Ben Preston's succulent container display

Dark Mediterranean planting display with Aeonium ‘Zwartkop’

York Gate head gardener Ben Preston explains how to create a beautiful sultry pot with succulents. Photographs Eva Nemeth

Prominent deep-purple rosettes held aloft on patterned stems make Aeonium ‘Zwartkop’ a must-have plant in your succulent collection. The equally dark, Victorian Pelargonium ‘Lord Bute’, with its near-black petals with vivid pink margins has been a favourite for more than a century. Together they make an intense blend for a south-facing paved garden or courtyard. The tight rosettes of sempervivums and echeverias at their feet, finish off the Mediterranean combination.

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Ben Preston's succulent container display
© Eva Nemeth

How to achieve the look

Container and composition

The heat retained by this carved, stone bowl in a south-facing corner creates the Mediterranean conditions for sun-loving succulents to thrive. A mixed carpet of Echeveria lilacina and Sempervivum ‘Standard Green’ will continue to push up new, tight rosettes all summer, below the rising stems and dark rich heads of Aeonium ‘Zwartkop’.

Importantly the Aeonium are planted at the bowl’s edge, showing off the patterned markings of spent petioles on their naked stems. The equally dark, Pelargonium ‘Lord Bute’ sits towards the back and centre allowing the succulents to not be over-shadowed. Carefully topping off the bowl with horticultural grit gives the desired dry garden feel.

Cultivation and care

Sempervivum ‘Green Standard’ is the  only hardy species in this display, so all the others require winter protection. The container can be deconstructed or if you have space brought inside before the first frosts. Originating from the Canary Islands, the Aeonium need to be kept at least frost-free, preferably above 5ºC in a greenhouse or light windowsill. The dark heads often fade to green in the lower light levels of winter, but don’t worry they will soon return to rich purple in the warmer seasons. Succulents, whether planted in a pot or the ground, require an open, free-drainage mix, so they don’t sit with wet feet and rot. I use a mix of equal parts John Innes No.3, sharp sand and horticulture grit.

Plants you need

Ben Preston's succulent container display
© Eva Nemeth

From left to right: Pelargonium ‘Lord Bute’ Tender, evergreen sub-shrub with deep-crimson, near-black flowers. 45cm. AGM. RHS H1C.

Sempervivum ‘Green Standard’ Tight rosettes of pointed, bright-green fleshy leaves. Short erect stems of pink flowers when grown in full sun. 15cm. RHS H5.

Top right: Aeonium ‘Zwartkop’ Tall evergreen succulent in neat clusters. Dark-purple open rosettes held on naked stems. Requires full sun to maintain dark foliage. 1.5m. AGM. RHS H1C.

Ben Preston's succulent container display
© Eva Nemeth
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Below right: Echeveria lilacina Tender rosette-forming succulents. Rosettes of pointed, fleshy leaves with a silvery blue hue. 15cm. AGM. RHS H2.