Whether armed with spines, edged with teeth or clothed in masses of small rounded leaves, these succulents offer exciting texture and form, which can be heightened further with contrasting smooth or simple containers. Traditionally these plants have been displayed indoors, but all can be grown outdoors in summer on a sunny sheltered patio, balcony or deck.
Prized for their architectural rosettes, Agave are low-maintenance plants that complement contemporary containers and modern designs. Best displayed individually, select a contrasting pot, such as a cool, white ceramic container with a white-striped type like ‘Mediopicta Alba.’ Agave make excellent house plants, but place them carefully to prevent clothes from catching on the tooth-edged leaves. Allow the compost to dry out between waterings, and keep plants even drier in winter. Fast-growing species will need moving into larger pots every few years, or remove young shoots to keep them in check.
Height and spread goes up to 5 feet (1.5 meters). It needs full sun if outdoors and a light location if indoors. Temperature needs are a minimum of 41 degrees Fahrenheit (5 degrees Celsius). Suitable container material is terra-cotta, stone, plastic, metal and ceramic.
There are many Agave varieties to choose from. Agave parryi var. truncata has neat blue rosettes with wide leaves, while A. stricta is a dangerous looking plant that forms a sphere of slender spiky leaves. A. schidigera is compact and produces upright leaves edged with wispy white filaments, while A. victoriae-reginae is small and tender with stiff, white-edged, green leaves.
Donkey's tail or sedum morganianum
With its pendulous stems heavily weighed down by cylindrical gray-green leaves, this sedum is a curious sight. In the spring and summer, small pink flowers may appear at the end of stems. Other than watering and repotting from time to time, donkey’s tail needs very little attention, but take care not to break off the delicate leaves. Allow the compost to almost dry out before watering, and water less in the winter.
While the plant is young it can be grown in a small, decorative pot, but once the stems have reached their full length, it needs to be raised off the ground to prevent the leaves being damaged. It’s ideally suited to a hanging basket or wall-mounted pot, or set it in a container on a bookcase or shelf where you can appreciate its cascading stems of beadlike leaves.
Everyone has heard of Aloe vera, a plant famed for the healing properties of its sap, but there are many others worth growing too. Most come from Africa and encompass a huge and varied range of plants, including dwarf, smooth-leaf varieties suitable for a south-facing windowsill indoors, and large plants, such as the heavily armored Aloe ferox. Many can be placed in a sunny location outdoors in the summer, as long as they are moved back inside before the frost returns. Keep the compost just moist in the summer, and do not water the leafy rosettes. In the winter, keep the compost almost dry.
Indoors, grow the smooth-leaf A. vera or the partridge-breasted aloe, A. variegata, which boasts rosettes of green leaves decorated with white bands. A. ferox is an architectural plant with steely-blue leaves edged with red teeth, while A. arborescens ‘Variegata’ is a large plant with sword-shaped, yellow-striped leaves.
Aloe ferox has a height and spread of 3 feet in a pot. It needs a light location indoors, full sun in the garden and its temperature needs are a minimum of. 50 degrees Fahrenhejt (10 degrees C.) Suitable pot size is 4 to 24 inches (10 to 60 cm), depending on plant size. Suitable container materials are terra-cotta, stone, plastic, metal and ceramic.