Time to take succulents seriously!

Talk about stress in the garden! I’m battling to keep my precious plants alive through another vicious summer, watering day and night and worrying about the water bills! I sowed seeds in late Spring- basil, coriander, marigolds, amaranth, cauliflower, borage- thinking my watering system would sustain them. Wrong! They sprouted, then either simply disappeared on the first scorching day, or are still alive but haven’t grown beyond a centimetre or so tall. Clearly their water needs are far in excess of what I’m able to provide.

Wouldn’t it be great to stop fighting nature and find some benefit in the conditions of high summer in the garden? We all know that succulents are highly drought tolerant, and making more of them in our gardens may be the answer.

I’d always thought of succulents as pot plants, with the odd exception like “Guilfoyle’s Volcano” in the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne, or the cactus and succulent garden at the Hunter Region Botanic Gardens (featured in my blog post Encounter the bizarre).

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But succulents are capable of being so much more. At their Heronswood garden, Diggers Seeds have created the “River of Colour” succulent garden which complements the traditional gardens which surround it. This garden was made in a hot, dry, exposed, high traffic area with very little soil. I found the image of this garden (shown below), and information about the succulent varieties, on the Diggers website- really inspiring in current circumstances!

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The River of Colour at Heronswood (image and list of plants from Diggers Seeds website)

1. Agave attenuate ‘Nova’ -They flower only once, but will provide hundreds of “pups” along their stem and flower spike that will give many new plants.

2. Blue Chalk Sticks (Senecio serpens) — What a delicious name for this plant! To create a uniform carpet of steely blue foliage, remove any flower heads regularly, as its flowering promotes leggy growth

3. Puya mirablis —It has spines but they have no “bite” and its soft, green leaves are accompanied by long spires of creamy, green flowers.

4. Kalanchoe pumila provides the dominant floral display, and has lovely dusty pink foliage as well. The hot pink flowers contrast effectively with the foliage of the Blue Chalk Sticks.

5. Euphorbia myrsinites -Its flowers turn from blue-green to acid yellow to red as they fade. [A note of caution- Euphorbias love the climate in the Central West and have the potential to become invasive.]

6. The garden contains several Aeoniums: ‘Velour’ provides the plum tones with a balance of bright green. All Aeoniums benefit from regular replanting. Diggers Seeds advises that it’s always best to take fresh cuttings and replant, rather than to hard prune the original plant.

I have seen all the varieties listed above, growing in Mudgee gardens, except possibly for the Kalanchoe. I’m not sure if Kalanchoe is frost hardy- the others certainly are.

Succulents arrived with the early colonists who collected them on their voyages to Australia. They valued their easy propagation and transport, and their minimal water requirements. A couple of centuries later, succulents proliferate all over Australia, many originating from the specimens shared between friends and neighbours in those early days.

Aeoniums came from the Canary Islands, Aloes from the Cape and Agaves from California, when thousands flocked to Australia’s goldfields in the nineteenth century. Some Aloes still growing in Hill End are relics of the gardens planted during the gold rushes of the 1850’s and 1870’s. You may like to read more about the historic gardens of Hill End in my blog post, Gardens of forgotten dreams.

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Aloes at Hill End

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Agaves looking lovely with the delicate, silver-grey foliage behind- at Anne’s garden in Tighes Hill

Here’s some advice from Diggers Seeds on creating a succulent garden that blends with a traditional garden.

• Don’t set succulents apart from other plants; succulents work well incorporated into the garden.

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An interesting combination of succulents and traditional plants on display at the 2016 Kandos Garden Festival

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A spiky succulent with nasturtium contrast- Anne’s garden, Tighes Hill

• Look at succulent foliage in the way you would the flowers of other plants. For many, like Blue Chalk Sticks, it is the foliage that offers the colour, not the flower.
• Stick to the tried and true favourites, and use mass plantings of simple ground covers like Jelly Bean Plant (Sedum) to unify the design with the odd fireworks of an Agave or giant Aeonium.

