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Creek Running North
December 06, 2004
Hens and chicks
The yellow striped agave has followed me from home to home for the past 17 years. It sits now in front of our house in Pinole, and in a few more years it will be too large for me to move. After a few years spent carrying it from house to house in pots, I planted it in the ground in front of our house in Oakland, fully expecting that it would stay there for the rest of its life. When our annoying upstairs neighbors decided to buy the house from our landlord, and we realized we had to move immediately, friends came over with shovels to help transplant my irises and manzanitas, and one of them took it upon himself to uproot the agave. I wasn't displeased, and planted it in its next permanent home on the street side in Richmond. I fully intended to leave it there, as well. When our landlord sold the place out from under us, I dutifully removed any plants I wanted to keep before the house showed, potting them up and putting a police tape around them. On the day before closing, the buyers' real estate agent took me aside and mentioned that her clients wouldn't miss any other plants I cared to take, and that they would probably throw away the agave anyway. Into the truck it went.
I don't remember the provenance of the hens and chicks. Gardeners tend to collect such things, grow them out, cut them up and repot or give away, tucking plants they're not sure what to do with into little out-of-the-way corners to thrive or die. Ron gave me a couple German bearded iris corms for the Oakland garden: when she and Joe moved and lost their garden, I was able to resupply her. Those two corms have planted three of my houses, my mom's amazing little tropical paradise on asphalt between two trailers, and a few other houses besides, and they're spreading now under the Asian Pear and Self-Fertile Bing along our back wall. The hens and chicks were probably obtained in pretty much that fashion. I do remember deciding, planting them in the Richmond parking strip you see here, that the next time I would plant the hens and chicks first and the agave second, thus saving on bandages. That was the day I sold out all my fervently held beliefs about the rights of plants to their own way of being, and began my habit of snipping the excruciatingly sharp tips off the agave leaves with my Felco pruners. By the time we moved, the hens and chicks had spread throughout the little concrete rectangle.
The Mexican evening primrose was another matter altogether. I didn't plant it here at all, just in the next parking strip up the street. They promised maintenance-free abundant pink bloom during the hottest, driest part of summer: all phrases seductive to beginning gardeners but at which the seasoned California hort person will raise an eyebrow nearly off her face. Abundant bloom and not stopped by heat or drought translates, quite often, to horticultural monster plant devouring anything in its path. It looks innocent enough here, with its demure little leaves there along the top margin of the photo, but we planted maybe twelve tiny little one-inch plants in total, six in the front yard and six in the back, and we spent the next four years chopping and mowing and yanking it out by the roots by the cubic yard. Between that, the Montbretia the landlord had planted, and the tiny little 2-inch pot of Persian mint I planted our first summer there, we got out just in time. Those plants will be battling one another for control of that yard a century hence, like Godzilla and Mothra over the ruins of Tokyo.
This is the fifth in a series of ten photo-prompted posts.