Until now I’ve associated succulent plants with the spindly, sad specimens my mother had on her window sill. They appeared lifeless lacking the excitment and colour of other plants. But when I inherited this garden in Portugal, I discovered, they didn’t need to be indoor plants with all the limitations of a British home; far from being boring, these plants are the ones that have captured my imagination most.
An Aeonium growing out of a rock, enormous blue and varigated agaves that give drama to the rocky part of our garden that has less than 2 inches of soil, the subtle colours of echeverias which seem to show permanent flower rosettes until the flower starts to really flower with the prettiest of blooms. There is a wondrous variety of colour, texture, size and form. They can be spiky, fuzzy, often multi-coloured. They can be pudgy and round or leafy and delicate. They can be enormous and architectural and intimidating or tiny and intricate and itybity . They can be so cute or can be aggressive and poisonous and violent.
The last two summers in Portugal have been long and hot and we haven’t been here to water so most of the established garden has had to survive without water and on the whole it has especially, I note, the succulents. They look a bit sad when we arrive back from our summer holidays but after the first rains everything seems to revive miraculously.
The more succulents I meet the more I gawk in wonder. A word of caution though, don’t just plough into Agaves, Their sap is a nasty irritant. Just ask ‘Mr Sundance’. That was one rash move too many for him!