Restoring an Aloe Garden

Aloe marlothii
 Pinecrest Gardens has a highly diverse arid garden. In the process of renovating it over the last 8 years, I've heard it called many things, some of which I can't print, but one of the old monikers is the Aloe Garden. To make the garden sound a bit more sophisticated, we've renamed it the Desert Garden, since Cactus Garden made many visitors wince when they heard it. I decided that it was time to renovate the Desert Gardens' collections of Aloe plants, many of which are simply stunning when they flower. I set out on a hunt for species that grow well in our wet climate.

Aloe 'Cynthia Giddy'
 I was dismayed when I saw the disparity between the species with grand dimensions or petite patterns and those other species which actually grow well here. Some of the larger Aloe species have fabulous branching flower spikes many feet tall that resemble a candelabra with brilliant orange flowers instead of light bulbs. BUT.....some of these gorgeous species also have fierce armor made of curving spines. There are few nurseries in Florida which have a wide selection of Aloe plants, but I was lucky enough to find Boynton Botanicals in nearby Boynton Beach, which I knew had some excellent plants for our needs. There are other nurseries in the state, but most of them were much further west or north. At the end of my order, I was able to acquire 11 new species and hybrids for Pinecrest Gardens, and I'm hunting for several more species. Some of these plants may come from western states, and I will have to acclimate them to our high humidity and summer rains. 

Aloe hybrid 'Hercules'
this is a small specimen

Aloe arborescens
a great species for a massed planting
There is a wide range of species and hybrids available, from miniatures a few inches across to species that grow into 30 foot trees with a dozen heads on them. I chose a wide variety of Aloe species, with an emphasis on large-growing species, and especially those which formed tall trunks. Our Desert Garden areas have more vertical room than horizontal, and I wanted to keep the armament away from visitors. The smaller types will be planted as a massed planting, and some will act as groundcovers. 

Aloe 'Marco'
a more user-friendly
type suitable as a groundcover.


A thorny reason why many people
shy away from the bigger Aloe species

As with so many aspects of gardening, there is a mind-boggling array of plants available for our use in gardens. Even with a short bit of research, I found 11 Aloe types at just one nursery ( albeit one of the most diverse nurseries in the US). I found nearly 50 more types available via mail-order nurseries, and a cadre of people willing to lend enthusiastic counsel. In a short time, I will be able to acquire the many species of arid-garden plants I need, and will be well on the way to renovating our old Desert garden collections, with new and more user-friendly species. I look forward to introducing our visitors to the idea that many desert garden plants can be user-easy and worth the time to wait for their flashy flowers. In addition, many of these species attract hummingbirds, so what are people waiting for ? 

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens  

1 comment:

  1. I'd be curious to see the complete list of the Aloes you are trialing there at Pinecrest! Certainly there are plenty of aloes from the more humid/tropical parts of South Africa, some of which also do quite well here in coastal northern California, such as A. thraskii. Which botanic gardens in Florida have some of the best aloe collections?
    David in Berkeley