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August 2013

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Rachel Darlington

Jinxing Summer?

Rachel Darlington writes about sun-loving succulents

There is no better way to jinx the weather than to break out the barbecue. So, similarly, when I set about white-washing a section of the glass in my greenhouse, my friends were quick to comment that this action would surely lead to a dull, rainy season, devoid of sunshine and without any need to reduce light in the greenhouse in the first place. Thankfully it didn't turn out as they had predicted and I was glad to have properly shaded the orchid section of the greenhouse for the summer.

But there are some plants that do not appreciate shading, even in the most scorching days of summer. There are some plants that will even benefit from the bright light of an unshaded glasshouse. These plants are succulents and cacti. My succulent collection came into existence a few years back and was purchased under the assumption that dryness in winter was more vital to survival than maintaining a minimum temperature. The idea was to over-winter the succulents dry in pots in the greenhouse. The recent bad winters made a lie of this assumption. However, despite a few losses, the collection is once again at its original number. This spring I re-potted most of my succulents, favouring the use of bowls and companion planting, rather than keeping individual specimens in clay pots. A group of same-sized pots smacks of  a collection and is more likely to look cumbersome than attractive.

The most gratifying among succulents are the aeoniums. Aeoniums adore sun but benefit greatly from rich soil and ample watering in summer. What a surprise to find that aeoniums, although they originate from desert-like terrain, thrive on moisture. They are also so easy to propagate from leaves or pieces of stem and I am forever cutting off pieces and plunging them into the edge of another pot. Or I decapitate ones that have become too leggy to end up with two plants. I find that in winter the black-leaved aeoniums, like ‘Zwartkop', tend to lose their intense blackness from lack of light. However, they soon colour up again in spring once the sun makes an appearance.

I also love agaves but they are lamentably slow-growing. Agave americana ‘Mediopicta Alba' is one to look out for, with its beautiful cream stripes and lethal points. Agave parryi is hardier, with a superb glaucous colour to the leaves, which become more rounded with age. I had some flowering success this year too and the rhipsalidopsis I grew from a leaf cutting, given to me in 2008, finally flowered. It had many pretty pink flowers, not exactly in abundance, but enough to make good impact. Was it worth such a lengthy wait? Of course it was. I get such an enormous kick from success with seeds or cuttings that I could never give up.



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