use for my landscape that the deer wouldn’t eat and that I didn’t have to water and take care of a whole lot. A succulent is any plant that has evolved to be able to store water so it can go for periods sometimes prolonged periods without water and they do that by storing the water either in modified roots or stems or leaves. Succulents include all sorts of things from all over the world. They’re all different plant families. They’re not just cactus. Cactus are one particular family. I try most anything that’s cold, Hardy, and there are a lot of succulents that aren’t, but that’s what I have greenhouses for that. The pond was actually the very first gardening thing that we put in, and there was sort of a hole right at the entrance of the house and it looks like it’s in the ground, but it’s basically the pond was built above ground with a concrete block walls to raise it up, so it just raised the whole area up, so I didn’t have to dig down. He tucked in Aguaves and aloes, but you won’t find sedums since deer go for those tender, succulent leaves, Streetside deer ramble, past Jeff’s diverse collection that makes a small and tall textural contrast in greens against silver and grey. Many agaves make offsets or pups to divide. Sadly, the whale’s tongue does not, but this splendid agave goes out with a bang. I’m excited to see the flowers, but I’ll be sad to see the plant. Go in the end. To bank the hill below, he and Ray built a retaining wall planter. My partner, Ray and I did all the stonework. It took years. It was kind of a slow in the evening and on weekends project and we started at one end and started building the limestone walls and filled in with dirt and then began the landscaping kind of as we went along. He builds momentum along the slope, with contrast, including connectivity to the street garden’s backdrop. By the time we got to this end, I knew more what I was doing. It went more from necessity getting started. And then I started being a little more creative and thinking of you know what I would like the space to be like. And then when our son was born when he was little, he helped pitch in a little bit. He liked to help scoop mortar out. I wanted to have a sitting area. It has a nice view from there and can look down on other parts of the garden and I also wanted the millstone fountain and that was a good place to put that. There was already a little bit of a natural flat spot in the hill right there. On the back wall, Jeff arranged a stately trio of pedestals constructed with concrete tube forms, Yucca Gloriosa Variegata anchors bold entrance pillars spilling with native silver pony foot. He dotted the hillside with sotal agaves and cold proof. Aloe saponaria. Its flowers attract hummingbirds for months in spring through summer. Near the greenhouse, a swimming bed cluster’s, golden barrel cactus against specimen cacti, agaves and a standout sotal. Two robust Yucca Rostratas hold court above them. I tend to buy plants without thinking of where they’re going to go. A lot of the time I’ll buy them and sit them in pots for a while, and then I sort of think, you know, and I’ll take into account how large they’re going to get and what I think they would look good with. Sometimes he moves things around to find a better fit. Succulents don’t mind, though it’s easier to do when they’re small. He experiments to like with an Ocotillo that had been hack-sawed off at the nursery to about 18 inches, giving it a more spreading form. Ocotillo normally goes straight up. But when it was cut off, it branches out a little bit to the side, so it tends to wanna grow horizontally, so as it gets a little longer, I keep trimming and getting it a little bit more upright, just by careful pruning. The more things I found the more interested I got. And then I went beyond just what would grow in the ground here and started the greenhouse plants. Along with winter protection, he propagates succulents in the greenhouse. There’s just a lot of diversity out there, and there are some really exciting new succulents that don’t look like they should even exist. I mean, they’re so foreign looking. Greenhouse tents provide more indoor room. I do cover plants Still in the winter time, I cover less. After the three-day freeze, we had took out some really not cold Hardy things. I did put a few things back, but I tried to replace a number of things with more Cold Hardy. In a shady spot near the house, he grows Cycads, dionns and coonties, Silver Mediterranean fan, palm and spreading plum. Yew, get marginal sun. His favorite agave for shade is agave bracteosa. It will grow in more Sun, but it does great in shade. For a larger agave, I found the dark green agave. Salmiana does pretty well in shade. They grow slower in shade. Jeff’s garden is alive with pollinators going for the flowers. Wren’s nest in the tops of the Yuccas. I have a lot of lizards. There aren’t many pests, though mealy bugs can be annoying in Spring. He keeps a vigilant eye out for the killer. Agave weevil, though. It’s not a terrible problem for me, But it has been an issue at different times and when I get something infested, I try to take it out as fast as I can. So it doesn’t allow the beetles to keep spreading. There are also some little bugs that do chew on the Yuccas and I’ll try to spraythose are pretty easy to kill with soapy water. So I try to keep on those. I will spray usually in the morning and a lot of insects cluster, the ones that get on the Yuccas and things you’ll find some of these things, a little cactus bug that chews on a them clusters in the morning and that’s a good time to hit them, and then it’s not as hot. I haven’t had a problem with, like, safer soap burning. You do want to watch anything that has neem oil and a you know, horticultural oils. Those can really burn if they get too much sunlight on the cactus because it leaves an oily residue. He doesn’t fertilize. Since these plants natively grow in poor soils. Rainfall generally provides enough water, but in severe drought he wanders deeply once a month. When the prickly pear and things start to shrivel, you know it’s time that they want some water. For cutting old leaves off agaves, I use a serrated bread knife, and I like the restaurant supply for buying things like that knives and scoops for soil. The ice scoops work great. The sticky point for new, succulent gardeners is realizing how big a tiny nursery plant will get. You want it to look good now, and if you put a one gallon agave or one gallon sotal, and then you have six feet of clearance all the way around, it looks like a big, empty patch, and it’s going to look that way for the next 4 or 5 years. If that is a concern, you know, you can put other things in there to fill the space that you know won’t last quite as long or that are temporary, but you do have to keep in mind that some of them are going to get huge. I would also recommend, you know, for a lot of people. Leaving things in containers in your garden is very pretty. Particularly in small gardens, you can set out smaller pots and they are very easy to rearrange. Then if the pot is on the real small side, though you do need to protect it, Probably in winter, even for cold hardy things. I feel very comfortable being around the plants. I enjoy the beauty of them just being able to be around them. All the time is a big part of the joy of having them. It’s a nice, peaceful place to sit and be in the garden.