FASHION – “Im Sorry, You’re OUT!!!”

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This Los Angeles area succulent nursery was where horticultural fashionistas came to see and be seen. Is the trend over, like a slouchy beanie or teenaged vampires?
This Los Angeles area succulent nursery was where horticultural fashionistas came to see and be seen. Is the trend over, like a slouchy beanie or teenaged vampires?

NEWSFLASH! Succulents are OUT!!!

Gardeners may think they are earthy, practical people – immune to the vagaries of fashion. Nothing could be further from the truth. Fashion pervades gardening – plants go in and out of fashion just like red bottom Louboutins.

BUT HOLD THE PHONE – surely the garden world isn’t over their love affair with succulents, are they?

I have some clues to share that may indicate that some people who live in succulent appropriate climates are OVER those lovely, fleshy-leaved powerhouses of texture and form.

* One of my favorite local nurseries has reduced its formerly large succulent section to make room for plants with a higher demand (which happen to be NATIVES).

* At 4 (count them, FOUR) client meetings recently I have shown images of succulents to be met with almost open hostility. One of the couples even called succulents “Old Lady Plants”. I was beside myself with horror.

* I am ashamed to admit it, but … yes… I kind of understand.  My eyes are growing a little weary of them. Too many different colors in one container, too much punch in one area of a garden, color without restraint – these things are typical when using succulents. While I take exception to them being called “OLD Lady Plants”, maybe I understand them being referred to as “KOOKY Lady Plants”. Nothing wrong with a kook – I guess they have just fallen from the pinnacles of fashion.

I always described myself as a maximalist, loving colors smashing wildly together in designs, dramatic shapes creating prehistoric, jagged silhouettes – but now, I am starting to want something else. I want some restraint, some elegance. Maybe the sweeps of meadow and scrub I’ve been working with lately are getting to me. There is something so perfect, in my mind, about the simplicity vs. the overly dramatic. Succulents can’t help but be divas, they are Born This Way! (Shameless Lady GaGa reference – if she were a plant, she would be an incredible aloe of some sort!)

I don’t have the freedom of not having succulents in the palette of plants to be used in my landscape designs – they are so dependable for gardens in Southern California. The worsening drought here means that every plant that is adapted to low water situations will be utilized to its fullest extent. But I’m feeling that I don’t want to  “lean” on them as I’ve done in the past.

Maybe I’m growing up – it is almost a cliche that a designer eschews their former complex palettes for a more refined look as they mature in their profession. It could be happening to me. I hope not. I work very hard at staying crazy.

Or maybe it IS just fashion.Things bounce back and forth ( LOVE bright colors! Oh no, HATE  bright colors! Pink is the new Black! Actually, the new black is, surprisingly, BLACK, but it is blacker than all previous blacks). In gardens it is no different. and in my climate and others succulents have ruled the day for a long time. They were the new “grasses”. Which in turn were the new… what horticultural fashion did grasses replace?

What is on the other side of succulents? I know there is a huge surge for natives, but that seems more political to me than fashion (although I don’t know, politics can be very fashion-y!).

What do you predict?

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Ivette Soler

 

Fasten your seatbelts, Ranters, I hope you like riding rollercoasters! I’m Ivette Soler, a garden designer and writer who lives and works in Los Angeles, California. I have been designing since 1997, working primarily with the subtropical and succulent palette that thrives in my corner of the world. I started my blog, The Germinatrix, in 2004, and I have been enjoying a vibrant dialog with the online garden community ever sine. In 2011, Timber Press published my book “The Edible Front Yard“, in which I make the case for ridding ourselves of thirsty, dull front lawns in favor of beautiful, bountiful gardens that mix food with ornamentals. I am thrilled to be a part of this illustrious and opinionated group, and am looking forward to RANTING with all of you!

Let’s do a little speed-dating so you can get to know me better:

I am a Believer – I know that gardens and gardening can and will make this world a better place.

I am a Maximalist – I believe that more is more and more is better than less!

I am against Horticultural Xenophobia – If you believe that we must eliminate well-chosen exotics from our landscapes in favor of a natives-only palette, we might have words.

I am a Talker – I love to get into it! If you have anything you want to challenge me about, or if you want to dialog about anything I post, please comment away! My love of blogging is rooted in dialoging with a large number of passionate gardeners with diverse opinions. I will rant, and I expect you to RANT BACK

I cast a wide net – This is a big world, and I believe our gardens are more interesting when we open ourselves up to ideas other than those that come to us from the established gardening world. I am inspired by fine art, literature, product design, theatre, fashion … you get the picture. I will often bring in ideas from other areas of culture to our conversations about gardens and the way we garden.

