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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. Cynthia A. says:

    I just picked up two pots of hens and chickens at the farmer’s market last week and have been pondering where to put them – this post has so many ideas I may need to go get more! Thanks Margaret.

    1. margaret says:

      Oh, Cynthia, I’m so glad. I meant to post all those pics from the Trade Secrets show weeks ago, but it all jjst started to “gel” in my head this last week or so. Glad to help get you shopping for more, too (just don’t send me the bill!). :)

  2. Susan says:

    I have a strawberry jar full of hens and chicks which I have had for 20 years. The only problem is with deer in the winter. I now cover it with burlap to keep them from munching. Who knew they would eat such a thing?

  3. Deborah B says:

    Thanks Margaret for the great ideas! I’ve been wanting to try a sedum wreath and haven’t yet, and I love the framed sedums you show above. A friend sent me a photo of a hanging sedum mosaic around a doorway in the Longwood Gardens Conservatory; it’s magnificent. I tried to find a link online for it to show you, but the Longwood site doesn’t show it.

  4. Sharon says:

    It certainly is for me!! I’m totally on a succulent kick, and am grabbing up as many different varieties of sedum and sempervivum as I can find.

  5. Linda says:

    Yes, I believe it is the year of the succulents. I’ve done posts on succulents myself. I love them. It just happened this year, too. They are just so CUTE! I’ve got a succulent in a little tiny bottle and it’s growing out the top. (I might have to break the bottle eventually. :) I’m following you on Twitter and would love a follow back. Thanks, Linda

  6. I’ve had some succulent plants for years and have totally under appreciated them. I am so glad to see how some people are really celebrating them and being so creative in showing them off. I would love to take some of the plants I have and showcase them somehow as well. Thanks for an inspirational post!

  7. Roger Giovinazzo says:

    My collection has been slowly, steadily increasing. I’ve got some chartreuse, and chocolate ones intermixed. I really like the blue ones in the top picture. Maybe I’ll intermix those with red?
    Yet another nice little nude, Margaret.

  8. Monica Blum says:

    I loved this post! For the second year in a row I went Berkshire botanical gardens plant sale just for David burdick’s wonderful plugs for my wall. I followed his advice to mix up some mud and stuff it in the crevices before sticking in the plugs and most have done really well. I like hairpins and will try that too. Great plant sale at your open day.

  9. Sharon says:

    @ Roger — Thanks for the laugh. Best post ever.
    @ Margaret — How do you keep the outdoor succulent containers from getting too wet from rain? What do you use for a planting medium?

  10. Jennifer says:

    Margaret, I am a succulent addict so I was happy to see you getting sucked along like the rest of us! They are so accommodating and varied! I have pots and pots of them and everyone who comes to my garden admires them and goes home with bits of this and that. But I too am worried about the rain this year. Some of my pots have great cactus soil but they don’t have the best drainage holes. We have gotten several inches of rain here over the past few days. I had moved all of my pots to a covered area and had just moved them back out in the elements and now torrential downpours again. Once the weather gets nice, I plan on put them out on my driveway for a few days in the hopes that they dry out. If any one has a better idea I would love to know.

    1. margaret says:

      Here, too, Jennifer — I have had 15+inches of rain in 3 weeks and am pitying the poor succulents!

      Welcome, Susan P. Yes, they are photo-friendly subjects to be sure. So sculptural.

  11. Pat says:

    Margaret: I’m reading Parables. With the thought of you rescuing frogs under ice in winter, I suggest that you plot a few critical GPS readings in your garden. It could be an interesting or amusing diversion for a summer’s evening and a lifesaver in snowbound winter. Thanks so much for your good work and such fine inspiration.

  12. Richard says:

    Like Sweethaven’s muffin tins! – have been drilling holes in the base of copper kettles and other old kitchen items for some years now and filling them with succulents – English eccentricity I thought but no, thanks for the interesting post.

  13. Susan P says:

    If pinterest and various wedding blogs are any indication, 2012 and 2013 are the years of the succulents. They might make it another year or two beyond, depending on if there’s enough of drought/heat wave to discourage other plants, but that’s about it. I think their popularity comes from the ease of care and the current style of over-bright photography that really plays-up their colors/textures/etc. If the trend in photography goes to something darker and richer in color, we’ll get something else (maybe hostas) back in the limelight.

