Hens and Chickens

A little pot of Sempervivums

These hardy succulents are sometimes called Hens and Chickens.
Apparently so named as the main plant is considered the hen, with the surrounding offsets being the chicks, right?

To whoever thought that up change your drink I say. In fact, considering that they are also known as 'Houseleek', how about stopping drinking altogether.

If anyone can fill me in as to how or why they got these names then please do. I wait to be educated and shamed for my ignorance. That said however, I think 'houseleek' is a terrific name as indeed is sempervivum from which the other common name, 'Live Forever' is derived.

I picked four of them up at a garden centre the other week. I've planted them in a shallow terracotta pot together with a Lewisia which I placed in the centre, another pretty succulent which I hope will flower in a few months, apparently they're a little tricky.

Drainage is the key to success with these plants. I've not come across horticultural grit in any of the usual places in this part of the world except for this product in the picture.

Pouzzolane is a volcanic rock. Not only is it really efficient at improving drainage and structure of the compost, it makes for a really pleasing decorative mulch as well. Sadly it is ludicrously expensive so my search for standard grit continues.

I'm going to leave this little pot just where you can see it on the wall in the courtyard this summer. My fingers are crossed that these hens will have lots of chicks and the pot will be brimful!


  1. Hi Rob! I read that hens and chicks were planted in thatched roofs in old Europe to protect against fires caused by lightnings.

  2. My goodness, Rob, it looks like a massively huge pot, not 'little'--or I suppose that could be the camera angle;-) I used to plant hens and chicks in the crevices in my rock garden (but I don't have a rock garden at the moment). Other than that I haven't research why they're called those names. Google would have lots of info, I'm sure!

  3. I think what you want is here Rob:


    Lovely container, looks really good.

  4. Hi Tatyana, you're absolutely right, they were planted in the roofs in many parts of Europe (superstition), so thanks Hermes, your link confirmed this and what a great resource it is.

    Hi Jan, it's a case of camera angle. Mind you, I might go for a bigger pot. I really like them.

  5. I don't know how they got the name either, but I've always loved how they look. I have a similar planter in my sunny side of my yard. They sure do live forever, without much help from me!

  6. Rob, Visiting for the first time, saw you on the blogroll at Garden Chick's Design Tips. When I was young I had a book on medieval herbs; hens and chicks were named there and as I recall the "juice" is good as a coagulant for minor cuts. Best wishes from the Gold Country in CA.

  7. Hi Rob. I think hens and chickens are one of the very first plants I remember from my youth. My mom grew them, my grandma grew them, my great-uncle Phil grew them (okay, maybe not), but it seems like everyone grew them and still grows them. They are super easy and need about three speck of dirt to grow. I'm not joking! At least here in zone 5 that's the way it is. You can just throw them on the ground and they'll grow, which is why I have them on the west side of our house, where the late day sun beats down and cooks a lot of things.

    As for the Live Forever, that is a different thing here. This is what we call a certain type of sedum, such as 'Autumn Joy'. It's the tall sedum, not the ground cover type. Again...hard to kill it, thus the name!

    Enjoy your brood! :-)

  8. Have no clue how they got their name but I love these lovely succulents that live happily in my rock garden (like Kylee, zone 5). Enjoy your cuties, Rob :)

  9. wonderful plants... I have some in my front yard. as my recent post indicates, I would have loved to see your plant at the Philly Flower Show as much as any of the huge displays.

  10. Hi Rob, I've got loads of these in my garden but I've never before heard them called hen and chickens - I learn something new every day!

  11. Hi Catherine, so many people grow these. I didn't realise.

    Hi DP, welcome. Good for cuts as well. This is a useful plant.

    Hello Kylee. Thanks for this. I love the expression 'three speck of dirt'.

    Joey, what's cooking?

    Hi again Wayne. Glad you like them.

    Liz, how you doing. Moved anymore humongous lumps of rock?

  12. A fine looking and well planted pot Rob. Even better it should not require a lot of attention. My little book on 'Discovering the Folklore of Plants' says that Charlemagne, the first emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, issued an ordinance that all houses on the imperial estate should grow houseleeks
    (sempervivum tectorum) on their roofs against thunder, pestilence, fire and war. Take your pick ! Good luck with your search for horticultural grit.

  13. I have some and just noticed today that they are puffing up after a long winter's nap. They are addictive. Basically you just glance at them every now and then as if you were admiring them and they will grow like nuts.

    Your volcanic rock is like the stuff we call turface over here. Golf courses use it to help the greens retain water. Ball fields use it in the infield. All those jagged edges trap fertilizer, hold water, and make spaces for the roots to grow. Of course, you knew that.

  14. Hi Anna, these plants are really steeped in superstition.

    Hi Anna (Flowergarden), so you call it Turface over there. It's good stuff.

  15. Rob your pot of hens and chicks looks great. I've started collecting different ones myself to try my hand at a living wreath - did a basket too but need more. I've now got them planted everywhere. A friend told me about Lewisia and I want to try that this summer also.
    I giggled at your explanation of the names. Another one I heard (and I think this person was beyond the drinking limit) was 'roostering' when they bloom? If they are correct then maybe I should take up drinking!!!

  16. dear rob,

    if you are looking for a reliable source of grit try your local countrystore or pet shop in france as my dads countrystore/ pet shop use to sell grit in bulk by the 20kg sack in the uk to bird breeders/pigeon
    or poultry owners.

    you might also find it in larger sizes in a store selling fish for tank bottoms. When fine its used for for feeding hens and chickens and other birds. Also good if you go for finer grit to put around flowers which slugs and snails like. Love your description of plant. All the best

    Andy Howard- Heritage Fruit tree Co.

  17. Shelia T. Boscio28 May 2011 at 18:44

    I am going to try these little hens and chicks. Sounds very interesting....I have just the rock garden along side my pool here in Tennessee. Love reading this site....feel like I have visited across the "pond."

    Shelia B.


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