Sunday, October 20, 2013

Hardy succulent containers: no brainers...

Echinocereus fendleri at Denver Botanic Gardens
 Large containers filled with Pelargonium or Petunia can be quite lovely in a way (or a few months anyway)...but these more subtle creations filled with hardy succulents provide other dimensions of beauty and pleasure. This trough, once featured in the dear departed Wildflower Treasures garden has been moth-balled (so to speak): I hope one day it may be resurrected! When it was in full bloom (if only a few days a year) it was enchanting...and riveted visitors.

Frog fancy trough of Sempervivum
 I made this trough as a gift to a friend who was responsible for me getting an award (and an expense paid trip to Hawaii) as a thank you...she has derived great pleasure from it over the years--or nearly decades--although I did have to refurbish it once a has nevertheless riveted the attention of the frog most of that time. You can even hear it say (in your imagination perhaps?) "Rivet...Rivet...Rivet..."

At Denver Botanic Gardens
 Dan Johnson once planted a whole series of "tipsy pots" (pots tilted a bit towards the viewer) with a mixed collection of hens and chicks. That was over a decade ago: they have persisted since that time with very little intervention--try THAT with a petunia!

At Denver Botanic Gardens

It is fun to compare one to the other: they are amazingly different in tone and contrast one from the next...

At Denver Botanic Gardens

Sempervivums are not noted for their flowers: this is one of the glaring exceptions. There are others as well. The cobweb houseleek (Sempervivum arachnoideum) surely has to be one of the most extraordinary plants I've ever grown or seen. I am amazed it is not in every garden. I have dozens in mine!

At Denver Botanic Gardens

Orostachys minutus at Bob Nold's
  Bob  Nold planted a trough to Orostachys--or actually I think the orostachys took over this trough. This is ordinarly a very tiny plant, and one that is just a trifle difficult to grow well. Not for Bob (he was complaining about how much it had spread)...I suspect the year I photographed this it must have produced a ten million seed. If anyone had counted them that is...

Orostachys spinosa (mine, once)
 I have seen this trough photographed and published in books on websites and even on a friend's business card: the ultimate form of praise. I struggled to grow this plant for years until I saw it thriving in a shallow pot at Sandy Snyder's garden. Subsequently, I planted this container...which went with my ex-wife after our divorce (she probably thought she'd planted it?)...She hadn't.

Rosularia serpentinica ex Sandras Dag and Escobaria vivipara ex Taos
 This and the next are my all time favorite succulent troughs. I love that rosularia--which has the disconcerting trait of nearly blooming to death--so I have to scurry to replace the dead ones. The ball cactus is perhaps the most widespread ball cactus in the west: this miniature, white spined form was given to me by Davis Salman--these are seedlings off the original gift plant.

Sempervivum trough by Gwen Moore
Gwen did design and plant this one (and took it with her): I think it's a masterpiece!

Time to start planning a few more of these low maintenance, low water planters. You should too!


  1. How do you care for them in the winter?

  2. I live in Zone 5: I probably have 100 or more (yes more) containers with succulents all over my garden...they are on top of walls, on brick pedestals, on the ground, against walls--everywhere. They sit around the yard pretty much the same summer and winter--and I find they don't need much attention summer or winter. Sempervivums, many cacti, most Lewisia, Talinum, sedums--all are very tough.

  3. Amazing planters, it is so hard to plant them well and those are great examples. I love the mini landscapes they create.
    It is a shame that troughs are so expensive in the UK, I am going to have to start experimenting with hypertufa to make my own.

  4. Succulents in containers have been a continuing hot trend here in California for over a decade now. I love them all, but must admit the Sempervivums aren't as fool proof for me, they tend to get mealybug here or rot out in winter if drainage isn't perfect, and I find Echeverias often work better in our mild 9b/10a conditions.

  5. Hi Panayoti, I would love to have cuttings of these succulents. If there is anyone in the Chicago area that would like to trade, I have numerous rock garden plants, alpine plants, and native plants.

  6. Gwen's is stunning, as much for the "mini hardscape" as the plant selection. I recently received a couple of large, retired concrete troughs from the Lohbrunner Garden at UBC (about 100lbs apiece, I estimate). It is one of my ambitions for 2014 to design something spectacular enough to fit in with the above.

    I have some smaller hypertufa "bowls" I made that my girlfriend Kirsten outfitted with Sempervivum selections. I leave a couple in the garden over the winter, where they experience temperatures lower than -30C under a metre or more of snow. I was concerned they'd break from exposure to the extremes, so I reinforced the hypertufa mix with fibreglass. After they dried, I burnt the exposed fibres off with a propane torch. Never had one break!

  7. I remember seeing those troughs at UBC when they were brand spanking new in 1976! and watching them evolve at the Lohbrunner garden subsequently as well...glad to know they're going through new incarnations. Gwen does design a wicked trough. She's not done many recently, alas. But I did two lollapaloozas for a mansion in Cherry Hills recently that were enormous and great fun. I should blog about those! Glad to know hypertufa survives your Alberta winters--but snow cover is cheating!


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