We love the humble Houseleeks. We grow them in pots, on the slate scree bed, in alpine troughs, on our old oak stump and even on an old brick. They are so simple, really just spiky little cabbages, but they have something special about them. Is it the subtle nature of their colours? Is it their reliability? Is it because they are there to delight the eye all year round? Or is it simply the variety? It certainly isn’t the flowers which grow up on oversized stalks and then make the plant fall over. They are called Houseleeks because people grew them on the roofs of their outside privies as they will tolerate such dry growing conditions. Perhaps the extra insulation helped too!
Just like the first Ford cars which you could buy in any colour as along as it was black, so with the Houseleeks you can have them in any colour as long as it is green. Green with varying depths and hints of red, black, purple or blue. And of course we mustn’t forget brown! Being succulents they like it dry and their colours seem richer in late summer when it is often at its driest in the garden.
The correct name for the Houseleek is Sempervivum and they originate from Europe and Asia. There are hundreds of named varieties but we choose them for their interesting colour or texture, not by name, as so many of them are so similar. We buy what we fancy. Some we choose because of their colours but others for their white spider’s web covering or fringing of bristles. Favourites are those with dark colours towards the points of the leaves.
All the pictures in this blog were taken in February which shows how useful an addition to the winter garden these little plants are. There can’t be many succulents that are useful plants with winter interest. The first couple of photos show the Sempervivums growing on our stump, the first enjoying the company of an icy green lichen and the second with the dead brown fronds of a fern.
When a Sempervivum flowers, sending the tall stem from the centre of a rosette, it dies, but the dead rosette is soon replaced with new offsets. This plant on the slate scree bed is still holding on to its flower stem surging from the now-dead rosette. Soon we shall pull it out and in the spring new rosettes will fill the gap. We leave late flower stems on the plants as they provide interesting structure. The subtle colouring of its rosettes work beautifully with its slate grey background.
Now we take a photographic journey around the garden in search of more Houseleeks.
Awaiting planting, still in their pots, sit four new varieties. Will we ever stop being tempted?