|With all the buzz about growing succulents, using them for making topiaries and mosaics, planting them in hypertufa creations, and even using them as wedding flowers, it’s a shame that those of us gardening in the northern climates of Canada and Europe don’t seem to have any choices for hardy succulent plants that will perform those same functions.|
But wait a minute; we do have a great option, one that will knock your socks off for its beauty, variations, colors, and textures. I’m talking about Sempervivums, the hardy hens and chicks. As an alternative to those wimpy and delicate tender succulents, these plants are versatile and reliable. Note: don't confuse Sempervivum with Echevaria. Both can be called "hens and chicks," but only one is hardy in colder climates.
You’ve most likely seen a few of these intriguing and incredibly hardy plants growing in gardens and tucked into crannies in rock walls, and you've marveled at their ability to withstand drought, poor soil, and intense cold. That is just the tip of the iceberg. These great plants come in a bewildering array of colors, from the palest lime with white cobwebs in some of the arachnoideum species, to the darkest purple and mahogany of the tectorums.
There are so many lovely hybrids derived from the species that even botanists have a hard time keeping up with them. You won’t need to worry about which ones to choose, however, because they’re all beautiful.
The best part of growing them is that despite their succulent growth, they are tough and resilient plants. Originating in the high mountains of Europe, these plants will astound you with their ability to shrug off cold temperatures. I would swear that sometimes they even seem to grow under the snow, and they emerge from a winter rest with restored vitality and vigor.
With the interest in making mosaics, topiaries, and spheres, in colder climates we need plants that will thrive and survive in our challenging conditions. Many plants do well through the summer, but they then keel over at the slightest touch of frost. Not Sempervivums! They relish the cooler temperatures of fall, which bring out even deeper coloration and vibrancy. Some varieties and species produce chicks more prolifically than others, so choose those for crafts – the adult hen will be quite happy planted in the garden, as long as you leave a few chicks to take her place when she blooms and dies.
Fortunately, there are a few places other than garden centers (which generally only have a handful of types) where you can see a full range of these great plants. In my micro nursery, I grow over 150 named varieties and species, out of the thousands that are available. I also collect the seed of my plants and grow it, resulting in yet more different ones. My affiliate nursery, Cavendish Perennials, grows an astonishing 600 different named varieties, and many species as well.
If you’re keen on making some mosaics to hang on a fence or wall, or a succulent sphere or two, try Sempervivums, and be thrilled at how beautiful and how tough they are.
You can see more about Sempervivum and many other drought-tolerant plants on my website; http://www.drought-smart-plants.com/