Posted by: lialeendertz | October 3, 2010

Future aeonium massacre

This is a picture of my old Aeonium collection: several of these are already dead, more will be soon

My horticultural weakness is aeoniums. I love the big, succulent look of them, and they remind me of my summer holidays in Cornwall. They are an indulgence in the proper old, horticultural style in that they are not fully hardy. They need cosseting over winter, not to be allowed to fall below 5degrees C, and that means heating.

Well last year I made a big song and dance about not cosseting them, about not heating my greenhouse. I realise that the amount of heat is negligible compared with that involved in heating the house, but it just seemed such a symbol of gardening decadence: an oil heater, burning away all night, night after night, in a little house made out of glass. It was my Dubai golf course. It sat in the middle of my ‘low-carbon garden’ sticking the Vs up at it and then pulling its pants down and mooning it, through the glass, for good measure.

So I said I wasn’t going to do it. I said it nice and public like, on the Guardian website, in order to encourage others to follow my lead and give it a go. And then – oh you KNOW the next bit – we had the longest, hardest winter since 1963. I have no idea how many plant deaths that post was responsible for, at least several, but I know what happened in my own greenhouse. A lot of them made it through those long, frozen weeks, particularly the more common types such as Aeonium ‘Zwartkopf’ and A. arborescens, and a lot died, particularly the more unusual and satisfyingly lush types that I got from tiny breeders, such as A. ‘Green Eye’, and A. ‘Sunburst’.

Anyway, I am undaunted. I am doing it again. I actually went back to Cornwall, re-bought a load of the things that had died, and am now going to leave them in the greenhouse, unheated over winter. I sort of can’t help myself with this aeonium replenishing lark. It’s like a horticultural tic. But the plan is not quite as mad as it sounds. Last winter was exceptional; there’s a chance it could happen again this year, but I don’t think so (if that isn’t giving my plants the kiss of death, I don’t know what is).

And so – Actual Gardening Advice Alert! – here’s a quick run-through of how to not heat your greenhouse. Mine is already insulated with bubble-wrap (I never took it off in spring. Used it as greenhouse shading. Eh? Eh? Not as stupid as I look…), so after clearing away all the manky tomatoes and sweeping it out, I moved the table away from the south-facing side, to allow as much light in as possible, parcel-taped cardboard to about hip height all the way around (except for on the south side), parcel-taped cardboard all the way up the north-facing side, which is against a fence anyway, so no light loss. Also I filled up the water-butt, so it acts as a kind of heat store. ‘Heat’ is most probably too strong a word in the dead of a February night, but even so, it regulates the temperature of the air around it, apparently.

There is one thing I will be doing differently. I ended last year’s post with the words ‘If I can’t grow certain plants without blasting them with a heater all winter, I most probably shouldn’t be growing them at all’ and I will add this time: if I can’t grow certain plants without driving to Cornwall every summer to buy them again, I should definitely learn to live without. If they die, that’s it. I will stoically accept the limitations of my climate. Honest.



  1. Bubble wrap, parcel tape AND cardboard. Mmmm… sounds gorgeous. Is your next book title ‘Shabby Chic for the Greenhouse’? Can’t believe Kelly Hoppen hasn’t already nicked these ideas wholesale.

    Then again, I am unashamedly shallow. I would probably just wrap them in bunting and keep my fingers crossed.

  2. Love it. Dedication to your best-loved plants but no compromise on the greenhouse heating issue. Best of luck, hope you don’t need to drive to Cornwall to replenish stocks. And I won’t say a word about the environmental cost of driving – I have friends in St. Ives, so would make myself a double hypocrite as my vehicle is a VW camper that is lucky to get 20mpg… Roll on a mild winter and many lovely trips to the South West, because it’s there!

  3. Hi Lia,

    I know nothing about aeoniums that Schwartzkopf looks like it should be on Darth Vader’s desk. Don’t some people put warm stuff (relocated compost bins, hot water bottles) in greenhouses to help fight frost?

    Sheila Averbuch — Stopwatch Gardener

  4. Bob Flowerdew, whose thoughts re heating greenhouses are similar to yours, advised a house within a house within a house method. So multi layers of insulation were concentrated on the plants which were most in need.

    Maybe a coldframe within a greenhouse might work.

    A quote from Bob.
    “….. the total amount of heat I have throughout the year is perhaps one bathroom fan heater, because I use so many layers of insulation. I have a polytunnel inside a polytunnel, and then triple layers of bubbled plastic.”

    Full transcript here

    Good luck with your aeoniums – the only ones we grow are the black ones (schwarz….?) so for hardiness we may have chosen well. They got through last winter ok together with a banana plant. in an unheated greenhouse but covered in layers of old compost bags

  5. Can you not find somewhere in the house to put them so you dont have to heat the greenhouse? I had mine in the greenhouse last winter but I only put the heater on to keep it frost free and they were all fine. I have a little electric heater which has a thermostat so only comes on when the temperature goes below a certain level.

