“Autumn is a time of transformation and celebration, where nature dances in spectacular colors and the landscape fades into winter.” anon
In the woods or indoors, plant life can enhance our own lives–especially in the reign of Covid! Winter temperatures force me to focus on the tropical plants that now dominate my sleeping and work area of our light-filled house. With almost a hundred plants (only a few are large) I’m surrounded by a lush abundance of many shades of green. It’s my challenge to keep them happy through the long months and short days of winter. Abundant light is essential for both plants and myself. With three recycled windows each nine feet tall, both the plants and I can thrive.
“Gardens are a form of autobiography,” wrote Sydney Eddison in a 1993 Horticulture magazine. Eddison is a prolific garden writer who I wish had lived nearby so I could visit her and her garden.1 Certainly my recent post about the burro’s tail succulent I’ve lived with for the last five decades had numerous biographical elements. Gardens are appreciated by what they include and by what is excluded, as well as by what the gardener chooses to focus on developing.
“Half the interest of a garden is the constant exercise of the imagination,” is how the woman, Mrs. C.W. Earle, who wrote Pot-Pourri from a Surrey Garden in 1897 described the lure of gardening. When I looked at the overgrown burro’s tail last month, I could imagine ways to improve the looks and the health of the plant, and I saw a chance to propagate more plants from the original.
I also imagined how new plants could look in the variety of collected pots I have on hand. I felt the creative challenge. I looked forward to choosing a container and placing it in a spot to contrast or compliment other pots and plants in my intimate environment.
Growing New Plants
Here are some how-to photos and suggestions for any one trimming a burro’s tail succulent and for propagating new plants from the trimmings or fallen leaves. In the photo below, you see all the trimmings I took from the mother plant in late October. As a succulent plant, each dropped leaf and the stems I trimmed off had to cure, that is, each had to seal over before planting or exposed to water. Succulents are adapted to store water in the plump leaves in order to survive in their original dry habitats.
I cut the long stems and placed them all together on a piece of parchment paper in a sunny window to cure. I removed the leaves from the lower two inches of the stems to insert the stems in soil at planting. All the fallen leaves were arranged on the dry soil where they would live until sprouting new plants. The spiral arrangement came from an internet photo I admired. Here I’m working on the porcelain-top table near my bed that also serves as my cutting table for quilting. At other times this table holds the vintage Bernina sewing machine I use when machine quilting. Living in a small space requires versatility.
Ten days later without any water, it was time to plant the stems. I used a chopstick to make a hole in the dirt then inserted the stem and carefully patted the dirt around each. If needed, I added more dirt. Use soil that will drain easily. Over watering will kill succulents. Any leaves that fell were added to the pot–hopefully to sprout too. The added rocks and shells bring more texture and personality to the planting. I used the spray bottle to wet everything.
Watch for new sprouts on the leaves and water occasionally. Provide bright light.
I’ve discovered two vintage photos of burro’s tail growing in the original habitat of Mexico. Neither picture shows the lush growth of a protected growing spot provided by humans. The photos will give you an idea of the harsh, competitive growing conditions this succulent faces in the wild. source: http://www.plantgrower.org/uploads/6/5/5/4/65545169/sedum_morganianum.pdf
“The journey of discovery lies not in seeking new landscapes, but in seeing with new eyes.” Marcel Proust
Now in cultivation for over seventy years, burro’s tail succulents will thrive in many settings. I’ve collected favorite photos from the internet. I hope you will be inspired to grow and create your own grouping of favorite plants, pots and found objects.
The joy of discovery happens in a variety of ways. While researching online for this article, I was introduced to the down-to-earth gardener and writer Sydney Eddison. This article will offer a brief introduction: https://www2.ljworld.com/news/2010/jul/25/ease-still-enjoy-gardening-you-age/?print
1. “Gardens are a form of autobiography,” wrote Sydney Eddison, in Horticulture magazine, August/September 1993. Her Connecticut garden has been featured in magazines and on television. A former scene designer and drama teacher, Eddison lectures widely and continues to teach a course on color at the New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, New York. She has authored six books on gardening.