Hi applejacks, and happy Thursday.

Have you ever gotten really, really excited about something, thinking it was special, only to find out the situation was the opposite of what you imagined? No? Huh, funny, that happens to me a lot. Note to self: Find a good therapist.

Most of you know I’ve been obsessing over vertical gardens and living wall art for the last several months. I can’t get enough. So I’m growing several of them now – they’re horizontal until the root system gets strong enough to support them hanging on a wall. I’m using a variety of succulents mostly – they are thriving.

Or so I thought. A few weeks ago, I excitedly showed you the Hens and Chicks (sempervi) that I added to a garden I was making specially for myself. They looked like this:

I thought it was awesome that as soon as I separated some of them out to go into my vertical garden, they started growing funny. Like this:

Up, up and away! I was thrilled. I was captivated. I was sure that this was something special.

Nnnnnnnnnnhhhhhhh! Wrong.

Well, not entirely. It is gorgeous, a very flashy display. I feel honored to see it – I’ve never seen a bloom from a semp. But the plants are all in the throes of death. This is their last dance. That’s not exactly the type of special for which I was hoping.

I kinda already knew something was wrong. One of the semps I added to my original vertical garden, immediately went limp. I felt it, and honestly, it was gross – it felt like a skinny little carcass. I got the sense that it was dead, but I kept tending for it, and over the following days, it twisted and contorted and grew taller and taller until finally it began to bloom profusely.

I forgot my misgivings and became so proud – I’d turned that little guy’s life around! He wanted to live – what else could blossoms mean?

Uh, well, imminent death, actually. Claude was the first to say something, “Liza… that’s a sempevivum, and semps, like agave, die after blooming… however, by this time they should have produced many offsets, which is why you should only buy and plant smaller semps. They have to be 2 or 3 years old before they bloom, and that gives them plenty of time to produce ‘chicks’ before they bloom.”

I was crushed – I thought they were supposed to live forever. I couldn’t wrap my little brain around the fact the the one little cluster of semps that I picked out from the nursery were all now committing mass suicide. At my house! What did I do?

On Tuesday, I went back to the nursery where the semps came from, twice, to find out from them if what Claude said was true – were these enthusiastic plants dying? Let’s just say, both times were unpleasant. It’s not entirely one party’s fault – it was hot, and I was annoyed that all but one of their employees took their lunch break at the same time. That nursery is always busy, but especially at lunchtime – good businesses need to learn to stagger their lunch times (are listening, banks?). Take a cue from restaurants and staff up during busy times, sheesh. Anyway, I wasn’t all that patient, but the guy I spoke with was rude. He wasn’t listening, he was irritated by my presence and my questions. He called some colleague, the “so-called expert,” who said definitively that semps were not like Agaves, which flower then die. What I wanted to say was, “But Claude said they are like Agaves. Are you doubting him, because he’s an expert, too?” But I didn’t say that. The expert guy was busy, the guy I’d interrupted from lunch was staring at me with eyes glazed over, so I left.

Went home, got the blooming plants, and went back, with the same question on my mind. Are these guys dying? I said in my Tuesday post that I’d update you. Well, on the second visit, I was assured by “expert guy” that semps don’t die after they flower. The way he said it, I could tell his day was not going the way he wanted. He was locked into that answer. I was the dumbass for even questioning his authority. Whatever.

I don’t know for sure, for sure yet, but he’s wrong. For one, I have more experts in my corner¹ than he does. Here’s what mr_subjunctive from Plants Are the Strangest People said:

“Cactus Blog has said the same thing, semi-recently. (I think I saw their post about it one day before you posted about yours, actually. For a while there, someone was posting about blooming Sempervivums every time I went on-line.) I didn’t say anything because it’s not like there was anything you could do about it either way, and you seemed so happy. . . .

The “I know this because I’m so much smarter than you” tone of voice seems to be something that happens to people once they’ve worked a certain length of time in a garden center / nursery / whatever. Don’t take it personally.”

Haha, he was right, I was ecstatic – blooms on little chick? I thought I was the bomb!

Another expert chimed in, Peter from the aforerefrenced Cactus Blog, commented:

“Sad to let you know, but they will definitely die after they bloom. The reason they are called Sempervivums, i.e. latin for “Live Forever” is because they form a colony that can live, well, a long time. The cycle goes like this – each rosette lives 3 to 5 years, and then blooms and dies, surrounded by lots of other baby chicks long before then. So you have a colony of these rosettes and every year, 1/3 to 1/5 of them shoot up bloom stalks – very pretty! (If you like them).

Now probably the reason yours are blooming now when the store’s plants are not is because you divided them. The larger rosettes decided this year was their last shot to produce seed so they bloomed under stress and now it’s your job to help them along by hand pollinating (just kidding.)

But it sounds like you still have smaller rosettes, so all is good in sempervivum land.”

Evelyn from Sensational Succulents also commented. She said, “Greetings…
I havent got good news – my ref books say the same thing, and yes, they did die on me too. Only a short while after I got them home from the nursery! And yes, they looked kinda goofy… And I did even get a chance to get any rosettes… sigh.”

Thanks to all of you who weighed in on the subject.

I’ve never met Claude, mr_subjunctive, Peter or Evelyn. But even so, I trust them more than the condescending “expert” at the nursery.

That makes me kinda mad. I’m not going to name the nursery because I’ve already stated who my favorites are, and this one has never been one of my favorites. It doesn’t matter which one it was – the condescending attitude is pervasive at all the local nurseries, because lots of “plant people” don’t like “real people.”

The reason that makes me mad is because it’s stupid.

Local nurseries are getting creamed by Home Depot and Lowe’s. Creamed. Judging by the mass amounts of plant deaths that occur in their garden centers, I’d say the employees aren’t properly trained in plant care. And the times that I’ve asked them questions, I get apathetic “I don’t know” for responses.

When I want to talk to an actual plant expert, I want a local nursery. So I drive out of my way to support “the little guys.” I don’t need attitude when I get there. Local nurseries should have the best customer service, not this belittling bullshit I get all the time. If I have questions, can’t you just answer them professionally, please? I’m spending money at your nursery, check your attitude at the door.

I’m just saying.

There’s an all-new Ask the Experts edition of Good To Grow coming up tomorrow. Until then, happy gardening!


¹ And by corner, I mean google reader.


Just to be clear, not all plant people dislike real people, and not all plant nursery employees are unhelpful or apathetic. I will, of course, continue to support local nurseries!