I like exclamation points and sometimes … yes … ALL CAPS – I really talk like this!!!! I can’t help it!!!

I am eager to move the conversation about gardening and the place it has in our lives forward, so hop on, make sure you are strapped in tightly, and LET’S GO!

52 COMMENTS

    • Yes! Beloved CCC – where I have spent so much time and money cultivating a wardrobe of droolworthy succulents, only to be told they are OLD LADY PLANTS! Yea, as “Old Lady” as my Birkin bag!!! Puhleez!!!!
      ps – I don’t really have a Birkin bag. Full disclosure. But I’d like one. In charcoal or fawn.
      And I am hoping succulents will show us that, at the end of the day, they are classics – like that fawn gray Birkin bag I don’t have!

  1. As an avid user of Pinterest, I think you’re right. Succulents are out. Same with hostas. I’m not exactly sure what’s in, it looks like flowering annuals, native plants/grasses, and I get a feeling bamboo/bamboo-style grasses and indoor plants are coming back.
    I also haven’t seen any of those mini gardens in a while.

    • Susan P I think you are on to something – I will wager that INDOOR plants are the next craze. They certainly look fresh and cool in a way I haven’t seen since images of super swanky 70’s interior landscapes. I’m into it!
      Pinterest is a great trend forecaster, isn’t it?
      Damn it, though – I still love a succulent! I can’t help it!!!

      • There are a few succulent pics here and there. Mostly indoors. The interior design styles are getting more modern with a hint of art deco, you can make it work.

  2. And here I was…finally going to try succulents and they’ve gone out of style. I think they’re kind of interesting. I suppose if EVERYONE already has them, then that is why they are out of fashion. A person can’t be “noticed” if they have the same plants as everyone else. I’m going with mostly natives myself this year.

    • SEE? It’s true. What is “IN” and what is “OUT” – it’s very real! I think succulents are such wonderful plants, if they work in your climate, but just like anything trendy – they were over-used.
      I hope you try a few succulents and see if you enjoy them! Maybe they can be landscape classics, like roses! There is a rose for every garden, in my opinion, maybe there is also a succulent for every garden!

  3. Oh I wish I could use more succulents here in Atlanta – but they just don’t thrive in our extreme temps… but with that said, we still have a big craze for them and nurseries that have reluctantly grown them have been surprised at how quickly they sold.
    For us they represent a form and color palette that is unusual in our gardens which are usually crammed with broad leafed evergreens… so they are still novel.
    I guess we all get tired of what we are used to… come take our azaleas, please and leave us with some echeverias!

    • That if I leave you with a few echeverias and you can keep the azaleas? Now THERE is a plant that is kind of out of fashion.
      But I think anything can (and probably WILL) be rehabilitated in terms of fashion. I mean, sometimes a thing can be so “OUT” that it is “IN”
      So maybe in a few years we’ll be looking at an azalea / rhodie revival!

  4. I think people want green things more than anything else. That’s sort of understandable after ages of glaucous gardens, or succulent color riots.

    • I have noticed that many of my younger clients are asking for green, quieter gardens that don’t follow the indoor/outdoor trend of the last decade. I’m always happy to be challenged, and simplifying my plant choices is quite a challenge for someone who adores plants as much as I do!

  5. Visited Phoenix botanical garden with huge amount of succulents and cacti. Go visit there and you will either fall in love with succulents for the first time or all over again.

      • And David – don’t even get me started! I LOVE THE HUNTINGTON!!! To me, “The Huntington” means the desert garden. What an amazing place! I live in Eagle Rock, very close to The Huntington, and go there a few times a year. SWOON! How can beauty like that go out of style?

    • Oh, believe me – my love for succulents needs no reigniting! I have 17 different varieties of agave and 20 different aloe varieties in my typical, moderately-sized urban neighborhood garden, along with many many many smaller succulents! They are the backbone of my plantings, both in-ground and in containers, so imagine my horror when I was informed that they are OUT! I’ve always prided myself on being on the vanguard of fashion – sigh! We all can slip, I guess. To me, succulents will always be incredibly important, but I am interested in what the next horticultural trend will bring us.

