What is a succulent? From a garden perspective, a succulent is a plant that stores water in its leaves, stems and/or roots. Cacti are succulents but not all succulents are cacti!
I confess, I am a sucker for a succulent. I’m not one for fussy plants in the garden – I don’t have the time or inclination. I think that is why succulents appeal to me. I am a bit of a collector, and always on the lookout for the one I haven’t got yet. They are plants that require little attention but give so much in return, and for the ‘brown thumbs’ amongst us they are a perfect plant because they are so forgiving, especially if you forget to water them.
Succulents are easy to propagate, easy to care for, are water-wise and thrive in containers. In fact you can let your imagination run wild regarding the containers you use, as long as they have generous drainage holes. The only thing a succulent demands is good drainage. Container gardening with succulents is a great option if you live in an apartment with a balcony or a small courtyard. In the garden, you can plant them in a raised bed or a mound, anything that allows that rain to drain away from their roots. Most succulents prefer sunny outdoor conditions which bring out their brilliant foliage colours and keep their growth compact.
From a design perspective, succulents can make bold statements in the garden and the year–round foliage shapes and colours provide a spectacular palette to work with. AND flowers! Succulents have some of the most stunning flowers spikes, many of them look like they are made of wax. The flowers of most succulents produce nectar, so honey eaters can often be seen hanging precariously from the flower stem having a drink. Succulents also mix beautifully with natives and ornamental grasses.
For those of you who are new to gardening and want a positive first experience with growing plants, I would recommend starting with some succulents. They are also great plants for kids, who might not always remember to water! And for the more experienced gardener who hasn’t used succulents much , experiment a little by incorporating them into your planting scheme, you might be pleasantly surprised by the contrasting combinations you discover.
For more growing information that is specific to the Australian context, I recommend any of the books by Atilla Kapitany & Rudolf Schulz, 2 experts who live in Victoria.