With July fast approaching and the RHS Hampton court flower show on the horizon, we would like to take a moment to look back at an amazing RHS Chelsea flower show 2023. Another massive achievement for Surreal Succulents is to have won our third gold medal in three years.
The dedicated hard work from the team helped us create a garden full of texture and colour. A massive thank you must go to Jack Drewitt, who worked tirelessly to hand build the wooden planters that included a beautiful Japanese-style burnt wood effect. The judges really loved the new look and feel of the display.
The wood effect combined with the corten steel planters and outstanding succulents were even more intriguing when lit up by the amazing lighting supplied by Lightpro professional outdoor lighting. This gave the garden a distinct new feel and it looked stunning under the cover of darkness on Gala night.
The stars of the show garden were undoubtedly the giant Aeonium ‘Deep Purple’ who stood proud and tall in the Grand Pavilion.
The show itself never ceases to deliver a fantastic atmosphere. The RHS Chelsea Flower Show has the most amazing buzz that lasts the entire event. We met and chatted with so many kind and lovely visitors, answered many questions, and shared our passion for succulents. We can’t wait to go back again next year.
A huge thank you to all of our loyal customers and followers who make this dream possible. We want to continue to share this passion with you for many years to come.
With years of experience of hybridising, Daniel had often talked to the RHS botanists about the theoretical chances of crossing other members of the Crassulaea family.
While some of these such as ‘Pheonix Flame’ are tested frost survivors, generally Aeoniums are tender plants which need protection over winter in the UK. So we started looking at how we could create plants with the beautiful architectural structure of Aeoniums with some of the hardiness of other Succulent species.
What are xSemponiums?
A xSemponiums is an inter-generic hybrid consisting of a Sempervivum and Aeonium. This was possible as they are genetically similar with both being members of the Crassulacean family.
Sempervivums are generally small compact plants which are extremely hardy and can withstand freezing temperature to below -20.
Aeoniums tend to be much larger and mostly frost tender, with only a few species and hybrids being able to take frost temperatures.
How was this possible?
Two plants were used to make these amazing inter-generic hybrids, this may sound easy. However, the flowering season of these plants are very far apart, in fact they are completely different. Aeoniums flower in the months of spring where as Sempervivums flower in the summer months.
The achievement of getting these two different species to flower at the same time with strong healthy pollen defied the laws of mother nature.
At the nursery we had a late flowering Aeonium ‘Ice Warrior’ which was moved to one of our coolest spots of the nursery to slow down flowering in an attempt to preserve the pollen. Sempervivum ‘Green Ice’ was chosen being a strong Sempervivum cultivar.
In our breeding we have found that using hybrids gives you a larger genetic pool with many more possible exciting outcomes rather than using species alone, which gives you less diversity.
This was by no means easy to pull off, the chosen plants had to be carefully contained to stop any cross contamination from other pollinators. These were then often moved in location to speed up or slowdown the flowering process. Once flowering of these two varieties was achieved the attempt of cross pollination could begin.
With the goal being hardiness, it was decided that the mother plant would be a Sempervivum. The theory was that this would allow us try to maximise the hardiness that the Sempervivum could offer and that we could clearly identify that a hybrid seed was achieved by producing the seed in this plant.
The Aeonium ‘Ice Warrior’ had an abundance of good strong healthy pollen, this plant has an extremely long flowering period over several months. Once flowering there would be hundreds of flowers opening, offering a long window of opportunity.
Sempervivum ‘Green Ice’ will produce a short flower spike with up to twenty flowers only lasting for a few weeks.
The fresh pollen from the Aeonium ‘Ice Warrior’ was removed and carefully transferred to freshly flowering Sempervivum ‘Green Ice’ using a soft paint brush and tweezers. We kept the flowers away and out of reach of pollinators as we didn’t want cross contamination with other plants.
We then left the flower to ripen in a dry sunny spot for 8 weeks, after this period we collected the flower heads and left them to dry out completely in a brown paper bag for a further 2 weeks.
After the 2 weeks we removed the fine dust like seed from the chaff of the flower, then carefully packaged into a cellophane envelope and clearly labelled it, which was then stored in the fridge for a couple of weeks until sowing.
The seed was then good to go, by that time it was late Autumn, we then took the fine seed and evenly distributed it over the surface of a tray of sterilized seed compost, we then covered the seed with a fine sand and carefully soaked the seed tray in a bath of sterilized water. A thin piece of glass was placed over the top of the seed tray trapping in the humidity to aid germination. The tray was placed in a bright spot and left to do its thing.
We checked the seed weekly hoping to see signs of germination. By week three we could see signs that the seed had germinated but there wasn’t enough evidence at that point to know if the cross had been successful, more time and patience was needed. A further two to three months on, and to our excitement we saw massive variation in the seedlings, at this point we knew we had done it; we were overcome with emotion as we were witnessing the birth of the world’s first xSemponiums.
Once the seedlings where at a suitable size we potted every single one on, giving each one star treatment, this was important as we didn’t want to miss any potential prospects. Over the course of the growing season we could select potential forms of interest and colour to grow on, this was an incredibly difficult task as we had so many different amazing looking variations.