  6. I, for one, still cannot get enough of succulents, at least as potted plants & groundcovers. But I’m not really one to follow fashion anyway. Yes, I love the look of meadows & broadleaf shrubs … but my suburban yard, front & back, is all about maximizing space. A few fountain-y grasses, a few camellias and the space available for fruit trees, fire pits (wait, are those out, too?), and veggies disappears. But with succulents I can add a lot of texture, form, and color without taking up a lot of space, especially since I prefer to stick to the smaller varieties.

  7. Succulents may have played out on the west coast, but we are always several years behind, and I hope the trend has not run its course here.

    BTW, I think this post was lifted by a feed scraper I was having trouble with. A note to their copywrite person seemed to have worked for me.
    stemleafbloom(dot)com/fashion-im-sorry-youre-out-by-ivette-soler/

    • But jades are the old-timers of houseplants (my MIL has one she inherited 20 years ago from her MIL, who had it for decades as well; some day I hope to inherit it). They’ve seen these trends come & go and know that what comes around goes around. Just bide your time & that jade will be fashionable again in time.

  8. While I tend to be bored with azaleas and rhodies since they are so predictably overdone here in the Puget Sound region, they are profoundly useful plants. What would have happened to the development of Japanese and Chinese gardens if their creators had been obsessed with trends? Sometimes special things happen when one follows traditions. While I’m not a big fan of sheared azaleas even in proper Japanese gardens, it is hard to argue with the spectacular effects that they can create as part of the palette of plants. On the other hand, massed in a rainbow mishmash of colors as “foundation plants” with a carpet of “beauty bark”-ugh!

    I’m not anywhere close to ready to abandon sedums, but we can avoid overusing them in ways that have become stereotypical. Common plants can be used imaginatively. I’ve come to realize that even if a plant is over-deployed in Target parking lot planting schemes and their ilk, it doesn’t mean it has to be us in such a snore-inducing way.

    Trends can be useful for waking us up to new possibilities, and certainly for driving sales, but first and last let’s ask ourselves, “Do I like it? Do I have the right conditions for it to thrive in my garden?”.

  9. Maybe some of the overly used succulents are falling from grace in So. Cal but there are a shit load of great new cultivars that are keeping the interest in succulents alive and well here in Northern California.
    … the next haute trend ? Epiphytes ,especially tillandsias and other bromeliads such as Vriesias, Alcantareas, Billbergias, Dyckias and Cryptanthus as well as the bog plant Sarracenia.

    • Those Flora Grubb epiphyte hangers and all the lusty photos they’ve inspired in magazines are so enviable – but not likely in my area with it’s alternating drought and frigid climate… but Georgia is the native habitat of Sarracenias and they are easy and tough once you get them planted the right way – and profoundly beautiful and odd – kind of like chickens!
      Michelle – you’re kind of shit-outa-luck though with them in Northern California since they love, love, love heat!
      If only those succulents loved the heat as much…

    • Oh, the mighty TILLANDSIA – I can barely turn my head without getting hit in the face with a TILLANDSIA! Girls are now wearing them as hair ornaments here, then taking them off, putting them on their dressers, and calling it indoor gardening.
      The plant trends ABOUND. But we have to be frank, Michelle – Los Angeles is way more trendy than the Bay Area. They will pick up and drop a trend so fast your miscanthus will catch fire. The fact that they are turning up their noses at succulents for the moment means little in the long run – I’m still going to use them, but hopefully in a more selective way.
      Just because you CAN stuff your garden with every succulent under the sun doesn’t mean you SHOULD. What is the old saying … the dose makes the poison? There is a very real over-saturation happening, and it would be nice to dial it back and allow these wonderful plants to become the garden classics they deserve to be, rather than on rotation as the flavor of whatever moment.

  10. I tend to think that true gardeners are less about “trends” and good plants don’t go out of style. Principles of design don’t change. The general public however is more subject to trends. I guess anything can become tiresome if you see too much of it. Personally I haven’t tired of succulents yet. Perhaps it’s more of a regional thing.

    Fairy Gardens are definitely OUT. Finally!

    I’m all about the big gawdy orange and yellow marigolds right now. I used to hate them. There’s something charming about them. A throwback to my youth, a simpler time.

    • I don’t know – I think even “true” gardeners (whatever THAT is – what is an “untrue” gardener?) can fall prey to the vagaries of fashion. It’s exactly what you said, sometimes you just see a thing too much and it needs to be banished from your field of vision. Right now, there is a succulent overload in Los Angeles, with every landscaped public space being striped out with agaves and senecio and sedums … it has become tedious! And I love succulents!!! But even my eye has become weary…

  11. I don’t think succulents will go the way of impatiens and the aforementioned azaleas especially in So Cal, but I fear you may be right that they have jumped the proverbial shark.

