Growbag Blog

Succulents – how far are you prepared to go?

Succulents, those plants with fleshy leaves or stems that store water to see them through drought periods, ought to be on all gardeners’ radars as our climate heats up, but they aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. There is a sliding scale of succulence from full blown cacti, through aloes and echiveras to chubby stonecrops, small fleshy euphorbias and finally modest little sempervivums. So how far are you prepared to go and whereabouts on the succulent scale do we three Growbags sit – full blown desert ? or modest little house leek?


First of all let’s be clear what we’re talking about; succulent is a descriptive term, not a proper botanical classification, and alludes to a species that has fleshy, water-storing tissue. Some plant families, such as cacti, are composed entirely of succulent species, others may just have a few species within their range that show succulent characteristics.

Being an old fashioned country girl at heart I can’t really connect with cactusy lumps such as aloes and agaves.To my mind they sit in the garden more like designer ornaments in the same way as China figurines, or trendy industrial memorabilia might do indoors. They are also too tender to stay outdoors over winter, and that’s a lot of premium space to find in your greenhouse come autumn, and the task of dragging the pots under cover is made doubly challenging by the array of razor sharp spines they often sport.

Aloe vera
There’s nothing actually wrong with Aloe vera, it’s just that it doesn’t do very much

But I am prepared to find room to overwinter some of the sub-tropical rosette forming succulents, especially aeoniums which grow on stalks of varying heights. They come in a range of arresting colours in the purple/crimson end of the spectrum. ‘Swartkop’ is the best known, but I think ‘Blushing Beauty’ is prettier. Their shape and the intensity of their hues develops over time and eventually a rosette or two will throw out a magnificent flowering spike.

Aeonium ‘Blushing Beauty’
Aeonium ‘Blushing Beauty’ was a gift from Louise and looks pretty demure most of the time.
But she’ll suddenly surprise you with a whacking great vertical flower spike.

The smaller (but still tender) echiveras also float my boat and come in a softer pale green/pinky colours. They flower more readily than the aeoniums often with arching flower stalks and contrasting peachy-orange bell shaped flowers. They lack the architectural stature of the aeoniums, but lend themselves to mixed planting where the colours can create a painterly effect. You might not want to go as far as the living pictures on display at RHS Wisley last year ….

but I like the little cameos you can create yourself in a simple pot…

Echivera pot
You may not want to go as far as a mounted living picture, but a collection of echiveras in a pot is easily achievable.


Oh Lordy, Laura is banging on AGAIN about peculiar plants. It’s all very well saying that their fleshy leaves will store water for months but the faff of any tender perennials (which most of these are) presupposes that you have somewhere to bring them into, to protect their delicate constitutions from the winter cold and wet of the UK. Or that you can be bothered.

And most succulents are so odd-looking. I’m always after plants that will sit well with other plants in a friendly, very non-socially-distanced way, and most succulents really don’t. My friend Geoff at Driftwood Gardens in Seaford has the most extraordinary collection of succulent plants but each one is a curious self-regarding masterpiece rather than a team-player. It’s probably laziness on my part, but I don’t want to spend my time on things that won’t ever fit into my ‘bigger picture’.

Sedums… you know where you are with a sedum even if they do have a dual identity as Hyelotelephiums.

There are exceptions – I thoroughly enjoyed an almost accidental combination of Aeonium ‘Swartkop’ and luminous orange zinnias on my terrace last year. It’s a pairing I’d definitely repeat and both were very happy in that hot spot.

Sempervivums (houseleeks) and alpine euphorbias are hardy usually and look interesting in a stone trough or along a wall. Otherwise, the closest I come to succulence in my garden are doughty clumps of border sedums (Hyelotelephium) in mixed beds with a range of grey-green or purple foliage…….and the juice of ripe figs at the end of July.


Being younger I’m a bit more ‘with it’ than my sisters.  Unlike moi, they don’t realise one must absolutely include hard core succulents if one wants to achieve the fabulous jungle of shapes and textures that London designers do in their courtyard gardens.

More difficult for me to achieve in the Scottish Highlands of course but Eureka! I discovered that Yucca ‘Gloriosa’ is hardy down to H5 – at last at opportunity for me to be ‘in with the in crowd!’ Tough, undemanding and so spikey even the dogs and toddlers skirt round her respectfully – what else could you want?

My Yucca ‘Gloriosa’ (bottom right) getting that jungle vibe going on my patio and apparently it’s up for a Highland winter too!

Well dynamism possibly. Laura does have a point – nothing seems to happen fast with succulents, which is why I’m now considering mangaves. Yes another exciting trend that will pass E & L by as they reminisce about cowslips and bluebells.

Mangave ‘Mission to Mars’. This is the sort of ‘on trend’ plant that us younger ones should be dotting about our borders. Pic by permission of Walters Gardens

If it means anything to you these are a cross between a manfreda and an agave and bred for their ability to supersize at warp speed. Not winter hardy so best to keep in a pot but with names like ‘Mission from Mars’; ‘Bad Hair Day’ and ‘Pineapple Express’ these are hot border bling you won’t be able to resist.

NB There’s nothing modern or trendy about Louises plant of the moment this week, it’s been around for decades but it’s still one of the very best clematis you can have – click on the box below to find out which one it is.

NNB If you’d like a bit more gardening chitchat from the3growbags, please type your email address here and we’ll send you a new post every Saturday morning.

By the3growbags

We're three sisters who love gardening, plants and even the science of horticulture but we're not all experts. We'd love everyone even remotely interested in their gardens to be part of our blogsite.

4 replies on “Succulents – how far are you prepared to go?”

What a lovely post, and what excellent timing. Thumbs up from me Ladies! I agree with Laura absolutely about Aeonium ‘Blushing Beauty’ – so much more subtle than the ‘Schwartkopf’. Anything that is from a drier climate than ours is a bit of a faff, you are right, Elaine, and I find that the most crucial decision is not whether, but when, if you haven’t got a greenhouse, to give these plants appropriate shelter for up to 6 months in a cool but light, bright space indoors dto save them from the (increasingly likely) eternal wet of the early British autumn – and winter, I love your jungle Caroline, and the fact that it includes (I think, although it may be a trick of the light) my favourite scented-leafed pelargonium: ‘Lady Plymouth’.

Hi Helen, great to hear from you and so glad you liked our witterings this week. Elaine here. What a long time since we’ve seen one another! Hope your lovely garden is going well. I am usually pretending to disdain Laura’s odd plant choices while quietly making a little note to look out for some of the nicer ones – that might be the case with that Aeonium…. Caroline says that she is thinking of starting a gender war – The pelargonium ‘Lady Plymouth’ did far more for her than ‘Lord Bute’ ever did! Enjoy your gardening this summer. All the best.

I’m beginning to appreciate succulents and have various pots and troughs. My aeoniums have never flowered though. I’m surprised you say Aloe Vera doesn’t do much. It’s leaves are well used in our household for burns and scrapes!

Hi Ladies
I was very interested to read this weeks blog on one of my favourite groups of plants … succulents.
As a busy self employed gardener I love using succulents of mixed varieties in various containers to add interest to areas of the garden that really require very little attention from me !
Yes most have to overwinter in my unheated greenhouse but the house leeks reliably stay outside for the winter and get titivated and repotted in the Spring. They are also so easy to propagate and if chosen carefully when buying new very good value as you can quickly make many new plants by splitting the mother plant up.
I appreciate they are not everyone’s cup of tea but if you want to try something a little different they are certainly mine ?.

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