By virtue of nomenclature, sempervivum covers every season, being evergreen succulent perennials which can outlast most UK winters. However, I have had a few losses which contradicts the ‘always living’ Latin definition.
A few of the named varieties are not as prodigious as some of the more familiar types like S. Atlanticum or the Arachnoideums. Twice I have lost ‘Engles’ – a favourite purple-grey variety and looking through the labels (kept separately now) I notice that a couple of others have vanished over the past 2 years.
Sempervivums (aka houseleeks, hen & chicks) are alpines, requiring lots of drainage and sunny spots. I grow mine in shallow troughs or circular pots with gritted John Innes #3 but moving house in November 2019, these were rather unceremoniously plonked on top of a stone wall plot. They were then left to their own devices whilst I was away in New Zealand for the winter.
On my return I found that some had decayed whilst a number had been dislodged from the pots, along with their labels. This created a real challenge to identify which belonged where. So many semps look alike and I did in fact replant together a couple that were different varieties.
Sempervivums have currently come to the fore in popularity and garden centres are churning out nameless varieties in multipacks. However, taking time to observe their individual charms creates quite a different approach and so I tend to purchase named varieties for their colour and form as well as heritage.
Anyone who has tried to ID their semps from the internet will face an impossible task as not only do the images exhibit wide-ranging colour differences but most websites give next to nothing in detail. For example, I searched for verification that a label-less one was ‘Green Ice‘ yet only one site mentioned that in Spring the backs of the leaves flush purple – as mine have!
And that brings me to the title – Spring is indeed the season for Sempervivums as, chameleon-like, many will almost change appearance with fresh greens, reds, bronzes, purples coming to the fore, before the change down for summer flowering.
How to care for Sempervivum plants