Spending hours watering pots during dry spells isn’t something I enjoy doing; I’d much rather be relaxing in a deckchair with a glass of something chilled. So each summer, when it comes to planting up my container displays I try to include some drought tolerant plants that I know will be able to cope if I don’t get round to watering them.
Succulents are plants that have developed several adaptations so that they can cope with intense sunlight and long periods without rain, allowing them to survive in extreme climates. Fleshy leaves mean they can store water and that they lose less water to evaporation. They also ‘breathe’ differently to other plants, opening up pores in their leaves to absorb carbon dioxide at night when it’s cooler rather than during the day.
I just love the rich diversity of succulents. They come in so many different shapes, forms, colours and textures, which means it’s possible to create some really interesting combinations. Some are hardy and can be grown outdoors in Britain all year round, whereas others are tender and therefore need protecting from the cold and wet over winter. A greenhouse that’s kept frost-free is ideal, but they’ll be just as happy on a windowsill indoors.
Succulents don’t like sitting in wet compost so it’s important that containers have plenty of drainage holes in the base and that you use a specialist cacti and succulent compost when planting them up, or mix in plenty of sand or horticultural grit with a multipurpose compost.
Sempervivums, also known as houseleeks, are hardy succulents with green and red-tipped, pointy leaves that form tightly packed rosettes which develop baby rosettes known as offsets. I like to use these in vintage enamel dishes or old terracotta pots.
Sedums are low-growing succulents which form carpets of foliage that are studded in summer with star-like flowers. They’re super tough plants which makes them ideal for growing on green roofs.
One of my favourite succulents is Aeonium ‘Zwartkop’ which forms tree-like branches each topped with an open rosette of dark purple, glossy leaves. I first came across this plant when I was on holiday on the Isles of Scilly, which lie 30 miles off the tip of Cornwall. In the balmy, frost-free climate there these tender plants grow in people’s front gardens and they’re used to dramatic effect in the fabulous Tresco Abbey Gardens. Back in Yorkshire, however, these plants need to be kept indoors between October and May.
Echeveria are particularly striking; some have grey-blue foliage, while others are more purple or red. I really love the cultivar ‘Blue Frills’ which has frilly leaves with pink edges.
Seek out a specialist succulent nursery for the best selection – it’s like discovering the plant equivalent of a sweet shop. Narrowing down your selection is tricky, and it’s easy to become addicted to these striking plants.
Om Louise Curley
Louise is a horticulturalist, garden writer and author of the award-winning book The Cut Flower Patch. She’s passionate about the power of plants to make us feel happy and is an advocate for organic gardening and encouraging wildlife into gardens.Get to know Louise Curley
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