Every December I attempt to come up with a regionally appropriate photo for my holiday greeting cards. This one is my favorite. I was inspired by the way leaves of Agave americana “Medio-picta alba’ have a cream stripe that suggests a ski run. To keep the skiing angel firmly on leaf, I used a gumlike adhesive.
When I found little styrofoam squares wrapped to resemble gifts, I impaled them on the needles of prickly pear cactus. It was challenging to find a cactus backlit so the spines glowed, and to get close enough to a spiny plant to decorate it. The perfect clump was clinging to a steep, rocky slope, and I ended up lying on the ground, bracing one foot on the base of the cactus, and twisting so I could shoot up at it.
I put a cluster of marble-sized red glass Christmas balls in the center of a dyckia, a stiff-leaved whorled plant. I was trying to create the illusion that the balls were the dyckia’s fruits. But I made an amateur’s mistake: When you look at the photo, you can see my reflection.
This is Aloe striata, commonly called coral aloe because the leaves are edged with a lovely line of orange. I was able to catch the plant backlit, so the orange glowed and echoed the warm red of the balls. This photo is on the cover of the current issue of California Garden magazine.
Glass balls on the tips of pointed leaves are a no-brainer. The one above is Agave americana ‘Marginata’; the one below, Agave ferox.
But when it comes to decorating agaves, I’ve yet to come up with anything I liked as much as what I discovered in a neighbor’s front yard one December: an Agave parryi decorated with a multicolored assortment of ping-pong-sized Christmas balls.
One year I bought a pair of diminutive Santas at a crafts store. First I had them garland Aloe ciliaris, which has dark green leaves toothed with white, and then a diminutive cholla, but I liked them best decorating a mini-forest of Crassula tetragona
Related to jade (Crassula ovata), Crassula tetragona (below) has slender green leaves that grow at right angles to upright stems. The leaves are progressively shorter toward the ends of the stems, making the plants resemble pine trees.
In addition to being a greeting card subject, this also served as a holiday table centerpiece. It and the skiing angel composition are in the holiday section of my forthcoming book, Succulent Container Gardens, coming out next month from Timber Press.
I wish all of you a Merry Crassula and an Agave New Year!