Succulents: the plants of the future?

A great display on the terrace
A great display on the terrace

When I first moved from London to the south of France, I was thrilled to find an apartment with a large, wrap-around terrace that basked in full sun all day. One of my earliest shopping trips was to the local garden centre, where I bought pots of geraniums, solanum, marguerite daisies, bougainvillea and lavender. More adventurously (and expensively) I went in for trees, too – lemon, mandarin, lime and kumquat. The terrace quickly filled up and looked stunning – but I seemed to spend the whole summer watering – not to mention dead-heading.

Mother-of-Pearl plant
Mother-of-Pearl plant

As I’d wander around my village, I’d admire all the pots and window-boxes, and the strange, exotic-looking specimens that frequently inhabited them.  Not as bright or colourful as geraniums, admittedly, but there was something alluring about these plants all the same.  A friend then gave me a mother-of-pearl plant (Graptopetalum Paraguayense) from her garden.  It settled in quickly and began to multiply, without me having to do much of anything.  I was intrigued.

Jade plant
Jade plant

I bought a book on Mediterranean gardening (the wonderful ‘Create a Mediterranean Garden’ by Pattie Barron, really intended for non-Med climates). I came to her chapter on ‘Sizzling Succulents', and suddenly I got it. Although these plants certainly do need water, they can go for far longer without, and are therefore infinitely less labour-intensive. They’re also easy to propagate and incredibly characterful. This is what the locals all knew, and the more I looked, the more I saw them – bursting between rocks and out of crevices, some apparently living on little more than air. I became hooked.

You know how a gentle hobby can turn into an obsession? It started with the garden centres, where I’d shun the water-intensive pretties and, like a furtive adult shopper, head straight for the ‘exotic’ department; next I moved on to the local vide greniers, where villagers would sell cuttings for a euro apiece, and the more you bought the cheaper they became; and finally I graduated into sheer theft, pinching cuttings from wherever I could to call my own. I’m not proud, but I doubt anyone ever noticed. (Or minded, for that matter.)

So easy to propagate.
So easy to propagate.

Planting succulents is a piece of cake, and fun to do with children. When my neighbour’s seven-year-old pops down, we usually end up cultivating and re-potting succulents, and her success is a source of huge pride.

All you have to do is:

Half an hour after I'd finished planting, this happened...
Half an hour after I'd finished planting, this happened...

Snip off a plant head – go for a side one, so it’s not noticeable (especially if you’re pinching it).  Some people (including Pattie Barron), advise you to leave it a few days for the cut to dry over, but I rarely bother, and usually it works just fine.  If I have any special cactus/succulent soil I’ll usually mix it in with regular, but I have used just the regular stuff and that’s worked too.  Find a pretty terracotta pot, cover the drainage hole with some stones (or bits of broken pots) and then fill with the soil mix.  I tend to put normal at the bottom and cactus soil on top.  Then make holes in the soil and arrange your plants.  Give them a little water (but don’t overdo it – you don’t want them to rot) and that’s about it.  Just check on their position – most succulents tolerate sun but some prefer a little shade. 

...Fortunately, they're tough!
...Fortunately, they're tough!

What they don’t appreciate, however, is frost or snow, so they’ll need to be taken in during a cold spell. All the same, if climate change is upon us, and water a precious resource, then succulents are surely the plants of the future? I think it’s time we all embraced these strange, quiet, uncomplaining and infinitely-varied friends.

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Comments 6 comments

The Dirt Farmer profile image

The Dirt Farmer 5 years ago from United States

I really enjoyed reading this hub. (I like the cat picture, too. It's strangely familiar.) Thanks.


Riviera Rose profile image

Riviera Rose 5 years ago from South of France Author

Thank you, Dirt Farmer! Yes, the cat loves nothing better than when I get planting...!


Vanessa 5 years ago

Thank you for this post! I was able to identify one of the succulents that I recently received as a gift.


Riviera Rose profile image

Riviera Rose 5 years ago from South of France Author

Hi Vanessa, thanks for commenting, and I hope you enjoy your gift. Mine are all developing flowers now and I have quite a triffid coming out of one. Fascinating plants!


LetitiaFT profile image

LetitiaFT 4 years ago from Paris via California

I thought this was really useful, I just linked to it on my very first hub, hope you don't mind. Thanks for the great info!


Riviera Rose profile image

Riviera Rose 4 years ago from South of France Author

Hi Letitia, thanks for your comment, and not at all, I'm thrilled that you've linked to this hub. Will go and read yours now!

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