  14. Beverly, zone 6 eastern PA says:

    Response for Jennifer above…
    Succulents in my strawberry jars get a sandy soil mix with some rich compost, too, since nutrition leaches away every time it rains. But not a lot of compost because succulents are experts at surviving in lean soil.
    For enhanced drainage, I place various sizes of rubble rocks inside the base (those weird stones we all dig up when trying to plant something), then on top of that I place a round piece of old window screen to keep most of the soil from running down into the stones. Then add soil and plants building from the base upward. For really big jars, I add an inner tower of styrofoam, either a long bar vertically or a slim bag of peanuts right up the middle. (I use the newspaper delivery bag.) This reduces weight, making the finished product lift-able, and saves some soil, plus adds to drainage capability. BUT every jar is dismantled in October, pieces of Sempervivums and Sedums returned to a sunny, raised berm for winter and jars safely placed into my shed away from the freeze/thaw cycles which make them crack. I reassembe them each spring, with new combinations.
    For a finished jar that has poor drainage right now, add “legs” of rocks underneath, just a half inch should help, four similar stones placed below the jar to elevate it and allow water to run out more freely.

  15. We used succulents for our display at the Boston Flower Show this year. We were challenged to create a low budget garden so we planted them in silver duct caps. Pretty cool and contemporary looking. And great as already mentioned, in pictures!

  16. Kathy Sturr of the Violet Fern says:

    It IS the year of the succulent! I went all succulent this year. My outdoor containers are a mix of succulents topped with river pebbles that I’ll be able to bring indoors to overwinter and then move back outside come summers – which I love. I also love all the textures, shapes and colors. Even some of my permanent outdoor containers are now filled with hardy succulents and sedums. No more petunias for me! Great ideas here for more, more, more!

  17. Linda says:

    Love ’em! Last year I made my middle girl’s bridal bouquet and wedding party bouquets and boutonnieres from succulents, orchids, baby’s breath, and white roses. They were really beautiful, if I may say so!

    This year succulents and herbs are replacing the thirsty pots of impatiens I’ve grown for years on the edges of a little path between our patio and lawn. ‘Course, with record rainfall this spring, the succulents do come indoors quite a lot. They would have been perfect in the drought last year, and unless this wet pattern continues all summer, I’m sure they’ll get to stay put come July and August.

  18. Cairn says:

    Love, love, love!!! I need to look for a nursery that has a large variety down here in Fort Worth, Texas. My grandmother always had several varieties and I always loved the textures and colors. Can’t wait to get some started in my own garden.

  19. Stella says:

    Hi Margaret -Great article, and even better comments – I learn so much from all of your readers.I’ve become enchanted with succulents, but am a real novice. I’ve got a small corner in my rock garden of hens & chicks ( sunny and sandy) and just got a sedum collection box as a gift. Would it be nest to leave the box alone, or replant them in the rock garden ? I’m concerned that overwintering in the box won’t work out. Or should I repot and bring them all indoors for the winter ( zone 6A). Any suggestions wold be appreciated.

  20. amy says:

    I am a relatively new convert to succulent worship. My conversion began when some hens and chicks spread themselves around a large rock outcrop in my garden. From now where there are now colonies of hens and chicks…what a fun plant.

  21. Dahlink says:

    Timing is perfect, as usual, Margaret. Last weekend I visited a friend’s family farm. Many of the plants in my garden have come from the farm over the years. This time she asked “Do you want some cats and kittens?” Now there were plenty of barn cats around, but what she meant was what my grandmother always called “hens and chicks.” Now I will always think of them as “cats and kittens”!

  22. Lyn says:

    To avoid losing soil in containers w/ drainage holes place an unbleached (brown) coffee filter over the hole before you add your stones. In a container w/o a hole add one or more filters depending on the size of the container on top of the stones in the bottom. This will keep your soil from filtering down & filling in the spaces between the stones.

    1. margaret says:

      Thanks for the tip, Lyn. I also use bits of screening.

      Hi, Matriarchy. I have never seen the dyed one — oh, I think I would be sick at the sight! Ugh.

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