Succulents are irresistible!It could be their subtle pastel colours – duck egg blue, minty green and dusky purple – or perhaps it’s their plump, juicy leaves; but they are addictive. Of course, it helps when you’re becoming obsessed with a plant that it’s also a doddle to make more of. Most succulents obligingly propagate themselves, producing circles of babies around their central rosette that are easily pulled off and potted up individually.
It’s the way they produce these offsets that gives sempervivums their common name of ‘hen and chicks’. They’re also known as houseleeks. There are tonnes available, with different coloured leaves ranging from green to bright red and purple, and most of them are hardy so can be left outside in winter. They do need very sharp drainage though, and excessive winter wet can kill them off. If there’s a lot of rain or you’re worried, keep them on the dry side in a coldframe or mini greenhouse during winter.
Soft-leaved and hairy varieties (some have fine wispy hairs on their rosettes that look like spiders’ webs) should definitely be treated like this. After flowering, the biggest rosette may die, but there’ll be masses of offsets around the edge to pot up.
Echeveria are my favourites; these succulents aren’t hardy, so you need to keep them frost free in winter, but their beautiful fleshy leaves are just gorgeous. The ones most often found in garden centres are a lovely blue-green and, in summer, have coral-coloured stems with red and yellow flowers.
There are cream and pink variegated echeveria too, frilly-leaved varieties such as ‘Mauna Loa’ and purply ‘Perle von Nürnberg’. Graptopetalum looks very similar, but often the ends of its succulent leaves are more pointed, while pachyphytum has fat little spoon-shaped leaves in blue grey – neither are hardy.
The best way to grow these succulents is in containers so they can be moved in winter. Their roots don’t need gallons of compost so you can use all sorts of different things to grow them in, from shallow terracotta pans and strawberry pots, to recycled printers’ trays, crevices in walls and rockeries, to holes in house bricks.
EVERY DAY: Eryngium giganteum
Also known as ‘Miss Willmott’s ghost’ because the thistly silvery-green bracts around its flowers turn silver as summer progresses.
EXTRA SPECIAL: Eryngium bourgatii
The same spiny, thistly flowers, but in this species they’re a brilliant metallic blue. Beautiful in a seaside-themed or gravel garden.
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