A touch of the exotic

There is nothing better than a cluster of succulent plants to give a bit of zip to a container. Especially as that container can be pretty much anything from a box to a wine glass.

Words: James Alexander-Sinclair

Succulent: from the Latin succus meaning ‘juice’

What a very evocative and lovely word. Oddly it conjures up rather contrasting visions – plump babies, rare beef, fresh peaches and fleshy plants. You will be pleased to realise that it is this latter which concerns us today.

As a simple guide the family of succulents have fat, heavy leaves designed to retain water for longer and thus enable them to survive in places where many of their fellows will perish. You rather imagine them to be like cacti hanging out on the edges of deserts looking cool and collected while the rest of us are gagging for a drink. There are desert succulents but there are also many that will happily survive in more temperate climates.

What succulent plants hate more than anything is sogginess: given decent drainage you can find a succulent plant for most gardens. They should be potted up in compost mixed with sand or grit or if planting out in the ground then make sure that the grit goes too – remember, you can only leave succulents out over winter in the mildest of conditions, for most of us they require a greenhouse for shelter. They can cope with about 2-3 degrees centigrade but only if they are also kept dry. In the summer water them every couple of days.

They are also among the most sculptural of plants and lend themselves to being posed in little vignettes. Almost any container will work from terracotta pots to shallow wooden boxes, they can even be arranged in frames and hung vertically on walls like pictures. They can populate Terrariums and titillate a rockery – on our Facebook page the other day we featured a gift box of baby succulents laid out like chocolates. Delightful to look at and considerably better for both teeth and waistline.

If you go to Tremenheere Sculpture garden near Penzance in Cornwall (we are very keen on this garden and have featured it twice in intoGardens: once as a garden review and once as a full blown feature with photographs from the very talented Allan Pollok-Morris) you will see plenty of succulents. Many growing up in the dry gardens at the top of the hill amongst agaves and palm trees but still more in the nursery by the entrance which is run by Surreal Succulents. They are obviously nurserymen driven by a plant passion and people like that are always exciting to meet. They may never trouble the Sunday Times Rich List but they carry such enthusiasm and knowledge they deserve to be treasured. The best way to do that is to buy some of their plants. We came away laden with Echeverias, Crassulas, Graptoverias and Aeoniums.

Surreal Succulents operate a good mail order service and sell little terrariums that make excellent presents and unusual Christmas tree decorations. Visit the website or telephone them direct on 07707 314823.

Tell them we sent you.