  12. Ivette,
    I got a good laugh from the ‘light my miscanthus on fire’ comment ! Very funny !
    David,
    There may be some hope for me after all with growing some of the Sarracenias, as I garden in a bit of a hot spot here in the Nor Cal area and there is a nursery just up the road who specializes in them ( California Carnivores )
    Even if can’t keep ’em alive ( been there killed that ) I have a trio of large scale ceramic Sarrancenias sculptures to add a little ‘Georgia plant lust’ to my garden.
    Thanks for the laughs,
    Michelle

    • I love that place – I’ve been there myself and I am so incredibly jealous of you for living in that area… if you mysteriously disappear and someone assumes your life I hope someone forwards my mail.
      I think its a lot about night-time temps for Serracenias. My advice – and I know you didn’t ask, but here it is anyway – is to put them somewhere that they will receive radiant heat in the evening from masonry – but don’t let the masonry leach lime into the bog because they need a very acidic soil.

  13. I’m glad you see the funny site to garden fashion, but geez it annoys me! Here in Australia – Sydney region we are having a fashion overload on Yuccas, and Cordylines. Now we have the clumping varieties and Flax’s as well.
    Boy, am I over it. Rows of stiff strappy foliage, often combined with the good old mondo grass! Don’t these people know that this fad will pass and you’ll end up with tall leafy poles, whilst mondo gaily abounds.
    Oh, sorry, this is your rant Ivette.
    I work in a garden nursery and see FASHION come and go.
    We had an overload of ‘the tropical look’ some time ago, until people realised the Cocos palm grows massive clumps of berries that drop
    EVERYWHERE!!! And attract the bats and grow into monster palms…. Oh sorry ,there I Go again

    • Astra, good for you! I am glad you are above it all. Keep the OLD LADY plants alive until the trend comes around once again! Somebody has to do it – like people who still wear Uggs

  14. “Well, you can say that even plants go through kind of a fashion in a sense. Their growth depends upon the seasons, like the way that fashion houses base their collections on seasons. As a friend of mine from Columbia SC Landscapers had once said to me, when landscaping for a community, expect that there will be people who are interested in the kind of plants their neighbors had asked to be installed in their gardens – which is also a kind of behavior one expects from advocates of fashion.

    Gardening and landscaping, of course, is an art so both come out either as an expression of the homeowner’s or landscaper’s preferences.”

  15. My front garden is all succulents here in Santa Barbara & I love them. I was a professional gardener for 15 years & love their non-fussy ways. Plus, with the current water (or lack of) situation in CA, I’m lovin’ my low water bill!

  16. After a long career as a designer (34 yrs this year) I think I giggled my way through your entire article, Ivette. What’s out of fashion in SoCal is just coming into fashion in Nebraska. What’s coming into fashion in SoCal is just going out of fashion in Paris. What’s cool for the young is horrific for the elderly. What’s très bien for 40-year-olds is so out of date for teenagers. So much is driven by place, culture, age, environment, AND most importantly, ubiquitousness. Overuse and boredom will kill any fashion faster than a hummingbird’s wing.

    Two years ago I attended the APLD Conference in the Bay Area only to be told that GRASSES are so done by both Topher Delaney and Walter Hood. Shocking! Now I see in the PNW that plants that eat bugs (Sarracenias, et al) are becoming the next big thing. Tillandsias are still popular, too, but I think waning. Like you, my younger clients are asking for just green and lots of it, with a few white or purple flowers it seems. It’s only the occasional client (usually gardeners) who want LOTS of color.

    • Vanessa Dahling!
      You have hit the nail on the head! It isn’t about these plants (or any plants, for that matter) to be BAD – it is just that like anything, the eye gets tired and the young long for something other than what their parents had. You have a keen, clear vision and see this for what it is, a natural cycle to things!
      I see it as a way to refresh, rethink, reposition, and let some new air into the whole design process!
      I’m so glad you mentioned the color thing – I’ve been seeing it too! None of my younger clients are wanting the riots of color that have been so popular for so long, they want green green and more green, with a few white and purple flowers. Very spare, very soothing. I’m going with it, and – for ONCE – I’m not rebelling and stamping my foot at them, demanding that they capitulate to my hyper-dramatic preferences of color and form crashing into one another. I’m trying to see if I can exercise some design muscles – flex that subtlety muscle. (where is that muscle?)
      Wish me luck!!!

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