is 2013 the year of the succulent?

weatherproof succulent box garden by Avant Gardens' Katherine TraceyIT WOULD BE HARD not to notice them, because they’re everywhere. Succulents, including many Sedum and Sempervivum and other less-familiar faces, seem to be trying to tell me something this season, as in: “We’re all the rage.” At garden shows and nurseries, and even in my own garden where a few pieces fell out of a pot and planted themselves as if to say, “I belong right here, Margaret,” I feel as if 2013 is the Year of the Succulent. I’m paying heed by starting a succulent wall planting; using them in pots, and more. Some inspiration, and a progress report:

I was already thinking about succulents, after writing a story about succulent-wreath how-to with Katherine Tracey of Avant Gardens. Remember? (That’s another of her creations up top: a box of succulents, meant to be hung vertically, like a framed mini wall garden. Here’s Katherine’s how-to on making a mini-wall garden.) Then during spring garden cleanup, I noticed that some Sedum ‘Angelina’ (a gold-colored, ferny-textured groundcover type) had fallen out of a big pot I’d placed on the terrace last summer, and planted itself in the gravel surface, and the surrounding stone wall. (Again, those succulent voices: “Hint. Hint.”)

The next nudge came when I spontaneously pulled into a garden center last month—one I’d never been to—only to find an irresistibly low price on overstuffed pots of hens and chicks. I brought home a bunch.

And then the final push: At Trade Secrets, the big annual benefit garden show held in nearby Sharon, Connecticut, it was as if someone had announced a theme: Every vendor seemed to be featuring succulents in one way or another.

Plugs of succulents from Daffodils and More's Dave BurdickDave Burdick (remember him?) of Daffodils and More in Dalton, Massachusetts, whose specialties include not just rare Narcissus by mail, but also bromeliads and succulents, was selling little “plugs” (above) of unusual named varieties, perfect for plugging into cracks and crevices.

Box planted with succulents by Avant GardensKatherine Tracey of Avant Gardens was exhibiting from over across Massachusetts, surrounded by pots of unusual succulents and also by some of her extremely artistic boxed succulent gardens (contained within expertly crafted cedar box frames for hanging, as in the top photo and just above–fantastic, and here’s how).

Succulents in a frame by Sweethaven FarmFar less formal but just plain fun: Sweethaven Farm of Salisbury, Connecticut, had stuffed succulent bits and bobs into living chair seats (not for sitting, but hilarious); into old picture frames (above) for a mini-succulent wall effect, and even into muffin tins (below) with spoonfuls of gravel.

Succulents in muffin tins by Sweet Haven Farm of SalisburyAnd the duo of Kim Alpert and Erika Hanson (who call themselves Anthropek Gardens, from Yorktown, New York), were making their Trade Secrets debut, showing off their homemade hypertufa containers.

Sempervivum in hypertufa pot by Anthropek gardens of Yorktown, NYMost of the troughs and pots were stuffed with (you guessed it) succulents. I loved Anthropek’s individual-specimen pots in particular (above and below), each one a little gem, and a garden in itself.

sedum in tufa pot by anthropekThe resounding message: These plants are adapted to even a tiny pocket of soil (or grit, gravel, etc.), and offer instant, long-lasting color and sculptural effect in return. I went home to start breaking apart those bargain Sempervivum I’d adopted, and stuffing them into a strawberry jar (bottom photo), and into the stone wall of the terrace, too (just below, one division in one crevice in the wall).

succulent stuffed into stone wallThat latter project’s just barely getting started. So far, I’ve only begun on the horizontal surface, but next I’ll use wreath pins or larger earth staples to secure divisions into the vertical face of part of the wall, too.  I need more bits and bobs to work with, so I suppose a shopping trip is in order (I’m also breaking off chunks of my various creeping types, including these).

A strawberry jar of succulents just potted up

Oh, and maybe some sunshine would help? I’m not sure the pieces I packed into that strawberry jar (above, just-planted) plan to do too much growing in otherwise—or so they seem to be warning me as the forecast calls for rain, rain and more rain.

  1. Matriarchy says:

    I have been collecting and propagating hardy sedums and sempervivums for 5 years or so, and I am very excited to see more varieties becoming more widely available. But some vendors are a little too eager to jump on the bandwagon. I saw a selection of “ordinary” little pots of succulents at the grocery store. They had been “colorized” in garish tones of floral spray and priced at $8 each. Margaret, you are on Pinterest, so I bet you can seen the explosion of succulent pinboards.

  2. Dorothy says:

    Thank you Margaret for featuring succulents. They are growing everywhere in my garden and are always an attention-getter, well-behaved and colorful.

  3. Nadia@Loveliveandgarden says:

    I think the popularity of succulents has been growing at a slow but steady pace. They have finally now really been receiving some much deserved recognition. I have always kept them around in pots for arts and crafts projects. They are so easy to work with.

  4. Martha says:

    I, too, have been totally excited by succulents this year. But I am confused a bit–how do I know if they are hardy? I have a pot of hens and chicks that has been outside for several years now (and just keeps growing), but are most others not hardy? (zone 5b)

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Martha. Well, you have to look them up or ask. Mostly the local garden centers sell the hardy ones with the perennials (in their “perennial department” I mean)…and non-hardy ones (such as Aeonium or Echeveria) are with the “annuals” or semi-tropical/tropical plants that don’t get marked “perennial” but are used in summer pots and stashed indoors in winter. Maybe start by browsing an online catalog like this one at this link that sells both and see if they look familiar.

  5. Sharon says:

    Opuntia humifusa – the Eastern prickly pear – will be joining other succulents in my garden thanks to my fiance’s co-worker. I do believe that I’ll keep it contained in a pot, however, as it can be a nasty turf weed in NJ.

  6. Katie says:

    I, too, seem to be having a Year o’ Succulents. I was in Southern California in early May and had the chance to visit an AMAZING nursery in Dana Point with the most incredible array of succulents and cacti that I’ve ever seen in real life. I came back here to East Tennessee (Zone 7B on a good day) determined to add some to my too-small, already overstuffed, urban garden. I’m currently on the hunt for a big, bold Agave that I could grow outdoors in a container in the warmer months and bring indoors when it’s cold….


    1. margaret says:

      Just be careful that big Agave doesn’t bite you, Katie. :) (They can be sharp at the edges but I love them too.)

      1. Bert says:

        With in the next few years I am moving my Succulent garden to north east Tennessee. So stay tuned.

        Agaves come in many different sizes and forms. Look for a hardy small size clumping. I recommend growing them in a pot and then bury the pot in your already existing urban garden. This way contains the agaves The clumping of agaves will soon fill the pot and start rooting out the bottom. To keep them contained divide the clump in two and give it to a friend as a Holiday gift.

  7. Pam Gardner says:

    anywhere to buy succulents reliably on-line? I love them too but only have a few around my front tree. I don’t know what kind they are but they had pretty pink flowers on them at one point.

  8. I am in the process of writing an article on Succulents for the Winter issue of Herb Quarterly magazine…..I am going to start growing them…..I think I am in love and I am esp in love with the directions for the living wreath we will be featuring!!!!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.