Terra Sol Garden Center - The Horticult

Who, What, Rare: Where to Find Hard-to-Find Succulents

(Be sure to check out our Spring 2016 succulent show recaps for more sources and inspiration.)

Instead of meeting for coffee, we met over plants. Makes sense, though, right — when you’re breaking the IRL ice with one of your most interesting garden friends on Instagram?

It was Warren’s idea. That is, Warren Keller of @warrensgarden, where his calendula, echeveria and nasturtium shots will light up the murkiest of screens. You might remember Warren from the last story we did about him and his legendary generosity of advice, cuttings and seeds from his Lompoc, California garden. He got his start as a kid.

“I was young, about six,” Warren says, “My grandpa would take me to the local garden shops once a month. They had a ‘dead’ pile that they were throwing away, flats of plants on tops of each other. I would go through them and take the ones I could bring back to life — usually just annuals, like dianthus, that had two alive out of the six pack. The nursery man at Rolling Hill garden center in Buellton, California, said when I turned 16 he’d hire me, and that was my first job.”

Warren has lived in his condo for the past 15 years, and today he wows thousands of followers with shots like this, and his expertise in gardening. Notably, his great skill at growing sedeveria, echinopsis, sempervivum, aeonium, crested euphorbia, and other succulents.

Terra Sol Garden Center - The Horticult

In honor of retail, Warren Keller and I strike a JC Penney catalog pose.

Terra Sol Garden Center - The Horticult

So, at Warren’s suggestion we met at Terra Sol Garden Center in Goleta when Ryan and I were up there for the Santa Barbara International Orchid Show. Terra Sol is a wonderland of plants both familiar and rare, a place where string of pearl succulents spill out of fountains and cartoonishly flat dinner plate aeoniums hover over the lips of ceramics. Needless to say, we’re inclined to believe it when Terra Sol touts itself as having “the best selection of succulents in the Santa Barbara area” thanks to the plant-hunting savvy of main succulent buyer Tony Krock.

Mike Tully, who co-owns the garden center with Margaret Peavey, led the three of us on a tour of parts of the one-acre property. The succulents really are spectacular here — from the squat, speckled astrophytums (also called bishop’s cap for their shape) to the black and white Copiapoa tenuissima that resembles, no big deal, the entire Milky Way.

Terra Sol Garden Center - The Horticult

Warren Keller and Mike Tully. Warren’s garden in Lompoc and Terra Sol are both located in USDA Zone 9b, which can be tricky zones for succulents. Nine months out of the year most succulents will thrive, but for a couple of months a year some succulents need to be sheltered in the evenings to prevent exposure to the occasional but devastaing freeze. But it can be done…and is done very successfully, by Warren and Terra Sol Garden Center.

Terra Sol Garden Center - The Horticult

Copiapoa tenuissima.

Terra Sol Garden Center - The Horticult

Aeonium tabuliforme, or dinner plate aeonium.

Terra Sol Garden Center - The Horticult

Bishop’s cap (Astrophytum myriostigma).

Terra Sol Garden Center - The Horticult

Selenicereus pteranthus, princess of the night, or snake cactus, lurks along a trellised end display.

We also got to wondering where else gardeners-in-the-know found their rare succulents. So we checked with succulent expert Debra Lee Baldwin, who, through her books and presentations, advises on how to cultivate and design with these fleshy fauna. “I often see hybrid succulents I’ve never seen before, like as-yet-unnamed echeverias and crassulas, when I go to Oasis Water Efficient Gardens nursery in Escondido, California,” Debra tells us by email. “Oasis is owned by Altman Plants, the largest grower of cacti and succulents in the U.S. — they supply Home Depot and Lowe’s. Altman recently opened a retail, mail-order division that sells small succulents ideal for containers.”

And if you like to find lots of #succulove all in one place, Debra has another tip*: “Annual shows held by affiliate clubs of the Cactus & Succulent Society of America, usually in summer, have rare and unusual succulents on display, as well as vendors that sell them.

Terra Sol Garden Center - The Horticult

Here’s a closer look at that Copiapoa tenuissima. Kind of like a starry night…

Terra Sol Garden Center - The Horticult

Terra Sol Garden Center - The Horticult

Terra Sol Garden Center - The Horticult

Senecia rowleyanus ‘Variegata,’ or variegated string of pearls.

Terra Sol Garden Center - The Horticult

A variety of Adromischus marianiae.

In addition to Terra Sol, for extra special succulents Warren likes Arizona Cactus Sales. He also digs Annie’s Annuals, which has “some from time to time.” He adds, “In person, friends usually will give me a cutting of their rarer collections. It’s hit or miss, but Miners Ace Hardware in Morro Bay and in Arroyo Grande have some neat finds!”

And a word of caution…and words of advice: “Some of the rarer succulents can be tricky,” Warren says. “Crests are prone to rot and must have excellent drainage and a size-appropriate pot. I’ve been using Black Gold cactus mix found at Osh , since it has great drainage. I don’t need to add anything to it, like sand; I still use a unglazed terra cotta pot so that the entire root ball can breathe, not just the top.”

Terra Sol Garden Center - The Horticult

Bristle brush cactus (Mammillaria pilcayensis).

