I’ve become a huge fan of sempervivums over the past few years. I’m not sure what it is about them that attracts me so much – maybe the huge variety of colours and forms available, or the fact that they are so easy to grow.
The name sempervivum translates as ‘always/forever living/alive’. This might refer to the fact that they are evergreen, succulent perennials, or to the way that they reproduce. Also known as houseleeks, from the practice of growing them on rooftops, and ‘hen and chicks’, for reasons that will shortly become obvious, sempervivums reproduce via offsets. Each sempervivum rosette will quickly become surrounded by these little offsets, which will put down roots. The offsets (chicks) are initially connected by a stolon to the parent plant, but when the stolon withers they become independent plants. Sempervivums will flower after a few years, but then die after flowering. However, by then they will have created lots of baby ‘chicks’ to keep them ‘living forever’! Once the offsets have produced roots, they can be carefully removed from the parent plant, with an inch or so of stolon if this hasn’t yet completely withered, and replanted elsewhere. Even pushed into a crack in a wall, with virtually no soil, they are likely to establish themselves.
Although I don’t know its name, the type of sempervivum pictured above are found in quite a lot of the old stone walls and gravelly corners of my garden. However, I was very lucky to recently be given a whole host of new varieties of sempervivum as a birthday present (thanks Mum and Dad!). This seemed like a good place to list what they all are before I lose the labels:
Sempervivum arachnoideum tomentosum:
Sempervivum ‘Boule de Neige’:
Sempervivum ‘Black Mini’:
Sempervivum ‘Purple Haze’:
Sempervivum calcareum ‘Extra’:
Four of these were planted in a lovely old stone planter that is almost part of the garden structure. As (it seems) you cannot buy horticultural grit in France, and sempervivums like a very gritty soil, I used a combination of terracotta crocks, pouzzolane (a sort of volcanic rock, sold as small chips for use as a mulch or to improve drainage), cactus compost (a fine, sandy compost low in nutrients) and then dressed the top with decorative limestone chippings – sempervivums are fairly unfussy about the soil they grow in, so I figured that this would do them no harm.
Whilst they look small in their planter at the moment, they will hopefully soon spread and start to fill it out.
The other four were planted in a low terracotta pot, with some of my ‘special stones’ I have collected over the years for decoration:
The stones look even better once the pot has been watered to settle in the plants:
Now can you see why I like them so much?