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.
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.
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…
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’.
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?
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.
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.