How to grow Inspired How to: grow a 'coral reef'

How to: grow a 'coral reef'


The adorable Philip Withers has an artistic side - & here it is - the most lusted after square metre from the whole show! Photo - Robin Powell

Such a simple idea – a coral reef garden full of dazzling succulents – and so fun! 


Philip Withers’ imitation of a world seen through water thrilled visitors to the Australian Garden Show Sydney and won him the people’s choice award. 


“I find coral such an amazing part of nature,” Phil told me later. “And you could see the joy that it brings to people in their reactions to the garden. Everyone wanted to know how I did it and I told them that I’m just one of the lucky ones who gets to follow the patterns nature shows us every day.” While that’s true here’s what you need to know to build your own succulent coral reef.



Find a spot near the front door (so you can wonder daily at your reef) that is bathed in warm sun. Use a big pot filled with sandy succulent mix or a garden bed heaped with the same sandy mix. Drainage is important, which is why a pot is a perfect choice. If the pot is tall half-fill it with polystyrene balls first to keep things light.



Start with violet, silver or grey shades of the rosette-shaped hen and chicks (Echeveria sp.). Add little rosettes of houseleeks (Sempervivums) and tall green Euphorbia trigona to resemble seaweed. Scatter colourful jelly beans (Sedum x rubrotinctum); luminescent lime Sedum ‘Gold Mound’ and spiky ‘corals’ of agave. These all propagate easily from leaves or pieces of stem.



Dot plants and create little patches, just like coral would inhabit a rock shelf. Don’t forget rounded rocks and a sand mulch to finish the scene.



You will need to ‘coralscape’ your patch, removing withered leaves to make way for new colours to pop. Some plants will get too big and need to be reined in. Older ‘mother’ plants will make smaller babies around their bases. Remove the large plants to make way for the next generation.


Watch out

Rot is the number one enemy. Keep your 'coral' dry during autumn and winter. Water in the growing season. 


Text: Linda Ross 

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About this article

Author: Linda Ross

Garden Clinic TV