  6. I don’t know anything at all about Aeoniums

  7. Sorry – I hit the submit button by mistake – I’ll try again! (Was heading for the notification about comments one.)

    . . . I don’t know anything about Aeoniums but one of them (at the front) looks so much like my Sedum Capo Blanco that I got worried about what would happen to it during the winter. Indeed I got so worried, I headed for information about it and find it’s hardy. Phew! However . . . do you know if they are related?


  8. After two years of aeonium deaths I am buying a greenhouse heater. I am not sure whether my carbon footprint will be deeper than if I spend next year driving around looking for dead-aeonium replacements. I will also keep some aeonium cuttings indoors as a back-up precaution. Losing them 3 years in a row really would be unbearable!

  9. Killing things is de rigeur let m,e tell you. I’ve a great collection I could show you if I hadnt used them for kindling over last winter. Im going for a bubblewrap room within the polytunnel for things like the kaffir lime…more in hope than expectation.

    PS Wouldnt it be cheaper to move to cornwall?

  10. Dawn – Bunting is kind of magic – the way it can transform the most hum drum event into an instant party – so I might wrap a bit round just in case.

    Janet – I make myself sound like a complete nutter, but in fact I dont actually drive to Cornwall just to buy aeoniums. I tend to multi-task and tack a small family camping holiday onto the buying spree.

    Sheila – not a bad idea re: hot water bottles. remind me on really cold nights.

    Simon – Good to know me ‘n’ Bob are on the same page. Thanks for that. Very useful info indeed. you have definitely chosen well for hardiness. I think of ‘Zwartkopf’ is the ‘entry level’ aeonium and if you dont want to get sucked into this annual round of heartbreak, you should stop right there.

    Helen – I have tried keeping them in the house before and they all died there too! I think they dont like that much heat, and they like the light. I really should just stop growing them.

    Esther – I so thought that was going to be your comment ‘I dont know anything about aeoniums’! Brilliant! That is not a sedum, that is an aeonium (one of the ones that is still alive, no less) but am delighted your plant is hardy.

    Arabella ‘Jeremy Clarkson’ Sock – I completely understand your pain and no-one’s judging you.
    And just to be clear, I do get them when I’m on hols already, I just happen to go on hols very near some excellent aeonium sources.

    MarkD – I much like the sound of your/Bob’s room within a room. One day I may just move to Cornwall and be done with it.

  11. mmm, got me thinking, insulatate by all means but then roll in wheelbarrows of fresh steamy hot horse manure to warm things up for a day or two, then bung manure on compost heap and roll in another fresh load, at least all this work will keep you warm…just a suggestion…

  12. I now understand why you left a lot of your bubble wrap in place. Spent 4hrs bubble wrapping my greenhouse. When it was 17C outside. It was a timing thing, but I felt a total wombat. Think the north side and end against next door’s house can just stay put…

  13. Oh hum – I am now the proud owner of one aeonium – and I am not going to heat my greenhouse just for one, but I am going to bring it indoors, as we dont have central heating and it will be marginally warmer than the greenhouse, I hope.

    I am sure that you are right and the winter will be just fine!

  14. I have alternative suggestions…(not all frivolous)

    a compost heap within the greenhouse might generate enough heat (a la water butt) to stave off hypothermia

    On cold nights put Aeoniums in camper van and leave heater on low. Possibly won’t use as much fuel as driving to Cornwall and back.

    put children (wrapped in duvets – I’m not completely heartless) in greenhouse and put Aeoniums in children’s rooms.

    Grow tougher, prettier things than Aeoniums.

    Send Aeoniums back to Cornwall to overwinter (flying South like ugly lumpy leaved swallows) and collect them again in the Spring.

    Okay. Mostly frivolous.

  15. Bale of straw in the middle of the greenhouse. Douse it with water. Leave it to rot/compost (as others have suggested). Will generate enough heat for your greenhouse and your house. Takes a while to get going, but lasts a while too.

    It really does work.

  16. nice A. collection.
    I pruned mine just to keep favourites. Gave away they less loved.

    might it be worth trying a few of special aeoniums in different place in the house?

    I keep my aeoniums inside on south facing windowsill, can be a bit parky in the bathroom in window so not too warm and plenty of light.
    however they will be fighting for space when I bring in cymbidiums.

    last winter everything I put in cold frame (not having a green house) succumbed to grey mould.

  17. I know this is heresy *whispers* but apart from a band a mile wide around the coast and the odd small pocket, Cornwall is 93% shite…go to Devon instead.

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