Not too far from the seaside town of Penzance, and within the grounds of Tremenheere Sculpture Park, is the fabulous Surreal Succulents. It houses a very fine collection of succulents, all displayed in a perfectly formed nursery. Secured behind a neat, wooden picket fence, it is well laid-out and has a strong emphasis on design. Smart, bespoke tiered staging displays drip with jewel-like aeoniums, agaves and haworthias, to name but a few, all at their absolute best. The main focal point, however, must be the uber-smart sales shed with its trendy beach-cabin vibe and an amazing succulent-studded living roof.

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Surreal Succulents in Cornwall
Located at the gates of the subtropical Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens in Cornwall, the nursery Surreal Succulents offers a wealth of rare and interesting succulents, along with a range of bespoke ceramic and glass terrariums designed for growing these plants. © Jason Ingram

Surreal Succulents is an exciting collaboration between plantsman and long-time succulent enthusiast Daniel Michael and designer-artist Mark Lea. When Mark joined Daniel, he was keen to branch out and use succulents when designing gardens. The pair also decided to up the ante at horticultural shows. “There was quite a clear direction we wanted to go in,” says Mark. “We wanted to take on the RHS shows for the first time and raise our reputation.”

Surreal Succulents in Cornwall
Succulents on display at the nursery show how easily they lend themselves to container cultivation, and work in a range of planter styles from low Corten steel planters to the wooden shelving of Mark's vertical garden. © Jason Ingram

Their first attempt resulted in a Silver medal but was also hugely informative. “Our stand comprised an Indian nail bed chaise longue,” says Mark. “It looked quite cool, but probably had no place in the floral marquee. After that first year, we had a better understanding of the judging criteria. Ever since then we have had nothing but Gold medals – 12 in all.” The pair’s success at shows has indeed raised Surreal Succulents’ profile considerably, helped by a well-tailored website and impressive care guides on Instagram.

Watch a glimpse of Surreal Succulents' roof garden

Surreal Succulents in Cornwall
A signature design feature at Surreal Succulents are the smart Corten steel planters brimming with succulents. © Jason Ingram

Much of Mark’s work is designing gardens using succulents from the nursery. “The thing about using succulents is they create a sense of place you don’t normally see,” he says. “Using them can transform a backyard into a tropical island.”

Hardiness has always been an issue, Mark points out, and this is what led to the creation of the x Semponium hybrids. After a bit of research, Daniel decided to attempt hybridising the closely allied tender aeoniums with the much hardier sempervivums, hopefully resulting in a hardier aeonium. There were rumours the cross had been tried before, but the seed was taken from the more tender aeoniums.

Surreal Succulents in Cornwall
Many succulents naturally inhabit sheer rocky slopes, growing in thin soils where water is scarcely available, and do well in cultivation when presented in a similar fashion. At Surreal Succulents, Mark Lea has come up with a contemporary solution for growing and displaying the plants that echoes their natural requirements. He calls it “the vertical garden”. © Jason Ingram

This time they used the sempervivums as the mother plant, but the difficulty was having both parents in flower at the same time. Luckily, the stars aligned, and they were able to use pollen from the aeonium on the hardier sempervivum.

After a few attempts, the cross succeeded. Daniel and Mark kept this quiet for about five years, sifting through the best seedlings, testing hardiness and building up stock of the favourites. The culmination of this effort has been the release of x Semponium ‘Destiny’, which earlier this year was named Plant of the Year at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

Surreal Succulents in Cornwall
The spectacular succulent roof forms the focal point of the nursery. It is very low maintenance and is pretty much left to its own devices for most of the year, bar a bit of tidying and feeding in the springtime. © Jason Ingram
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USEFUL INFORMATION Address Tremenheere Nursery, Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens, Gulva, Cornwall TR20 8YL. Tel 07476 349545. Web surrealsucculents.co.uk Open Daily 10.30am-4.30pm.

Authors

Mat Reese is head gardener at Malverleys Gardens

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