I have a yardful of squirrels and chipmunks. They love digging anything remotely herbaceous or planted in a container. Aware of the problem, my son sent this photo of a potful of hen and chicks (Sempervivum sp.) on display at Quail Botanical Gardens in San Diego. Someone had covered the plants with snugly-attached chicken wire — presumably to thwart determined, destructive creatures like my chipmunks.
The chicken wire strategy would have helped when I brought some hen and chicks from the NC home place several years ago. They were originally planted in my grandmother’s garden and were at least thirty years old back then. They weren’t exciting — just the old-fashioned, green variety — but I associated them with my grandparents, and with happy memories of a garden full of iris and roses and phlox. I put my chicks in the ground and, before long, saw evidence of squirrels uprooting them.
Since sempervivum are alpine plants and dislike wet, cold conditions, I might have lost part of mine because of the characteristics of our soil. It retains moisture and is full of leaf litter and nutrients — usually a good problem to have, but not if you like to grow succulents.
If anyone in the family still has part of my grandmother’s hen and chicks, maybe they’ll share a piece or two with me. I’ll plant them in a pot with wire on top and add some purple and silver succulents to make a nice, simple design like the one from Quail Gardens. I’ve already got a head start: this cultivar called ‘Black’ that I bought a few weeks ago. I sure do wish I could share it with my grandmother.