We ended up choosing six varieties these all had unique distinctions whether it was form, colour or vigour, each one looked completely different to the next.
This Semponium is called Sienna for two reasons, it grows with the most amazing sienna red in the springtime. It is also named after the daughter of Mark Lea.
This Semponium grows with the most amazing formation, it naturally offsets with neat layers of rosettes to form an amazing pyramid which is just breath taking. Sienna grows with the formation of an Aeonium but the rosettes have a Sempervivum appearance, showing how amazing Semponiums really are.
When grown in strong light levels, Sienna will go the most amazing electric red like never seen before in other succulents.
xSemponium ‘Sienna’ is Surreal Succulents entry into the RHS Chelsea Flower show plant of the year 2021.
This Semponium is called ‘Vortex’ due to the amazing growth patters this plant can produce from its central Rossette resembling a vortex whirlpool spiral. It grows a large head up to 50cm across and it has many more leaf layers down the steam. This gives this plants a very attractive form.
This Semponium is called ‘Destiny’. One of the most unusual feature of this plant is the veiny structure of the leaves. It also has the most amazing colours which range from bright green to a very deep purple red. This plant can produce one very large flat head up to 60cm across. It can produce offsets underneath the main rosette which grow and branch.
This Semponium is called ‘Halo’ because of the white edges each leaf can develop in strong light levels. Halo grows with the growth formation of the Sempervivum forming tight clumps as it spreads. It has the leaf shape of the Aeonium making the plant a perfect blend of both is parentage.
This Semponium is called ‘Diamond’ for the amazing diamond shaped leaves it has. This is especially clear in the centre of the rosette. It has an amazing bright green colour with a contrasting red outline to each leaf. This plant grows up to 35cm across and can also offset at the base.
xSemponium ‘Mrs Frosty’
This Semponium was named ‘Mrs Frosty’ after gardening legend and TV presenter Adam Frost’s wife. This plants name was decided on our Instagram live with Adam Frost over lockdown. It is a fantastic grower which has elongated spoon shape leaves. It has brown flecks that resemble ice crystals. It grows with an attractive green, brown colour which is capable of turning brown/ pink in strong light levels. It can grow to a large size in height and width 60 x 60cm. It can produce offsets layers of offsets making this a truly different looking Semponium.
The speed of growth of all the xSemponiums is fantastic, they grow incredibly quickly with immense hybrid vigour, the leaves look fresh and clean all year round, they also seem to have a shorter dormancy stage than their parentage.
Above all, the hardness of these xSemponiums is one of the most important features of these cross genetic hybrids, with hardness tests still ongoing. And a couple of winters under our belt, we have had xSemponium ‘Sienna’ survive temperatures to as low as -4, this is such an encouraging sign and gives us great hope for future breeding.
The Semponiums have received great interest and we decided to show them for the first time at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2020. Unfortunately, this show was cancelled because of the pandemic. So, the decision was made to save them until the shows return in 2021.
These plants will all feature in our show garden and we have even entered x Semponium ‘Sienna’ into the ‘Plant of the Year’ competition.
We are so excited to show case these plants at the world’s most prestigious show. The Semponiums give us a new range of colours, textures and forms to feature in our award-winning show gardens. These plants are so special in their own rights from their parentage, but it is also a chance to show how different and beautiful they are. We are planning to show them alongside many Aeoniums and other succulent plants. We are aiming to highlight that these really are a inter-generic hybrid when showcased in our display garden.
Agaves are in the Asparagaceae family with over 270 known species native to Mexico and the surrounding region. Agaves are known for their beautiful structural forms and make stunning feature plants in pots, gardens and rockeries. Many species can survive temperatures well below freezing and are incredibly happy growing outside in the U.K, when given the correct amount of drainage. Be careful when handling these stunning plants as they come covered in an armoury of spikes. These are to protect themselves from being eaten in their habitat as they grow in arid locations where water is scarce.
Agave leaves unfold very slowly and incredibly neatly from a central conical shaped crown. Many species leave very pronounced markings and patterns where the previous leaf rested before unravelling.
Agaves can take many years to flower and are often called century plants because of this, with some varieties taking up to 50 to 60 years before flowering. Some of the larger species of Agave can produce an incredible flowering display of over 12 meters high.
Due to the time they take to flower, it is very rare to find hybrid forms of Agave, but when they do arise, they are often beautiful and highly sought after. Variegated Agaves are visually stunning, with many coming in compact forms, making them the ideal collector’s plant.
Soil Mix and Feeding
Agaves are very easy to care for and can be extremely tough plants that require little attention to thrive. A free-draining soil mix is vital. We use 50 percent soil and 50 percent grit or perlite for drainage, a supplementary feed in the warmer growing season such as a slow-release fertiliser or regular balanced liquid feeds will help these plants grow.
The ideal time to feed Agaves is during the repotting process. Add a 5 to 6-month slow-release fertiliser during the spring at the recommended amounts or a well-balanced liquid fertiliser every two to three weeks.
Adding these will help to encourage good strong growth throughout the summer.
Planting your Agave at an angle will keep the plant’s crown from becoming waterlogged and allow the rainwater to drain freely out of the plant. It is especially important when grown outside where you cannot control the watering.
