Sempervivum means 'always alive' - a reference to the fact that houseleeks tolerate extreme temperatures and drought. The hardiness of Sempervivum
, and the closely related genus Jovibarba
(also known as hen and chickens), makes them excellent, easy-to-keep garden plants.
Sempervivum and Jovibarba species are commonly grown in containers, but they can thrive in bricks, driftwood and tufa rock, because of their ability to grow in very little compost. South-facing rockeries, gravel gardens and vertical walls also make good habitats.
They perform best in a sunny, outdoor position, in a well-drained compost, such as John Innes No.1 or No.2, with 25% sharp horticultural grit for added drainage. A layer of grit should be added to the surface of the compost to further aid drainage.
Houseleeks are most valued for their distinctive rosettes of succulent, spirally patterned foliage, although they also bear attractive flowers from spring to summer. Each rosette is a separate plant, and is monocarpic - it flowers once then dies, but is soon replaced by other new rosettes, called offsets. These offsets can be separated and planted up, and will then grow into new clumps.
Sempervivums don't need feeding, but do benefit from being repotted each year into compost containing slow-release fertiliser.