Here are a few of my favorites, including aloes, agaves and echeverias.
Thomas Hobbs garden

I took this photograph in the garden of Thomas Hobbs, author of The Jewel Box Garden. His garden in Vancouver is filled with tiny wonders like this one. Here, he has combined some incredibly beautiful, tender succulents called echeverias, with some seashells, bits of colored glass and a sea fan. It’s a living work of art!
   Agave ‘Kissho Kan’, photo courtesy
   of Plant Delights Nursery.
Aloe 'Carmine'
   Aloe ‘Carmine’
   Aloe ‘Donnie’
Echeveria 'Electric Glo'
   Echeveria x ‘Electric Glo’
Kalanchoe thrysifolia 'Copper Haze'
   Kalanchoe thyrsifolia
    ‘Copper Haze’

In an earlier post I talked about several interesting new container plants for 2009, which were featured at an event for the nursery trade late last summer. Besides all the great new coleus, begonias, angelonias and calibrachoas on display, there were also lots of terrific succulents. Here are a few of my favorites, which should be generally available at the larger garden centers this spring.

It was my friend and fellow Gardener’s Supply blogger, David Grist, who first lured me into the world of agaves. Last summer he gave me a stunning blue and white striped agave in a little pot and I loved having it on my front step. It’s spending the winter in my basement and will hopefully make it back for a second appearance. This was a “pup” or offshoot from a larger plant that he has managed to overwinter for several years now.

Novalis is a company that supplies lots of interesting new plant varieties to nurseries and independent garden centers. Working with breeders and propagators from around the world, they select varieties they believe will be dependable performers and of great interest to U.S. gardeners. One of the new succulents in their 2009 Plants That Work line is a beautiful agave that’s grown in Japan as a collector’s plant. Kissho
Kan has blue-green leaves with wide, creamy-white margins. The end of each leaf is “stitched” with prominent reddish-brown spikes. I sure hope I can find this locally! If not, it’s available online from Plant Delights Nursery.

Proven Winners, which is another great source for new plants, also has a couple nice agaves this year. Look for Blue Glow, which has pale green/white leaves outlined in burgundy, and Nova, which has elegant, wide, silver-blue leaves in a perfect rosette.

Proven Winners is also introducing (through nurseries and independent garden centers) more than a dozen new aloes, all with flashy variegation and lots with beautiful red, pink and orange highlights. Hardy only to zone 9, they’ll be happy for the summer growing in a pot or trough, and can be brought indoors for the winter months. It’s hard not to want one of every variety, but here are two I’ll be looking for:

Aloe ‘Carmine’ has the classic aloe stippling on its leaves, but its stipples are a mix of white, pale green and orange. The really stunning thing about Carmine is the way each leaf is completely outlined in a fringe of brilliant red-orange. I can imagine just exactly how great it will look in a little terra cotta pot, sitting along the walkway on the west side of my house. After several years it will top out at 8-10” H.

Aloe ‘Donnie’ is another variety with prominent white stippling on its leaves. It’s very short (just 3-5” H) and its special charm is a wide, coral-pink band of color on each side of the leaf. Wow.

Oh, how I love echeverias. I first fell in love with them on a tour of Thomas Hobbs’ garden in Vancouver (check out his book The Jewel Box Garden).
Here in
New England,
echeverias are not hardy, so are usually quite difficult to find. But, hopefully, the fact that Proven Winners is now offering a few, they’ll be more available. Keep your eye out for Echeveria x ‘Electric Glo’ and ‘Red Glo’. Both have loose rosettes of blue leaves with crinkled pink/orange edges. They’re tender (zones 9-11) and even at maturity are no more than 6-8” H.

One more new succulent on my list is Kalanchoe thyrsifolia ‘Copper Haze’, which has smooth, curvy leaves that shade from green to wine and rose. It’s another tender one, hardy only in zones 9-11, but would make a great specimen plant in a little pot or trough as it gets no more than about 8” high.

If you decide to try one or more of these plants this summer, be sure to pot them up in a sandy soil mix that’s specially formulated for cactus and succulents. The roots of these plants will rot in a heavy soil mix that stays too moist. I find they are usually happiest in full sun, and in pots that are porous, such as those made of terra cotta or hypertufa. Have fun!

Kathy LaLiberte Director of Gardening, Gardener’s Supply