Playing with succulents

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Potted succulents growing at the Secret Garden & Nursery, Richmond, NSW

I have to confess that I know very little about succulents. To me they were always something my grandma grew in containers on a tiered pot stand on her balcony; she enjoyed collecting the many different forms and colours of the plants. So I was surprised recently that my daughter and her friend spent a morning making 'succulent terrariums' - a variant of the enclosed terrariums that have made a come-back lately amongst Gen Ys.

A succulent terrarium made by my daughter

A succulent terrarium is a made in an open glass bowl (my daughter used a punch bowl) unlike the closed-in system of the traditional terrarium. Layers of pebbles, activated charcoal and then sphagnum moss are built up, then special potting mix suited to cacti and succulents is put on top of these layers. Small succulent plants are artistically arranged in the potting mix, playing with colour, form and texture, more pebbles are placed around the plants for effect, with even a bit of Spanish moss strewn in between the plants. The resultant terrarium is a decorative feature to be placed on a table where there is sufficient indirect light to reach it. The plants are misted with an atomiser whenever the soil gets dry: overwatering is to be avoided, as the plants may rot off.

Succulents growing in a terracotta pot in the garden of Leanne Parker in Sydney

Outdoors, a large, low terracotta bowl filled with the appropriate potting mix can be planted up with a mixture of different succulents. Once created, it is fairly low maintenance and will survive considerable neglect. Some succulents, particularly Echeveria and Kalanchoe species and cultivars are so striking and sculptural in form that planting a few of the same type in a pot can form an eye-catching focal point.

Succulents growing in the garden of Jill Budden in Springwood, NSW

I have seen succulents successfully mass-planted in the ground in hot, dry areas in the gardens of some of my friends. The more trailing types can look great cascading down slopes and over retaining walls and some really artistic effects can be created, as shown in the picture at left of the garden of Jill Budden in Springwood, NSW,, where the succulent rosettes seem to flow from the bucket!

Kalanchoe pumila growing in the garden of Gillian Parsons in Sydney

Whilst foliage is the main attraction for many succulents, some do have lovely flowers as well, especially zygocactus and Kalanchoe. The oft-seen Kalanchoe blossfeldiana hybrids that are smothered with lacy posies of waxy flowers from late winter till the end of spring in many hues. Though often sold as a 'disposable' indoor plant to be tossed away once the flowers finish, these plants are perennial and can grow in pots or in the ground in a part-shaded spot and do quite well. Another species with pretty flowers is Kalanchoe pumila, which has lovely silvery foliage and pinkish-mauve flowers from late winter till the end of spring. It has a trailing form so looks good in a pot or basket.

Most pots of succulents will eventually need some attention as the plants multiply. It is a good idea to replant every year in spring to rejuvenate the display.