Five ways with houseleeks

Houseleeks (or sempervivums) are really easy to grow, hardy and come in a fantastic variety. Jean Vernon suggests five ways of growing these fabulous plants.

Houseleeks growing in a rockery

Houseleeks, also known as sempervivums, are some of the easiest plants to grow. Great for getting the kids started in gardening and an ideal contender for moving your growing prowess outdoors from indoor plants, these cute little succulents can be grown in many different ways.

They are low growing and form pretty rosettes of fleshy leaves in a range of green/blue/red and mauve shades. The succulent leaves help these plants withstand periods of dry weather. In the right growing conditions and in late summer, the rosettes can form a rocket spire of flowers, which lasts for a few weeks and then dies with the mother plant. Plants will also produce many offsets, which are miniature, baby rosettes still attached to the mother plant. This is perhaps the origin of another common name ‘hens and chicks’. These little plants will root and can be potted up and shared with like-minded friends.

sempervivums growing in old drawer
Sempervivums can be planted in a variety of containers. Image: Adobe Stock

Five ways to grow sempervivums

1. Houseleeks are supposed to have been used to plug gaps on house roofs and protect homes against lightening strikes. It’s a practice that is still carried out in Wales and on some old buildings. The plants keep their leaves and fill holes in the tiles, slowing the passage of water. The clumps grow and spread over the damaged area protecting the home from water ingress. Try it on a garden shed or an outbuilding, or simply plant them into a crack in the paving.

Houseleeks growing on roof tiles
Houseleeks were historically used to plug gaps on house roofs. Image: Adobe Stock

2. There are about 40 species of sempervivums and probably as many cultivars. And once you start to grow them and appreciate them in all their forms, you will soon become addicted. Collectors of sempervivums often plant one type into shallow terracotta bowls, known as pans, it’s a great way to display them and compare them, and to appreciate their beauty and differences. Mulch over the surface of the compost with contrasting fine gravel.

Collection of different pots of sempervivums
Lots of pots and sempervivums make a striking display. Adobe Stock

3. If you are starting out with sempervivums and just want a few different types in a small area, then consider setting up a triple pot. These are three separate terracotta pots of different sizes, planted into each other. Fill them with a gritty, well-drained compost and plant your sempervivums into each section. Leave plenty of room for them to spread and be prepared to remove a few offsets once your plants start to establish and grow.

Sempervivums (Houseleeks) in a triple layered pot
An easy way to display sempervivums is in a triple layered pot. Image: Adobe Stock

4. Sempervivums love little nooks and crannies to get growing, so amongst bricks are just perfect. You can fill the holes with a loam-based compost and plant your offsets into them. The plants will establish and as they form offsets they will spread over the surface of your bricks. You can position them around the garden, anywhere where you can appreciate them as they grow.

Sempervivums growing amongst bricks in wall
Sempervivums grow almost anywhere as long as there is some soil.

5. This centrepiece was on show at  RHS Chatsworth Flower Show on the Sunray Plants stand in the plant village. It was just one of the inspired ways to use these versatile plants. You need to be a bit creative to do this and its important to remember that your plants need something to grow in and something to keep them in place.

Sunray Plants display at Chatsworth Flower Show 2017.

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