Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Hen and Chicks

This may sound like another Easter post, but in fact it's a bit of gardening nostalgia.
When I was a very little girl......my grandparents had a house built against the cliff at Brixham, Devon. Sal's husband knows the area well - he was born in Brixham!Not actually this cliff - this is one 'round the corner' from the town!One day my grandma was showing me round her rock garden (cliffs, rocks - the rock garden was big and thriving!). She showed me a fantastic little plant which she called 'Hen and Chicks'.
'This one's the Mummy hen,' she told me, 'and she's got her little chicks all around her.'I was enthralled! She showed me how you could separate the babies, and take them with a few of their roots to another crack in the rocks. Just pop a few into a crack one year, and the next year you will have a new colony of hens and their tiny chicks.Ever since I have had gardens of my own I've been buying sempervivums (this is their Latin name) or Houseleeks (another traditional British name). Of course, once you have a few, you can begin to spread them around. Here they are in Ben's ancient work boots.The pot on the left is a well-established one, but the one on the right was only planted yesterday, with some plants I bought at Floralys this year and plenty of little 'chicks' from my existing 'hens'.My intention is to make a varied set of pots which can go up on our window ledge whenever there's nothing currently flowering for display there.You'll note that they have to be surrounded by gravel when they're in pots. They love sandy, gravelly, well-drained soil, and they don't do well if their leaves rest on damp soil. As you can see from the rockery pictures, they survive best without much soil at all! Houseleeks grow on walls and roofs, too, in almost soil-free surroundings.The flowers are not exactly elegant. At this time of year I havn't got any photos of them, but you can see the stalk from one of last year's here. I bought a cheap little sempervivum in a pot once and the young woman selling it to me said nervously, 'Do you know what the flowers look like?' I admitted that I did, and she said that she'd been really shocked when the one she'd bought began to flower. Let's just say that they're quite robust.I can't really tell you why these are still my favourite garden plants. Childhood delight in a mother plant and her babies must be part of it.
The ability to grow in unusual circumstances also greatly appeals to me - these ones have been almost smothered by lavender at the edge of a path, but when I moved the lavender aside, they're still there...I'm also very fond of 'clump-forming' plants - texture is important to me and I love the little 'cushions' made by hardy Alpines - saxifrages and sedums as well as sempervivums.
And they provide easy to care for, all year round interest - of course the name 'sempervivum' means 'always alive', and they are always there, looking chirpy and healthy, all year.

I wonder what you think of these lovely little plants?


juanitatortilla said...

Oh, what great plants!
This is the first time I've heard of it, and what great little survivors they are!
Will keep an eye out for them -- perfect for non-green-fingers like me!

Sal said...

I absolutely love the houseleeks in the boots...might try that myself!!

Shabby Chick said...

Those plants are gorgeous, we used to have a lot in the rockery in the house I lived when I was quite young so that brought back nice memories. I love the way they have babies too!

Mel xxx

skippinginthemeadow said...

Hello I have seen you around on a few blogs I visit. Seeing that we share the same taste in blogs, I thought I would come and say hello. Your blog is very lovely too, I'm so glad I dropped by. Will visit again soon. hope you have a good week