Sunday, 18 August 2013

Still more on lacrimae rerum

It rained last night and this morning many houseleek rosettes were sparkling with water drops.

This cultivar is called 'Virgil', the name of the Roman poet who wrote the phrase  sunt lacrimae rerum, 'there are tears in things'.

20130818 Sempervivum Virgil rain (58)

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

More on Moore

The other day I posted about Sempervivum 'Pastel' and its variants and added some information about its breeder, Nicholas Moore, who was also, in his day, a well-known poet and philosopher as well as a horticulturalist.  In addition to 'Pastel' he raised other good quality houseleek cultivars many of which are still on the market today.  Sometime I will try to compile a list.

After writing my earlier post I tried to find examples of Moore's poetry on the Internet and finished up buying a slim volume entitled Lacrimae Rerum containing his last poems.  On the cover there is a delightful illustration by Juliet Moore that includes a Sempervivum in flower.

Lacrimae rerum cover Nicholas Moore

For those unfamiliar with the title, it is taken from a famous line in Virgil's Aeneid written between 29 and 19 BC.  The whole line reads sunt lacrimae rerum: mentem mortalia tangunt and there have been many attempts to translate it or to find words in other languages to give the full sense of what the Latin means (though one translation could not possibly do this).  I always think of lacrimae rerum as signifying there are 'tears in things' (tears in the sense of drops that run down your cheeks), the knowledge that everything is temporary, doomed to fade to extinction.  However wonderful a plant or a person or a galaxy they are destined to pass away and this tempers the joy of now with a sadness, the metaphorical 'tears'.  This embodied sadness provokes the imagination to reflect that the present is moving inexorably towards some universal oblivion.  Or is it?  Sempervivum is Latin too and means 'always alive', a fact of which, no doubt, Nicholas Moore was well aware.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Sempervivum calcareum 'Limelight'

Named by Mary and Peter Mitchell, UK, in1980 this is described as a very vigorous clone of Sempervivum calcareum, from the French Alps.  The leaves have tips that are variably darkened, but this often disappears almost completely in summer (as in the photo below taken on 12 August).

Though they do not look much like the various forms of S. calcareum they have a similar solidity and general 'feel' of this species and provide a good, clear green to contrast with other rosette colours.

This example came from Rotherview Nursery, Westfield, East Sussex.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Nicholas Moore and 'Pastel'.

I seem to have a little more time and a little less energy, so I have been paying more attention to my semps than has been possible for a while.

One of the best things today is the flowers on Sempervivum 'Pastel' (sensu Ivyhouse Nursery) - but in this case my plants appear to be correctly named.

Those grown outside in full sun have very brown rosettes:

While those in the alpine house remain greenish:

20130811 Sempervivum 'Pastel' (15)

This cultivar has also flowered for the first time here (after 3 years) with flowers that are much later than those of most of my collection.

Bred by Nicholas Moore (UK ) in the 1950s 'Pastel' is a hybrid between Sempervivum erythraeum from Rila and Sempervivum marmoreum ' Chocolate '.   It has an Award of Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society (1976).  Rila is a mountain range in southwestern Bulgaria and its name is said to derive from the ancient Thracian language. S. marmoreum ‘Chocolate’ is described as a dark form of S. marmoreum brunneifolium.

In addition to plain vanilla ‘Pastel’, Sempervivum ‘Bronze Pastel’ and S. ‘Nouveau Pastel’ are listed in the literature, both introduced by Moore, the former in 1953, the latter in 1956. ‘Bronze Pastel’ is apparently of the same provenance as ‘Pastel’, while ‘Nouveau Pastel’, is said to be a cross between ‘Pastel’ and ‘Bronze Pastel’.  There is also a 'Brown Pastel', but that might just be a synonym for one of the others.

Nicholas Moore, from Kent, UK, hybridised sempervivums for many years and in the 1950s had articles in Amateur Gardening about his hobby (Mitchell, 1977). He is said to have introduced many “interesting and beautiful” varieties.

“Between 1930 and 1939 a number of expeditions to Europe,Turkey and the Caucasus were made in search of new plants. The result was the discovery of seventeen new Sempervivum species as well as varieties or geographical forms of species already known. Specialist alpine plant nurserymen received plants from these new discoveries, which were in turn passed to amateur growers. One such person was Nicholas Moore of St Mary Cray, Orpington, Kent. He used many of these new species and various selected forms for hybridising work, resulting in many new and quite outstanding plants to which he gave unusual cultivar names.” From Sempervivum cultivars in the Alpine Garden Society’s Plant Encyclopedia.

Moore himself was a fascinating character: a classics scholar and a much published poet as well as a horticulturalist.  He was also delightfully eccentric.There is an excellent account of Moore’s life and horticultural activities here:

And of his literary and philosophical career here:


Mitchell, Mary (1977) Sempervivum ‘PASTEL’. The Sempervivum Society Journal. Vol 8 (1) 1977: 11-12