I am so not a succulent person! But before all you succulent-fans hold up your hands in horror, let me rise to the defence of these (and other) plants which I have shied away from for so many years because they appear to alter very little in appearance from season to season. The reason for my recent change of heart? A period of being far too busy to attend, as I would want to, to both the edible and ornamental beds. Being time-pressed is a sure recipe for stress and it left me craving a pretty, peaceful garden moment that simple couldn't be met by gazing out on rampant carrots, seeding beetroot, and a jungle of autumnal flowers tumbling over their borders. My solution was to follow some of my own advice! Let me explain.
I write for a lovely magazine which supports those who care for their loved-ones in their own home. The lives of these giving-people are so busy and stressful that I suggested, in the article I was writing, creating a peaceful space in which, if they were lucky to get 5 minutes in the day to themselves, they could really make it count. All it involved was turning away from the household chaos the chair they used most often, and facing it into a corner of the room where a haven of serenity had been created. I suggested the scene might consist of a pretty pot plant, a glossy magazine, a dish of sweets, a happy family photo, a tube of hand cream, a CD of favourite music. Most importantly, the scene should reflect what the person who would be looking at it considered most relaxing.
For me, relaxation means 'garden' so, without having had the time this last couple of weeks to actually do any gardening, I created a very Zen-like arrangement of potted plants right outside my living room window – enter plants that seldom change!
A couple of years ago, I was given the succulent Aeonium (I think it may have been a Black Tree variety, possibly 'Schwarzkopf'). I had tucked it discreetly around the corner of the house where I couldn't see it but this week I hauled it out. Just like the native pachystegia which I also keep in a pot, it was almost exactly as I had last seen it (give or take a half a metre of growth). Not a weed was in sight in either of the pots (I must had the good sense, when I popped in the plants, to cover the surrounding soil with a mulch of gravel chip). Starved of attention since first being planted, the succulent was glossy, healthy and a deep, rich brown. It complemented perfectly the grey-green leaves of the native.
In just a few minutes, I had hauled away from view the unweeded pots of dying annuals, spent arctotis and too dry pelargoniums, and towed the Aeonium and pachystegia into place. I also added to the scene my potted lemon tree (in our southern climate it also alters very little over time!). And suddenly, right outside my living room window was an oasis of peace: a perfect little garden on which to fix my gaze in the few minutes between writing an article, caring for a dear but very frail friend, dashing out the door to a speaking engagement, and tethering the donkeys. I've since pushed my armchair into place, facing it out to the view, and have added a coffee table. I'm thinking of adding to the scene the latest issue of the Guardian Weekly (my favourite newspaper), and keeping my fingers crossed that someone in the house might just see me reading it and whip up a flat-white!