I’ve fallen in love with succulents. Which has come as a bit of a surprise. Admittedly, they are plants; you probably think it is par for the course for me to rave on about them. But these are succulents. You know, solid, static, dull-coloured, flat, spiky, lifeless, horrible things.
And yet somehow I have found myself at nurseries with trolleys full of the things. Green ones, grey ones, pink ones, purple ones; frilly ones, toothed ones, fanned ones, pointy ones. I can’t get enough of them.
So why the big change?
I think it’s two fold. One, I’m lazy. It’s easy to become a slave to the garden in Australia: watering daily in summer and needing to mulch, mulch and mulch again. I want to enjoy my garden, not resent its constant demands and so I figured replanting some of my pots with succulents would help me on my way.
Secondly, I’ve opened my eyes to different ways of using succulents. In the past, I’ve repeatedly seen them used in ways that don’t show them at their best. Either too many teeny tiny mismatched pots containing mismatched succulents effecting an overly busy display only your Granny would like, or, if planted out, a complete lack of integration with the rest of the garden.
Succulents are quite unique in style. Plonk a patch of them in the corner and they are always going to look like a plonked patch in the corner. They need to ‘talk’ to the rest of the garden.
So how do we get them chatting with their neighbours?
As ever, it’s all about connections. What do your favourite succulents have in common with your other favourite plants?
If there’s a silver succulent you particularly like, plant it with other silver plants. And don’t just plant one, repeat it across a bed so it looks like it is meant to be there.
Look at the form of the plant. What can you place it with that will tie it in holistically? Aloe flowers can look very similar to Kniphofia flowers; Agave often have upright foliage which might link well with similarly coloured Iris germanica. There’s nothing to say that you can’t mix succulents with different forms too; just make sure there are enough connections. The ubiquitous Buxus balls, frequently seen with soft wildflowers, provide much needed structure, their solid appearance giving the perfect counterfoil to more delicate growth. You’ll note that they work best when mixed with wildflowers with a similar shade of foliage; there always needs to be a connection between plants, even when you are designing for contrast.
And think about the size of succulents. Many, like Echeveria and Sempervivum, are very low; perfect for bowls perched on a garden wall or for in between stepping stones in a sunny location, but not so well proportioned for a bed containing taller plants. They just look out of place.
If you’re still in doubt, think of Sedum spectabile (above). A succulent with a form that works perfectly with other perennials.
And Cotyledon orbiculata var. oblonga ‘Macrantha’. Those lush, round, large leaves look great in almost any planting; almost as good a planting partner as the much loved, lush, large-leaved Hosta (in fact, much better in dry soils). The bright green colour blends perfectly with so many plants, whilst providing wonderful contrast in texture and leaf size. We saw this same look at Dame Elisabeth Murdoch’s Cruden Farm.
Succulents can also bring bright colour to a display. Think Kalanchoe luciae (flapjacks) or Euphorbia tirucalli (fire sticks) foliage, not to mention the many succulents that flower throughout the year.
Distinctive texture, form and colour along with virtually maintenance free growing? It’s no wonder I love them. They actually want to be in my garden, thriving, whilst asking for so little in return for their space.
And if you think it’s all too difficult because you live in a frost-prone region, think again! Agave montana, Agave victoriae-reginae and Aloe polyphylla are all hardy down to at least -10°C (hardiness rating H5) and Aeonium simsii, Echeveria rosea, E. secunda, E. elegans, E. agavoides and Faucaria tuberculosa are all half hardy (H3). Ice plant, Delosperma cooperi, will even survive down to -29°C and by providing excellent drainage and good sunlight you will be able to get many more through the winter.
If all else fails, why not create a stunning succulent sculpture for a sunny wall or table setting? Who can resist these gorgeous pieces made by Rosie Stevens?
Ever useful succulents really want to be your best friend in the garden. Are you convinced yet?!