This year, for a myriad of reasons, I have rapidly expanded my succulent collection, most especially sempervivums, which I just can’t seem to stop myself from buying. I bought and/or acquired by other means 25 new semps this year alone in addition to a few other related succulents, many of which are hardy and some that aren’t.
Despite the sudden influx of plants I have been growing semps (aka hens and chicks) for years. They are most likely one of the very first non-edibles I grew. Just about everyone starts with them and for good reason: the plants are virtually unkillable and require almost no care. Every beginner gardener should begin here.
What’s different this year is that I have begun to collect orostachys and rosalaria, two closely related, hardy succulents that I have never grown before. Both plants look a lot like sempervivums and are grown under very similar conditions. Most literature says they can tolerate very cold conditions but I am not convinced that some of these stranger varieties are as hardy as semps. The plants come in paler colours and have a slightly softer look about them. As a result, I didn’t want to throw them in among the semps but instead had decided to give them their own space to be showcased. I had a sudden brain wave one afternoon last week when I realized that I had just the perfect pot, a vintage, emerald green dish that I have never had much luck with. Having begun life as a dish meant to hold candy or trinkets it is shallow and only suited to diminutive plants with shallow roots that can also take a bit of drought.
Top Photo from Left to Right: Orostachys minuta, Rosularia rechingeri (turkestanica), Orostachys ‘Jade Mountain’, Orostachys ‘NYBG’.
To prepare the pot for growing, I drilled a couple of 1/2″ holes in the bottom with a masonry bit meant for drilling into terracotta or brick. I used very sandy, gritty soil — a potting mix meant for growing cactus is perfect. I top-dressed after planting with tufa chips, a very light-weight rock that is often used in growing alpine plants. I got a big ziploc baggie for $5 from Wrightman’s Alpines.
This is a sempervivum I potted up at the same time in a bonsai pot that has always been too shallow to grow anything else. I love this variety’s tight rosettes and mounding form. I can’t tell from the tag if it is called ‘Granide’ or ‘Grande.’ ‘Grande’ seems all wrong given that the plant is teeny, tiny.
Sempervivums or Hens and Chicks as they are commonly called, are an incredibly hardy, and drought tolerant succulent that can take a fair amount of abuse, yet when I was starting out on my roof, they were the last plant I wanted to grow. I’d come to associate them with the few that had been slapped into the tiny front garden of my childhood home. And while I had fond memories of playing with my dolls on the pretend Martian landscape they created, my overall impression as an adult was that they lacked a certain luster.
I don’t recall how it happened, perhaps nostalgia won out, but I eventually came around to growing a few. That summer they bloomed, creating exotic, alien-like flower stalks. I was hooked and decided I would never be without them again.
I promised a follow-up photo of Clematis x cartmanii ‘Joe’ in full bloom and here it is.
This small clematis from New Zealand makes a gorgeous potted plant, but keep in mind that it is not hardy in a colder climate like Toronto’s (around zone 5b-ish) and must be overwintered in a cool greenhouse. Meanwhile, if you’re looking for climate context, cold hardy clematis that are grown outdoors are only just beginning to put out buds here in Toronto.
Two other varieties, ‘Cassis’ and ‘Vienetta’ also do well in big containers. They are a bit hardier than ‘Joe’, but here in Toronto still seem to require a protected place to spend the winter. My friend Barry (clematis enthusiast) says that if you don’t mind losing a plant to experimentation, it might be possible to overwinter either outside. He hasn’t tried it yet.
Check out Barry’s blog where he talks about how he has achieved the compact, spiral growth shown here (it’s his plant).
I took this photo of Clematis x cartmanii ‘Joe’ a number of weeks ago in my friend Barry’s greenhouse, just before the buds opened. In a day or two I’ll update you with a photo of what it looked like today, with the blooms wide open.
Meanwhile, Barry has also posted about his plant with a bit of background information.
By example and his own enthusiasm, Barry has really opened my eyes to the diversity in the clematis world. I finally get what all of those nutty clematis spotters are going on about.
Yesterday afternoon I was invited into the apartment of a fellow Parkdale resident to check out her collection of fascinating and unusual plants. The visit brought the plant junky in me out in full force. I went home conspiring to get my hands on a few of those amazing plants myself and then spent the remainder of the afternoon rearranging and caring for the gazillions of houseplants I do have. Visits to other peoples’ gardens never fail to motivate me to do better by my own plants.
Mesembs in the front window.
Erika collects alpines, Mesembs (conophytum & lithops aka living stones are examples), Gesneriads (not African violets), orchids, and euphorbias. Looking back on our conversation, I’m not completely certain that she is exclusive to those plant families. Most of her collection just seems to fall within those categories. When I asked her what inspired her collection, she replied that she has always loved diminutive plants. The perfect-sized plants for an apartment dweller.
Conophytums are a South African plant that consist of two fused leaves. That’s pretty much it. They’re some of the most simplified and reduced plants I have ever seen.
They kind of look like doughy buns. Or really cute anatomical models of the cervix. Apologies for putting that image into your head, but frankly, that’s what I see when I look at one.
Conophytum bergerii (red) and Conophytum ratum (green).
Say what? These freakish things remind me of jelly candies or those stinky jelly air fresheners everyone had in their bathrooms in the late 70s. When I was a kid, I could never help opening up the plastic cover and poking them. I REALLY wanted to poke these too but that would have been very rude. The flower (yes they do flower) comes up between the two “leaves.” I can barely distinguish where that is on the red one.