Pot on your Agave when it becomes pot bound, this is an excellent time to remove dead and dying older leaves and roots. It also allows you to pot on any pups that may have appeared. Always wash your hands after handling agaves as the sap can be irritant.
Many Agaves are cold hardy and will happily grow outside year-round given the correct amount of drainage. Choose a spot where they will receive plenty of sunlight. A bright location is essential, especially during cold winter months.
We like to underplant with rocks for two reasons. It will help keep the plant free draining at the base, and it also keeps weeds at bay as Agave can be hard to weed around due to their spines. Its good to use a thick layer of top dress to keep the leaves off the wet soil to avoid rot as the Agave grows.
You can use horticultural fleece to keep the plant dryer if the winters are particularly wet. You could choose to pop a temporary shelter over the Agave for the winter, as this will ensure extra protection against the cold and wet, especially if the Agaves are young and tender.
Positioning Agaves is incredibly important for them to achieve a mature size. Most Agaves prefer full Sun to Part shade. Variegated Agaves prefer part shade as this intensifies the colouring and markings. Position your Agaves where they can’t danger passers-by or pets with their sharp spines.
Agaves respond well to regular watering once a week during the summer, but if the weather is scorching, sunny and dry, it is always good to water up to 3 times a week. When watering, make sure the free-draining soil mix is thoroughly drenched and well saturated. The best time to water Agaves is early morning when the Sun is less intense. During the winter, Agaves require a lot less water, a slight moistening of the soil is sufficient for the colder months as the plant is dormant.
These plants don’t just look tough, they are tough and can deal with all types of extreme weathers, from heatwaves to windstorms and torrential downpours. Some species, such as Agave montana can survive long periods under snow.
The winters are usually the resting periods for Agave, it is always best to keep the soil on the drier side during these colder months. Sunlight is vital during the winter, as much direct sunlight will ensure a healthy plant come the spring.
You may even choose to snip the spines off the end of the Agave, to make them safer to be around. It also makes it easier to apply the fleece in the winter and prevents puncturing the horticultural fleece. This will not affect the plants in any way but be careful not to cut into the leaf tips.
If Agaves are grown in pots, then they can be moved into a greenhouse, conservatory or indoors on a sunny windowsill for the winter.
Use a well-draining soil mix 50% multipurpose compost and 50% grit of perlite.
Feed and water regularly during the growing season.
Plant at an angle so water can freely run away from the crown.
Use a good thick top dress to help the Agave from rotting.
Place in a bright sunny location for optimum growth rates.
Last year Surreal Succulents were excited to be exhibiting for the first time at the RHS shows. This was a new challenge for us as we are new to showing plants at this level. We wanted to showcase the colour, texture and form and highlight how well they work in a garden setting together. We came up with a contemporary display garden theme that would suit any small space such as a yard, patio or balcony garden. With of course its’s own Surreal Succulents style.
We decided to design and make some features for our show stand including our bespoke vertical succulent garden, succulent chaise longe and also corten steel planters. With a contemporary designer theme, we wanted to show how you can squeeze lots of plants into a small space. Using existing walls or furniture with space for plants designed into it to take up as little room as possible.
We were delighted to be approached by BBC Gardener’s World as they wanted to do a feature on us preparing for the show and film the final display garden. This was fantastic news for us but the pressure was on.
Mark came up with the design of the vertical garden and succulent chaise lounge. The succulent chaise lounge was inspired by the amazing repetitive patterns found in succulents and the design was certainly surreal. It was a concept piece that is actually comfier than it looks. We planted the head rest with Aeonium ‘Cyclops’ as these grow giant rosettes on the end of large upright stems, these looked like sun parasols. We also mounted multiple Aeonium tabuliforme vertically into the design.
The vertical garden was designed with the idea that if you only have a small wall space you can still enjoy a wonderful colourful succulent garden. We added some laser etched foot prints to make the design more surreal and add a different texture to the show piece. This was planted up with our Echeveria collection and looked amazing.
Our large corten steel bowls were planted up with our Surreal Succulents hybrids and large Echeveria’s from our collection. These were a great edition to the stand, and were a massive hit with the visitors.
We finished the set up with only 10 minutes to spare, It looked amazing and we were so pleased with it. All the features worked well and the colours of the planters and wooden textures went really well with the plants.
The next morning we were met by the BBC producers and it was at this point we received our medal. A silver gilt, we were so happy and delighted as this was our first RHS silver gilt we had ever received. It was so nice to share this experience with the BBC team as they had met us before and filmed at the nursery to cover the feature, they were really rooting for us.
The show opened and we were filmed with the legendary Adam Frost, It was amazing to chat with him before filming. Adam said he had seen our feature covering our nursery and he really enjoyed it.
A short while later we also met Carol Klein who was very popular at the show. The floral Marquee soon filled and the atmosphere was buzzing. It was amazing watching the crowds of people taking pictures selfies and popping their pictures on Facebook and Instagram.
We felt a massive sense of achievement but the best bit was meeting all of you that visited the show. We loved everyone getting inspired by our garden and buying our succulents.