Terra Sol Garden Center - The Horticult

Terra Sol Garden Center - The Horticult

Warren shows us his crested ‘Medusa’s Head.’

Terra Sol Garden Center - The Horticult

Euphorbia flanaganii cristata.

In a nutshell, Warren advises beginners, “Be patient. Succulents, especially cuttings, take time to grow and root, and don’t over water. Sun is important. My climate is more temperate and my succulents/cactus do great with five to six hours of sun.  I think strong hot sun can damage and sunburn cactus.”

Thank you to Warren, Debra and Mike for opening our eyes even wider to this beautiful world. Here’s a round-up of places to find out-of-this-world succulents:

1. Succulents shows and sales. By far the best place to source rare succulents. Not only will you often find the best prices, but you get to meet the experts that grow them. Most of the popular annual succulent shows are held by regional affiliate organizations of the The Cactus and Succulent Society of America (CSSA). The CSSA is holding its 50th Anniversary show and sale this year! There are over 80 CSSA affiliate groups across the country and internationally, many of which hold annual shows and sales. Find (or even join) your local affiliate group here, and also a full calendar of events and shows.

Some regional Southern California shows that we have our eyes on:

Santa Barbara Cactus & Succulent Society’s Annual Show & Sale. May 16th, 2015, in the Upper State Street area of Santa Barbara. (Clearly, we missed this show, but it’s on our radar for next year!)
Los Angeles Cactus and Succulent Society Annual Drought Tolerant Plant Festival and Sale. May 30-31, 2015, at Sepulveda Garden Center in Encino, CA. (Our bags are packed. Look for us at this show!)
San Diego Cactus and Succulent Society Annual Show and Sale. June 6-7, 2015, at Balboa Park in San Diego, CA.
The Cactus and Succulent Society of America 50th Annual Show and Sale. June 26-8 at Huntington Botanical Gardens in San Marino, CA.

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2. Your local nursery. In case you haven’t noticed, interest in succulents has spiked over the past few years! Local nurseries (at least in our area) seem to be expanding their selection of succulents as demand grows. You might also get lucky at your big box stores like Lowe’s or even at your local supermarket.

3. Botanical and public gardens: From the gift shops at New York Botanical Gardens to Lotusland in Santa Barbara to the Desert Botanical Gardens in Scottsdale, make sure to check gift shops for these live souvenirs.

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A memorable plant sale display at Lotusland in Montecito, CA.

4. Shop online. Small potted succulent plants are very easy to ship (within the U.S.) during months without risk of freeze, and seeds can be shipped internationally. Here are few good sources that we’ve found:

Altman Plants. Founded in 1975 in the co-founders’ Los Angeles backyard.
Cal Cactus: A great place to buy bulk orders of unique succulents.
C and D Plants: This may be the place that sells some of the rarest species on the planet. Owners Craig & Denise Fry of Costa Mesa, California, are collectors of over 3,000 species of succulents. For now they are very small scale and order inquiries are handled by email. We’re patiently waiting for this statement to occur as printed on their website: “In the future, when we retire from our real full time jobs, we will grow into a larger operation.”
SMG Succulents: This online grower specializes Sedum, Sempervivum, and Jovibarba. We’re impressed with their selections within these genera.
-eBay: Yes, you can even bid on rare succulents!
-Oh, and don’t forget Etsy.

5. Share cuttings with friends. We like the idea of sharing succulent with friends. Succulents are some of the easiest plant specimens to propagate simply by breaking off leaves or cutting stems and letting the wound scar over and form roots in the absence of water before planting in soil. Not only is this the least expensive option, it’s also a great way to make friends. If you’re looking for a community, check out @succulove, @suckerforsucculents, @succulents_only, @succulentswappers and of course @warrensgarden and @thehorticult.

Terra Sol Garden Center - The Horticult

Terra Sol Garden Center - The Horticult

Gifts from Warren for our garden include aeonium, an aloe, and a porcupine tomato plant (Solanum pyracanthum).

For even more intel, request Debra’s list of San Diego Succulent Destinations—and get her “News from the World of Designing with Succulents” newsletter—by sending her an email.

– We know we missed a bunch! Feel free to share your (secret) source in the comments.

  • Barbara Swanson

    I found this amazing site to make a living online…I’m now close to making $3500 a month. http://tinyurl.CoM/os9ok4y

  • Susan Grayson

    I have A LOT of succulents and have made the rounds of San Diego retailers. Don’t look for anything unusual at Home Depot or Lowe’s, even Walter Anderson and Armstrong no longer interest me that much any more. Exotic Gardens has some interesting things, very reasonable prices. But my newest find is Planters Paradise–lots of new-to-me plants as well as fabulous, extensive selection of glazed and unglazed pots from small to enormous with the best prices anywhere.

    • Great tips, Susan! We love Exotic Gardens. And now we gotta check out Planter Paradise!

  • Kelly Dishman

    WOW your plants are amazing. I live in Ohio and most of my plants are tropical. Ive now gotten into agaves.

    • Kelly, that’s fantastic! How do you overwinter them?

      • Kelly Dishman

        I out them near a bright window and use grow lights on them. I also Have red mangroves that I do the samething with