27 June 2016

Venerable plants

I'm somebody who keeps plants growing for years and years. Maybe a lot of us are. I've shown photos here of my little South African elephant bush plant (Portulacaria afra). It traveled with me from the arid Southern California desert to rainy, chilly San Francisco in about 1998, and lived there for several years. When Walt and I left SF in 2003, we took the plant back to CHM, who had a house in the desert down there and who had given the plant to me in the first place. Then he brought a few little cuttings from it to Saint-Aignan in 2004, and I've kept it going here ever since.

I have other plants that I've kept going for 33 years now. They originally belonged to my grandmother, who died in 1977. A cousin of mine kept the plants (small Sansevierias) for a few years, and then brought me some of them when Walt and lived in Washington DC in about 1983. They made their way to California in the late 1980s, and then to France thanks to CHM and to my mother, in 2004 and 2005. They are still doing just fine. All these plants bring good memories to mind when I look at them.

Another plant I've kept going for a while now is a Sedum kamtschaticum, known as Russian stonecrop. It's in a pot on the terrace now, but hasn't always been in that location.

In 1997, I was "on sabbatical" from Apple. I had a 10-week summer holiday with full pay (lucky me). Walt and I spent a couple of weeks in Paris, of course. I returned to California when that trip was over, and then I flew back to the East Coast for a visit with family in North Carolina and for a road trip.

I had lived in Illinois for years in the 1970s, and my mother had never been out there to see the place. So we drove out — it's about a thousand miles from the N.C. coast to Champaign-Urbana, not far south of Chicago. Along the way, in southern Illinois, we got rooms in a motel that had a lot of this sedum plant growing around all the buildings. We discreetly pinched off a few branches and took them back to North Carolina with us.

Ma had them growing in her back yard for years, but then she sold her house in 2005. That year, I made the trip back there from Saint-Aignan to help her get the house ready for sale. She said she didn't know what she was going to do with the sedum plants — did I want some? So I took cuttings and brought them back to France, not knowing if they would survive. I planted them outdoors and they spent years growing in the ground. I transplanted the sedum two or three times, trying to find the best place for it. Eventually, I planted it in a pot. Next summer it will be 20 years old.


  1. In my small yard in Paris there is thriving a male fern Dryopteris filix-mas that I brought back from the countryside about seventy years ago! It comes back every spring. Now I have at least two other little ones that were transplanted last year.

    1. I thought my mother might especially enjoy seeing this plant.

    2. Unfortunately, this year an Ailanthus altissima sucker is growing next to it and I hope it won't kill it. Ailanthus - an invasive tree from China - has colonized my garden from a female tree next door. If I'm still alive next year I will have to have the many suckers sprouting all over the place removed. What was done last year wasn't enough. This tree is really a pest.

  2. I had to Google that chm. It looks very much like an Australian tree fern. Lovely.

    Ken, you are growing nostalgia. I think that is wonderful. We have a Java Plum (Syzygium cumini)in a pot here in LA. It started from the fruit of a giant tree at our Phoenix home. It is patiently awaiting the time when it will be set free in the ground to become a tree.

    1. Love your idea of "growing nostalgia", Diogenes. I have lots of that in my yard like Ken. Peonies from my parents' yard and a rose from my grandfather's. Plus lots of passalong plants from friends. The best gardens are those with memories. When my brother died I started a bed of tulips which give me comfort every spring.

      I bet MA appreciates these lovely sedum photo's.

  3. Here we have a low growing Campanula....
    currently in full bloom and now split into six plants...
    and a true Geranium, also in flower, accidently split last year...
    which both came from my Mother's...
    and also a Jade Plant that she gave us a cutting of in '95...
    that is also a mother... having needed a trim...each trimming took!
    We kept one... and gave the others away...
    We have a variegated Fuchsia that was part of Pauline's Dad's...
    and another that was in our front garden when Pauline bought her house in '84...
    and, on the fern front, a lovely Maidenhair Spleenwort....
    that I rescued from the house next door in Leeds as they were demolishing their outside toilet.
    That came out with the entire layer of mortar that it was growing in and has been in a pot with added soil and crumbled mortar, now, for ten years and seems to love it!
    Finally, we brought our bay tree with us... cut back almost to a bare stem...
    and planted here outside the "front" door... a promotion from the back garden in Leeds!!
    Doesn't everyone who likes plants, have a collection of "keepers" and the memories that they bring with them?
    Would gratefully appreciate blagging a couple of offsets of your Sedum, please Ken....
    we have five rather attractive pots...three troughs and two pots...
    that nothing but exceptionally drought tolerant plants seem to thrive in...
    so we are planting these out as dry gardens...
    and your Sedum is a lovely bright green.

  4. People who love plants often do this, I think....Still, I have been more successful with plants in the garden outside than with house plants, alas.I especially love the snowball bush from my grandfather's and the holly that was a shoot from my mother's holly. And the wild Turk's Head lily from my friend Rosalie's farm in Ashtabula county.I have a number of plants collected from that wilderness near the Grand River, especially ferns...

    None of the people who gave me these are still living and I treasure them for the memories. But I am sorry about the Herman's Pride given me in a plant exchange, by someone I didn't really like all that much. It is taking over a lot of space and has killed several Pulmonaria before I realized what was going on!

  5. And there's your Christmas cactus, which surely would enjoy that greenhouse you're contemplating.

  6. I have just moved to a new home in a new state, leaving behind the acre of gardens in NY.
    I decided to do a container garden here for all kinds of reasons .. right now there are just flowers of all sorts but there will be cherry tomatoes this week and basil. From there we will see how it goes ( in other words ) we will see if the cats don't eat everything.

  7. Fun post, thanks. We have a Christmas cactus from Tony's grandmother (given to us circa 1972), two potted jade plants that I remember from my childhood, and three cymbidiums that a friend gave me in 1987 when she moved to Oregon. The orchids were grown by her father, and one of them bloomed enthusiastically this year, despite my leaving it by the side of the house and forgetting about it.

  8. I have a small but thriving jade plant, grown from a single leaf from my sister-in-law's plant several years ago. I love jade plants but have terrible luck with them.
    But how did you get cuttings past customs? I came back via Atlanta several years ago, with a plum I'd planned to eat between flights, and got busted by the sniffer dogs. Then a stern lecture from the Department of Agriculture functionary. Quite alarming, as if Delta had planned singlehandedly to sabotage the entire US agricultural sector.

    1. It's the difference between U.S. and French regulations about importing plants, vegetables, meats, etc. France lets it all in. The U.S. is kind of paranoid about such things. Or at least overly cautious, in my opinion. So you can bring plant cuttings into France but you are not supposed to take them into the U.S.

  9. Thanks for all your stories about plants. I figured I wasn't the only one who enjoyed having plants with all sorts of good memories attached to them.


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