Sempervivums, or houseleeks, are hardy, succulent, alpine plants that grow in the wild between rocks in mountainous regions.
Sempervivum means 'always alive' – a reference to the fact that houseleeks tolerate extreme temperatures and drought. The hardiness of sempervivums (also known as hen and chickens), makes them excellent, easy-to-keep garden plants.
Sempervivums are commonly grown in containers, but they can thrive in bricks, driftwood and tufa rock, due to 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, with sharp horticultural grit added for drainage. A layer of grit added to the surface of the compost further aids 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 and 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.
Discover 10 sempervivum cultivars, below.