I have a new obsession, sempervivums, also know as hen and chicks or house leeks. You’ve probably seen them on rockeries and when I was a boy I remember them growing on the roof of my granddad’s pigsty in his garden.
Hardy sempervivums are called houseleeks because there is an ancient tradition of growing them on the roof to ward off lightning and bad luck. Their Latin name Sempervivum tectorum translates as 'alive on the roof'. Their common name (houseleek) is derived from the Anglo Saxon word Leac meaning plant - so sempervivums were the original house plant.
Having a houseleek on your roof ensured prosperity and protected the family members against death and witchcraft. The Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne ordered all his subjects to grow houseleeks on their roofs. The Vikings connected this plant to Thor, the Norse god of Thunder. It was also associated with the Roman God Jupiter (known as the Thunderer) and it’s commonly known as Jupiter’s beard and Jupiter’s eye.
With all this to go at I thought I’d give them a try. I’ve bought a few nice specimens over the last few weeks and am awaiting delivery of a collection of 25 different sempervivum baby plants. Even so, I really believe that you can’t fully understand any plant until you have grown them yourself from seed; it’s meant to be easy so I’ve also ordered a pack of 250 seeds which should prove interesting.
I’m trying to grow them on my walls and today, as an experiment, planted a couple in some moss on the roof of my shed. I’d like a wall of these beautiful succulent things, a living wall full of reds, greens, browns, and yellows.
Interestingly, a couple of hours after I positioned them on my shed roof there was a huge clap of thunder.
Oh well, at least my Jupiter’s eye will keep me from getting struck.