The Ways of Stone and Succulent

I planted as I built my stone wall, following good Gertrude Jekyll principles.

Some things succeeded and other things failed.  Some, like the honeysuckle and the dianthus, grew really well initially, only to fry as soon as it got hot.  Other stuff grew too well, like the yarrow, and had to be removed (OK, I know it was a stupid idea, but there was so little to choose from at the local nursery that I had a moment of frustration-induced brain-deadness).

I hadn’t really intended to include succulents as it wasn’t really the look I was after, but it turns out that they’re giving me more pleasure than just about anything else in the wall.

The sempervivums (above), in particular, have a lovely way of nestling in.  The initial rosette looks self-conscious and tentative, like a tennis ball perched precariously amongst the rocks, ready to roll away with the tiniest bump or breeze.  But pretty soon they start to ‘pup’, with the young rosettes following along the gaps between the rocks or along natural fissures. I’ve loved watching this so much that I’ve bought some more, which I’ll peg back into the wall with wire hooks until they get a grip.


Elsewhere, Sedum reflexum has self-sown into the wall.  It’s about the only thing that has, so far, so while I don’t totally love it, I’m very grateful.


And then there’s Sedum spathulifolium purpurea.  Its purple foliage is overlaid with a waxy white bloom, like a purple grape, most intensely on the new leaves in the centre of the rosette.  It’s greyer when it’s hot and dry, and much redder when it’s wet, so I find myself squirting it whenever I’m in its vicinity with water handy, just for the hell of it. It’s one of those plants that looks best before it attempts to flower, and when it does, you wish it didn’t.

Not that the flowers aren’t interesting in their way, it’s just that the plant gets ratty during and after flowering. But what’s nice is that bits that break off of the mother-plant (when you’re weeding around it, or moving it, or stepping on it accidently) often root somewhere nearby, and in this case, it has rooted into the wall, and then expanded to fit the space as perfectly as a jigsaw puzzle piece.  I remember shoving some broken bits into dirt showing between stones, but I don’t think any of them took.

This one was an accident.  As the best things in our gardens often are.



  1. What a happy wall Michael! I haven’t tried to do it on purpose but what a handsome effect – I might need to do a little experiment here 🙂

  2. It looks like the ‘right’ plants have found the ‘right’ place! They look lovely and snug. Isn’t it funny how we all plant things, despite intuitively knowing they’re probably not going to work. At least it was a lack of choices in your case. I stubbornly planted that exact same burgundy sempervivum knowing it was wrong, and it is, you can’t see the damned thing against brown mulch?! So it is lovely to see it shining against the blonde and grey tones of your stone wall, where it should be. Any photos of the whole wall?

  3. I think in a wall like yours is possibly the best place to view some of these little treasures. It is inspiring to see how well they conform…lesson in there I am sure 🙂

  4. You have been busy! Adore the nestling Sempervivum. Adore dry stone walls full stop, actually. I think Great Dixter have some of the best I have seen; they just seem to get better and better by the year.

  5. I found your blog looking for some advice on planting sempervivum in a Clare dry stone wall – beautifully written; you have captured exactly why I love sedums

    1. Hi Maeve, so glad you found us! Happy reading, and happy gardening!

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