THERE ARE some words in the English language that make me snigger like a schoolboy everytime I hear or read them.
‘Moist’, is one of them, regularly featured in cookery columns and food programmes , such as the Great British Bake Off, in which Mary Berry, would invariably commend a contestant for their lovely moist buns.
Another snigger inducing word is ‘succulent’, which again always makes me giggle when I say it, which is a pity, because I have a sneaky liking for the succulent plants that are a staple of the Spanish garden and terrace, owing to their survival on minimal watering.
The best way to think of succulents is as ‘fat plants’ as parts of them, usually their leaves, swell up with water and this stops them from drying out in arid conditions.
Cacti are the most obvious examples but sedums and sempervivums are also common, as they all share that fleshy, tender look and often have grey-green leaves, though there are plenty of others with leaves in colours that range from black and red through to yellow.
Succulents make fantastic houseplants, because they like dry air so are perfect for our Spanish homes and don’t need to be watered very often.
They require lots of light, however, so place them near or on a windowsill and make sure their roots are very well drained.
For a lovely display try gathering different coloured but similar-sized, rosette-forming sempervivums together in a shallow white bowl. A good place to start is with echeverias; maybe mixing red-pink Echeveriaagavoides ‘Lipstick’ with grey and purple Echeveriaagavoides ‘Vashon’.
If you do have a disaster and the plant looks as though it’s dead, don’t write it off straightaway.
Succulents have the capacity to rise again, so give the plant some tender, loving care and wait at least four weeks to see if it revives.
Hardy sempervivums and sedums, many of which will survive unprotected in frosts, are the most common succulents for planting outdoors.
As with the indoor variety, the best sempervivums have interesting varieties of tight rosettes. Sempervivumcalcareum has grey-green rosettes with lovely contrasting red tips, and Sempervivum ‘Moerkerk’s Merit’ is silvery- green with a soft velvet sheen.
Sedums are small- to medium-sized evergreen perennials, which are perfect for the front of the border and look amazing when planted en masse across a whole bed.
Try the grey-purple combinations you get with Sedum ‘Ruby Glow’ or the tiny ground cover stonecrop Sedum cauticola.
These outdoor plants really look after themselves. In the spring cut back any dead or damaged stems or leaves right down to the base, but otherwise they’re very low maintenance.
LOVE ME TENDER:
If you don’t mind spending some time looking after them, tender succulents can look amazing outdoors.
The plant that every garden designer loves is Aeonium ‘Zwartkop’, which has almost pure black rosettes of leaves on the ends of strong stalks.
This purpley-black mixes beautifully with so many other colours such as the lime green leaves and flowers of euphorbia or grasses, or the pink flowers of Lychniscoronaria – creating a dramatic, exciting look.
Other amazing succulents are agaves, so exotic and impressive, they have spears of fleshy leaves coming from a central point.
Two favourites are the smaller grey-leaved ones such as Agave parrasana or Agave parryi, which look great individually planted in terracotta pots and displayed in a regimented line.
Alternatively, if you have space, try the Agave americana, which has huge grey-green spears that form the perfect centrepiece in a more jungle-style garden.
OUTDOOR SUCCULENT SURVIVAL:
The main thing about tender plants is that they need protection during winter. If they’re kept in pots they should be brought inside into a greenhouse or a sunny place in the house.
If the pots can’t be moved or the plants are in the ground, it’s best to wrap their tops with bubblewrap to keep the frost off and to create an umbrella to shield the base of the plants and the roots from the worst of the rain.