Super Succulents to the Water Wise Rescue

Jenna Stewart's Simply Succulents shows Southern California flower fans how they can be cool, colorful and green all over.

Photo by Jo Distaso Succulent expert Jenna Stewart created this arrangement in an outdoor planter. While they only need minimal water, the more sunlight they get, the more diverse color they'll show. 

Call it good luck or good judgment, Jenna Stewart decided to grow her passion for succulents into a business just as the wildly diverse, easy care, drought resistant plants were beginning to catch on in a big way.

Southern Californians had begun to weary of planting and replanting flowers every couple of months, and they were even more weary of their mounting water bills. Savvy people with an eye for design and problem solving like Jenna, knew that succulents could cure a world of gardening ills.

She first got involved with these near-perfect plants while helping to stage and landscape an LEED house. “The more I found out about succulents, they more they became an obsession,” she says.

Photo by Jo Distaso Jenna Stewart basically lives at work -- her succulent-stocked courtyard in quaint Tujunga Village is both a showroom and a front yard.

She began recycling old containers and various other items by planting attractive arrangements in them. She gave many away, as part of a service project, and encouraged others to do the same.

With the help of her sister, professional photographer Jo Distaso, Stewart started calling her business "Simply Succulents," and selling her arrangements online. The next thing she knew, clients were inviting her to come over to rehab their gardens with gorgeous, colorful, water-wise succulents.

“When people think of succulents, they often think of prickly cactus,” says Stewart. “They’re surprised when they see their brilliant colors and shapes.” Succulents have become the new orchids and roses, when it comes to giving flowers in some Los Angeles circles. They certainly last longer.

Photo by Jo Distaso Any old container can be used for a succulent planter -- in most cases, the older the better. Clients often bring favorite old pieces to Jenna Stewart of Simply Succulents, so she can design colorful, long-lasting arrangements in them.

Stewart’s business got an unexpected bump when the DWP started touting their plan to reimburse homeowners to replace their grass lawns to California-friendly, drought-tolerant landscaping. The local water and power company will pay homeowners as much as $2 per square foot of yard they convert.

Stewart didn’t intend to open an actual shop, but, “I always said that I would only do it if I could find a reasonable place on one of two streets: Montana in Santa Monica, or Tujunga in Studio City.” Both places have upscale village vibes, surrounded by conscientious homeowners.

It was one of her enthusiastic customers that found the perfect spot when she spied a building for rent next to her spa on Tujunga. A small cottage behind a real estate office, across from the famed Aroma Café, and a few doors down from the equally famous Vitello’s, was being refurbished, and she thought it would be perfect for Stewart.

It wasn’t much to look at. It had been rented out for special events, and had been painted purple for Jessica Alba’s baby shower. But once the construction was finished, it turned out to have the perfect, shaded courtyard to display arrangements, a side yard and work space to create them, an office, and, as an added bonus, a beautiful cottage where Stewart and her daughter could live.

Now she actually does live at work, but the situation is ideal for the single mom who can do things like whip up a batch of her prize-winning guacamole in between customers, or show them how certain arrangements look in an actual domestic setting.

She can also rent out the beautifully landscaped and designed courtyard for special events, like showers, anniversary parties and book club luncheons. She even arranges for catering.

In essence, her business is all about her desire to “enhance our environment and bring life to your space with ease and an environmental consciousness — drought tolerant, earth friendly. Whether it be your backyard, your office cubicle or your kitchen table, we want you to enjoy these lil creatures as much as we do!” 

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