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Irresistible Sedum captures the winter sunlight in my Mudgee garden.

Succulents offer a range of dramatic, subtle and unusual colours, interesting and unusual forms, and glossy or satiny textures. Diggers Seeds created their River of Colour garden by relying on cool blues combined with bright green. Added to this is the odd hint of bright pink Kalanchoe pumila, or acid yellow Euphorbia myrsinites flowers to add interest and harmonise with the surrounding Pink Primrose.

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Close-up of a section of the River of Colour garden (from Diggers Seeds website)
What’s more, succulents grow well in poor soil, and low levels of nutrients and organic matter mean fewer weeds and give the succulents a competitive advantage.

Do you grow Kalanchoe in a harsh climate?

I’d like to hear about your favourite frost tolerant succulents.

Do you combine succulents and traditional plants in your garden?

13 Comments Add yours

  1. tonytomeo says:

    Goodness. They can be addicting. I am not too fond of succulents, but happened to put two common aeoniums in my downtown planter box a few years ago. The grew like they do, and got shared all over town, about the time that succulents became trendy. Unfortunately, they are not the sort of succulents that get by with minimal watering. They look tired by the end of summer. Other succulents that others have added to their boxes are really working out nicely though.

  2. My Dream Garden says:

    I love the “sharing” aspect of succulents…as opposed to the “stealing” aspect which I believe some succulent enthusiasts are prone to…”just a little leaf is all I need” they say…

  3. Jane says:

    Oh yes Jane, the weather is very much against us at the moment. I have developed a grudging respect for succulents and have a lot of echeveria planted as a border. It looked lovely when it was in flower. I’ve found though, that many succulents won’t survive in our fierce frosty winter weather. For example, my aeonium Schwarzkopf has to be put under cover before the frosts come.

    1. My Dream Garden says:

      Yes the frost does knock many of them around. I’ve been keeping my eyes open for what local people have in their gardens, and there seems to be a very limited selection. I’m planning a visit to Orana Cactus World at Gilgandra, in the hope of finding some more suitable frost-hardy varieties.

  4. janesmudgeegarden says:

    Oh, I hope you do a post about that visit.

    1. My Dream Garden says:

      Hi Jane, I like your post about perennials and I am very interested in trying several of the ones you featured, which I don’t have in my garden. The hardy perennials are definitely the way to go out here. I couldn’t find anywhere to comment on your post. Do you have a comments sections somewhere? Jane

      1. janesmudgeegarden says:

        I hope there is somewhere now, Jane. I’m reasonably new to this and am still finding my way around. I’ve seen comments from you, but I’ve only just seen this one! Please let me know if you still have difficulty.

  5. My Dream Garden says:

    I definitely will be doing that! J

  6. Jannee Poo says:

    I enjoyed reading this post and seeing the marvellous pics you have up. Beautiful. I am new to succulent gardening, but I believe that chalk fingers turn to mush in frost. I live near Cooma…hot summers, cold winters, so am on the look out for frost hardy plants. Sedum seems to be a favourite! Fingers crossed

    1. My Dream Garden says:

      Hi there Jannee, thanks for your comment. Succulents are truly amazing and they certainly have many devoted fans. I haven’t seen mushy frosty chalk fingers myself, but maybe down south your frosts are colder than ours (which are usually minus 3 or so). There’s a small selection of succulents that go well out here, but I don’t know all their names. One day I’ll post a bunch of photos for others to identify. Good luck with the sedums, they are gorgeous!

  7. Jannee Poo says:

    Thanks….and yes, you’re right, we get frosts to minus 10 and sometimes minus 15. But there is a plant and a succulent for every climate, so we are all, specially me, just trying to find our own way through. Looking forward to more of your photos

  8. Jannee Poo says:

    Oh, I planted some of my favourite sedums yesterday and today a rabbit or kangaroo decided to taste them! I’m planting a very severe spikey plant next to them for protection 😉

    1. My Dream Garden says:

      Chilli powder works too…

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