Thursday, May 5, 2011

Lit from Within

or Coping with Sunshine

Ephedra viridis
It's all about sunlight out here.  Sometimes I may ramble on for a few hundred words or so about wind and aridity, but really, New Mexico's climate is all about sunlight.  For the most part that's a gorgeous thing—don't think that I'm complaining—but as the sun starts getting serious and rolling up its sleeves for summer, it becomes something to cope with, not just something to enjoy.

The range of strategies plants have to cope with sunlight is truly impressive, of course, from reflective leaves to oily ones to hairy or fleshy or silvery or tiny ones, or even, as in the case of Mormon tea (Ephedra viridis), to having (essentially) no leaves at all.  But when so many plants are making you aware of their ingenuity in protecting themselves from the sun, it's kind of a pleasure to find some that are happy to, well, shine in it.

In the troublesome/full sun and/or full shade/bad soil/construction rubbly/narrow/surrounded by extreme heat and/or cold-reflecting walls/wind funnel bed* by the kitchen door, I've tried a couple of solutions for the 8" wide strips between the concrete stepping "stones," but so far nothing's really worked.  This year I'm trying hens and chicks, whose Latin name (Sempervivum) we will hope bodes well for them.  I chose them for both practical and sentimental reasons.  In practical terms, they seem to be able to withstand nasty conditions, and these are nasty conditions.  It's almost destiny that they should go together.  More sentimentally, they remind me of my grandpa, who had a rock garden that was his pride and joy.  He grew hens and chicks in it, and if ever plants were designed to delight small children holding a beloved grandfather's hand, hens and chicks have to be them.  I am happy to have them be the first thing I see now as I walk out my own door.

What I didn't expect was to find myself lying quite so often on my stomach on the (concrete) (hard) (unyielding) patio staring at them.  I didn't know that they would catch the late afternoon sunlight and go up in flame,

that the hairs on the leaf tips would take on a halo glow, that the leaves would turn translucent like old glass,

that even the stolons would seem lit from within.

They are bowls full of light, like votive offerings to the sun.

And out here, it's all about the sun.
* Must think of different name.


  1. Hens and chicks are troopers. I learned last summer that even waiting too long to plant doesn't do them in. Lovely post!

  2. Lovely post, Stacy.

    The ones in shade may sulk a bit but otherwise you'll get away with it, I think. I love 'em and have several different varieties which I propagate, use as and when or give away. They're great popped under the edge of roof tiles where they will grow and ward off witches - which is handy. Oh, I feel my own post coming on.

  3. Stacy,
    Those are incredible! I always loved them too, but had no idea they were so amazing! I looked for some to plant, but didn't find any. I will keep looking. I have a place that is my "dead plant zone" here against the house. It gets direct sunlight and too hot and too wet in the rain. Maybe the little dears would do well there?

    I love your garden and your words. Takes me out of myself for a time and lifts me up.


  4. For the GGW photo contest? About light and a macro??

  5. I have often thought I needed these in between the spaces of my concrete blocks. Votives? Oh, yes, I need these!

  6. I think NM is the prettiest state in the country. The open scenery lit by the sun is gorgeous.

  7. I like the way you've written this post, linking the place where you live, your family, gardening and how plants affect you. A pleasure to read and look at.

  8. Ah, good to know, GirlSprout--if they can survive a summer planting, they're tough indeed. Thank you.

    Thanks, Dave! I can put up with their sulking--it's when they die that it becomes kind of a problem. Actually, they'll be in full sun all summer and full shade all winter, and somewhere in between the rest of the time, so maybe it will all average out. Under the edge of roof tiles--really? (Why am I more perplexed by that than by their warding off witches?) I'd love to see photos of how that works (the roof tiles again, not the witches) if you feel inspired to show some one of these days. Now if they could ward only off the waterbugs, too...

    Elaine, I've always just thought of them as kind of quirky and sweet, too--didn't know they'd show so well in sunlight. I think the only thing they don't like (from what I've read) is too much water, but if that area next to your house has good drainage, the sun and heat sound just right, so go for it! Your granddaughter might get a kick out of them, too. :) And thank you so much--it makes me incredibly happy to know that what I'm doing gives joy.

  9. Diana, I hadn't intended it to be--this is just what I had on hand to write about this week.

    Holley, by all means! If you can situate them where they catch the light (which shouldn't be much of a challenge in Texas) :) they just glow.

    Donna, I find that it goes to extremes--either stunningly beautiful or incredibly barren. At the right time of day, though, the light is just phenomenal. I love the openness, too--always felt a little claustrophobic when I lived back east.

    b-a-g, thank you--I'm glad you enjoyed it!

    Cheers, all, for the comments.

  10. I like sempervivums too. We planted some with sedums etc as part of our green roof on the shed and the chicken house. So I have to stand on the bench to see ours up close.

  11. Janet, I envy your green roof! That's something our mayor is trying to promote here in Albuquerque, but from what I can gather we're too arid for it to be as workable as it is elsewhere. If I had to stand on a bench to see the sempervivums, I doubt that I would spend quite so much time looking them... :)

  12. How lovely to see these little chaps from such a low angle (albeit an uncomfortable one for the photographer!) - the way the light plays through the leaves is delightful.

  13. Stacy, I've never been a big fan of sempervivum, but now I can see that I've just never looked at them closely enough! Loved these photos. -Jean

  14. Jean, thank you. I must say, I wish one didn't have to get quite so close to see all those neat agave-like features--my knees and elbows are tired of getting scuffed up for the sake of a few photos...