Sempervivum ‘Lady Kelly’: A Beautiful, Unusual Form Of Hen And Chicks

Sempervivum 'Lady Kelly' (hen and chicks)
Sempervivum ‘Lady Kelly’ with one chick growing out sideways from its mother (front, left).

Many people know sempervivum as houseleek, or hen and chicks, which celebrates the plantlets produced as offsets. It is monocarpic which means the original rosette-like plant will reach flowering size after several years’ growth, then after flowering once, will shrivel and die, being succeeded by its chicks of various ages and any seedlings.

Sempervivum ‘Lady Kelly’ seems to be a rare form. The place where I saw it (Beth Chatto’s nursery) didn’t have any for sale and when I searched for one to buy online, I couldn’t find any source, let alone an equally reputable one.*

The rich lavender – blue – grey colouring was very striking in real life against the greens and corals. I fell immediately in love with the plant and ‘Blue Boy’ a similarly coloured sempervivum cultivar that I might share in a future post. 

I’m not sure how accurately my pictures represent the plant. Other images I’ve seen online labelled ‘Lady Kelly’ look like a different cultivar. Sempervivums do have a reputation of changing colour in different seasons and growing conditions. If that’s true, this particular ‘Lady Kelly’ plant has been lucky to have landed in a place where its full potential to be beautiful has been released.

That reminds me of one of the quandaries of plant photography. Have I happened upon this plant on a good day – does it have bad hair days too? If you photograph near perfection, can any plant offered for sale match the allure created?That’s where an intimacy with the plants comes in handy – and why our specialist plant nurseries are such valuable places.

A closeup of Sempervivum 'Lady Kelly'

Pictured like this, sempervivums have a lot in common with roses that have many petals, for obvious reasons. Perhaps that’s why I am coming to feel so at home with them. We get the same feeling of ‘there’s more where that came from’ – a bounteous heart. And unlike heavy rose blooms that bounce irrepressibly on the slightest breeze, sempervivums stay still, making the perfect plant models.

This potful of Sempervivum ‘Lady Kelly’ is part of Beth Chatto’s extensive private collection of succulents. I love the neat, unobtrusive labels which suit the high standard of housekeeping and plant presentation at the nursery. Keeping plants looking this good in early September is far from easy – Beth Chatto and her team can feel very proud.

*Please  be wary about handing over cash for cultivars, especially rare ones, as it is so easy to sell a plant under the name of another, more desirable one. If you have seen the plant in person and like it, no matter what name it has been given, by all means take the plunge. If you are buying an unusual named cultivar on trust from a description or a picture, be sure that the reputation of the seller merits your trust.

16 Replies to “Sempervivum ‘Lady Kelly’: A Beautiful, Unusual Form Of Hen And Chicks”

    1. I was a bit surprised to find out that sempervivum (= always alive) refers to the community of plants rather than the individual rosette. I suppose I should not have been – that’s nature’s way.

    1. I have an ordinary green one just about to flower on my windowsill. I was so excited to see all the flower buds forming. It came as a bit of a blow to realise that this meant all of my most beautiful rosettes were going to shrivel away, just as they reach their peak.

  1. “A bounteous heart”! What a lovely way to describe — or perhaps define — the rose. Or the rose-like. About succulents I know nothing. But when I lived in California I knew I wasn’t in Indiana any more because of the sculptural prickly landscape. The succulents always seemed alien, but I think that was because I was the alien. The blush in this succulent rose is captivating; I can see why you want one for your own.

    1. I’m only gradually coming to acknowledge their beauty – they seem so inert from afar, but close up, they’re as full of life as the daintiest perennial. The gardens I’ve seen in California fascinate me for that otherworldly character you mention – it seems weird not to know the names of the plants. I’d love to be able to see an English garden through Californian eyes.

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