This is our half-term week off. Unfortunately my foray into warmer climes will be limited to a talk about the botanical treasures of Tenerife put on by the Cambridgeshire group of Plant Heritage!
It was a holiday to the Canaries which really sparked my interest in succulents and other tender plants a few years ago.
My collection of succulents is growing (please excuse the pun), and, although many are practically frost hardy, they do not appreciate the winter wet, so one of my tasks this week is to move them inside.
Most will be given the protection of a greenhouse, although we tend not to provide heat unless temperatures fall below freezing – preferring to rely on keeping plants practically dry throughout winter.
Some of my favourites, or those a little less hardy, will be spending the next few months on the living room window sill to be safe.
One of the best known of succulents is Crassula ovata, often grown as a house-plant with common names including Money Plant, Jade Plant and Friendship Tree.
Feng Shui experts prescribe this to those wishing to change their fortunes for the better but, whether they bring you financial happiness or not, they do make beautiful houseplants with thick glossy, smooth rounded dark green leaves and star-shaped flowers.
There are many other succulents which make excellent houseplants. I like to display them in terracotta pots or bowls, planted in a very well-drained loam-based compost with extra grit added for good drainage.
An additional layer of grit mulch on the top sets them off nicely as well as retaining moisture. So they need very little in the way of water all winter. Succulents are xeromorphic – adapted to arid conditions – and store moisture in their thick leaves and stems so thrive on neglect!
One of the main attractions of succulents is their ease of propagation, hence they are brilliant plants to encourage children, and adults, into growing new plants. Individual leaves, or short lengths of branch, will readily root either in a jar of water or directly in a small pot of gritty compost.
A succulent plant which I find even more fascinating has common names including the Mexican Hat Plant, Alligator Plant or Mother-of-Thousands. It is also a member of the Crassulaceae family, closely related to the colourful winter flowering houseplant Flaming Katy.
Kalanchoe daigremontiana is a succulent perennial native to Madagascar, which has the unusual trait of producing small plantlets (epiphyllous buds) around the margin of its leaves. A single leaf may have 50 or more of these little plantlets, each capable of growing into a new plant! Many even develop roots before dropping off so they can root wherever they land – so much so that it is actually a weed on waste land in some tropical and sub-tropical areas to which it has been introduced! However, although it can stand drought, temperatures below about 10c would kill it, so we can enjoy it as a novelty houseplant.
-Manea School of Gardening (RHS approved centre).
Plant sales on Saturdays 10am-4pm.