My avid interest in gardening aside, I’ve had a persistent lack of enthusiasm for indoor plants. Issues of light, moisture, mites and way too many water stains on furniture surfaces have all contributed to an avoidance of potted plants. However, I am more than willing to make an exception when it comes to succulents — horticulture’s “givers not takers.”
Succulents are remarkable for their ability to survive under harsh conditions — how perfect is that? The plants are designed to hold water, hold your gaze and ask for little more. They tolerate (as in, refuse to die) ordinary dirt and light. Some succulents are prickly and do not immediately warm the proverbial cockles of the heart. They impress more by their stalwartness (they prefer to be left alone), and for the fact that your cat will never want to munch them. They are gnarly, yet stylish. On the other hand, succulents that don’t have spines — and there are many — are irresistible for their (oxymoron alert) nearly mythical cuteness. Every possible variant of lobed surface, shape, shade and branching habit is in the mix. Adorable.
And that’s another thing. A succulent looks great all by itself or grouped with others. In fact, the best approach is to think “pot not plant.” Find a vessel you love and emphasize that more than any grand ambition for the succulent in the soil.
I take all my cues from Fran Levin, the goddess of succulents and a highly regarded Massachusetts gardener. She has a dizzying array of succulents, many of which endure outdoor winters. If you are inspired to get more technical, her recommendation is to use a mix of 50% potting soil and 50% pumice (or kitty litter) for a medium that does not harden, and drains well over time. She also fertilizes once a year with products sold online from the succulent loving state of California (ditto for the pumice).
Pictured to the right is a highlight of Fran’s plants and pots. Again, anything goes in the realm of containers. Let your imagination run wild. Fran and her husband Clint did. Many years ago they got wind of the demise of the local Revere Copper & Brass factory and salvaged a 12-foot long men’s urinal, which they handsomely repurposed into a serene trough for plants and pebbles.
They don’t agonize over the succulents when leaving for out-of-town commitments. Low-maintenance is the operative word when it comes to succulents, so no need to hire a “plant sitter.” Benign neglect never looked so good.