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Up on the rooftop, a succulent garden

Diana Arsham's succulents are thriving on her rooftop.

Diana Arsham’s rooftop garden has changed considerably in the 25 years since she grew her first crop of pole beans and saw them eaten by the birds.

Vegetables take far more vigilance — and water — than other plants she has embraced as her ecological consciousness has grown and she has become ever more committed to permaculture — sustainable permanent agriculture that requires little water.

“I’ve been blessed by happening onto succulents,” she says. “They take very little water, and they have such interesting shapes. They add visual interest even without showy flowers.”

She waters only once a week, except in the rainy season, when she doesn’t water at all. And she waters by hand, rather than with the automated drip system many gardeners prefer, maintaining that it results in a closer connection with her plants and water.

A visit to her rooftop garden on a sunny afternoon in early March reveals a riot of succulents in variegated colors, shapes and sizes — and not a few showy flowers, including blazing orange blooms on ice plants and yellow spikes on chocolate colored aeoniums.

“We pretty much bloom in the winter,” she says. “Summer blooms take
too much water.”

Many of her plants are in fact summer bloomers from the southern hemisphere — especially Australia, Chile and South Africa. They do well in San Francisco’s temperate climate. Native California plants also naturally do well in the city’s wet winters and dry summers.