Anybody can appreciate the simple pleasure of greenery: it’s a welcome break from all the steel and glass and smoke of life in the modern age. As such, most people find the idea of keeping plants and flowers appealing, and modern folk with a green thumb vary from potted plant hobbyists to those expert gardeners you see holding trowels and soil packets on posters in DIY stores.
I’ve always wanted to share some of that gardening ability, however I’m faced with one small issue: I am totally incompetent when it comes to actual plantcare.
The answer? Succulents.
Succulent plants are unique in that they have adapted specifically for life in arid regions, such as deserts, mountains, and the like. The term ‘succulent’ comes from their leaves, which are typically fatter and more juicy than non-succulent plants – it’s a trait of their improved water retention. Contrary to the idea that desert plants would be dry and withered, succulents are quite bulbous and fleshy, and above all, glamorously colourful; succulent breeds are highly varied, with two members of the same breed often looking completely different to one another.
Arguably the most well-known type of succulent are those hundreds of cactus breeds. Cacti are equally variable in their appearance, with their only real common quality being the inclusion of spines, spikes, or bristles. While they are probably the most popular succulent, they’re not the only type of desert plant you can grow in a pot. In fact, cacti represent only a portion of all succulents; most are smooth and bulbous, sometimes shiny, with low-set roots and wide, fleshy leaves.
So why is it easier to raise succulents compared to ‘normal’ plants? The most difficult element of plantcare for any newbie is remembering everything a plant needs – plant feed, frequent re-potting, watering, ideal growing conditions, pot size, growth hormones. The list of stuff you need to care for a group of regular plants can be a pain to get together, or just really expensive.
As anybody who has ever owned a cactus can probably confirm, succulents need minimal attention to be healthy and happy. Most succulent plants need only a drainage pot and a windowsill and will last for months in dry soil. The plants themselves are cheap, too – when I first started keeping succulents, I bought an Aloe juvenna from my local garden centre for only £3, which included the pot that it came in. Most succulents grow best in a shady windowsill and only need to be watered once or twice a month – sometimes not more than five or six times a year.
What is the value of the plants themselves? I’d never sell my own succulent collection, but some people grow them until they flower and then sell them on at markets or garden festivals. Succulent blossoms are bright and attractive and only bloom once every few years, so there is a huge demand among succulent lovers who are looking to buy. Additionally, groups of growers meet up on social media platforms such as Reddit to trade their plants and grow their personal collections. Some succulents, such as the infamous Aloe vera, are used in the creation of soaps and herbal mixtures.
Some very talented individuals take a pair of clippers and turn their succulents into various decorative fixtures, such as holiday wreathes and wedding bouquets. There are ways of doing this without even killing the plants that you snip off, but if you’re like me and can barely even use scissors correctly, simple potted arrangements such as these are equally satisfying to behold.
How does keeping succulents actually benefit me? If you’re not a marketeer or an artsy type, there are still benefits to keeping succulents – even a potted cactus on your desk or an aloe in your windowsill.
As any plant, succulents make excellent decorations. Many of them are resistant to house pets nibbling on them (cats tend to leave cacti alone) and they take far longer to brown thanks to their improved water retention. They’re less messy than regular potted plants, which shed leaves and need watering and re-potting much more frequently. Depending on your perspective and the age of the plant, many of them can be just the right amount of charming and unusual – some ‘normal’ potted plants can be quite plain in comparison. Also, most succulents are much smaller than other office plants, meaning they can fit snugly on a desk or in a small workspace.
Above all, even if you’re not looking to start a collection, rearing plants can be quite rewarding – even those that need relatively little attention. As I mentioned before, that extra little bit of greenery in the corner of your bedroom can be a welcome respite, and there’s an element of pride in rearing a succulent to maturity. It’s a safe and inexpensive hobby which can be quite relaxing at times, and they’re sure to lighten up your room a bit, especially when they flower in the summer.
If you’re interested in buying a potted succulent for yourself, you can read this guide to get you started – it’s worth thinking about if you like the look of them! I’ll update this post with a picture of my own succulents once they’ve been re-potted. Thank you for reading!