‘Tis the season for Semps!

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.

the succulent wall garden

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 my nameless ones 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.

Useful links:
How to care for Sempervivum plants

6 thoughts on “‘Tis the season for Semps!

  1. Just the little plants for making and creating, and each one its own sculpture. All the best to your new roots in Derbyshire soil – the land of my maternal ancestors: the leadminers, farmers and hatters. Happy new home, Laura, and more power to your growing.

    1. Semps are so undemanding – like good children they can get overlooked. I confess to not paying them as much attention as they deserve so am re-potting them now and giving them lots.
      p.s. thank you for your lovely ‘moving’ message. I too have Derbyshire roots on my maternal side – in the silk mills

  2. So pretty, Laura, but contrary to their name, they do not live very long in my possession. I can’t seem to get the amount of watering right, it’s either too much or too little. I’ve tried so many times, and I’m always tempted to buy new ones, but knowing their fate once in my home, it doesn’t seem fair…

    1. do you grow them indoors? I know you can, and I know they are called ‘houseleeks’ but that is because they were grown on roofs (still are) to guard against lightning strikes and fire (they hold water!!). Most of my losses occured when I moved and they were thrown about and placed on cold soil – since gritting underneath as well as on top of the pots, they thrive. Just about to repot with fresh soil -every 3 years ample time. Why not give them a go on your balcony – starting with the easier ones (that produce a lot of ‘pups’). Quite a few praiseworthy varieties are introductions from German growers – Volkmar Schara, and Erwin Geiger.

      1. Oooh I did not know that about them being grown on roofs! You are a fountain of knowledge 🙂

        Yes, I grew them indoors, and you’re right, maybe I should give them a go on the balcony.

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