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During these long and dark winter days, it's only natural that our minds start to turn towards brighter months, and to make plans for the coming season. One area of cheer is which bedding plants we are going to choose for our outdoor containers.
It seems that despite the huge amount of effort and expense bedding plants need, their ability to provide a continuous conveyor belt of colour in wall pots and window boxes over spring and summer means their enduring appeal shows no signs of waning.
But what if there was a group of plants that could provide just as good, if not better, garden performance without the hours of feeding and watering? What if, instead of replanting these every season, a single planting could last years at a time, at a fraction of the cost, labour and environmental impact? Well, make the simple switch from traditional bedding to cool, modern outdoor succulents and you'll do just that.
Succulents make great choices for even the tiniest containers, from troughs and pots to even hanging baskets because - unlike most traditional bedding plants - they have spent millions of years adapting to environments with very shallow soil with very low moisture and fertility. In fact, I don't water plants in my containers at all over winter - and even in the summer they require just a fraction of "hose time".
For me the easiest of all have to be the sempervivums, which look just like bonsai-sized aloes and come in every colour of the rainbow. I have a bowl on my balcony that dazzles even in the darkest winter days, that I have never watered or fed in the three years I have owned it. Likewise, sedums are so tough they are a favourite of designers of living roofs - mainly for their ability to grow in as little as 1cm of substrate while still rewarding you with year-round colour, plus summer flowers which the bees love.
If you want to be a little more experimental, impossibly exotic hardy aloes such as Aloe striatula and A aristata will do well, especially in urban or coastal locations. They look sensational as statement plants underplanted with the silver, coral-like rosettes of Echeveria glauca. If space allows, a few small agaves will romp happily away, add some delospermato to trail off the edge with its day-glo, silky, daisy-like flowers and you'll have a showstopper for years to come.
- Guardian News and Media