Fleur-de-Semps

The roofer life has got me in its grasp.

A few weeks ago my mom and I got a postcard solicitation from a company in nearby Clearfield. The front of the card is black with white lettering: got leaks? I posted it at my office workspace. Mondays through Thursdays, I’m Roof Leak Central.

Innocent sounding novels have me stumbling over characters or settings with roofing connections. How was I to know that Anna Quindlen in Still Life with Bread Crumbs would have 60-year-old divorced Rebecca Winter falling for a roofer?

Never would I have guessed that my escape from the long, brutal winter (with a record of 36 leak-frozen-gutter-ice-dam-scupper calls in one day) would haunt my nighttime reading. I travel to Italy via author Donna Leon. With one descriptive sentence, Leon leads me down the narrow passages of Venice only to burrow into my humble office. In By its Cover, Leon describes a home in need of new roof, gutters, and plaster: “Water streaks had dined for years on three places in the plaster and were now starting on the bricks for dessert.”

And how is it that in Leon’s Jewels of Paradise a minor character named Sergio owns a sheet metal factory in Marcon, on the mainland near Venice? I work for R.H. Marcon Inc., a roofing and sheet metal company, on the mainland near State College.

Now roofing is creeping into my gardening life.

My mom and I were plant shopping for planters on her deck. We came across a huge display of dozens of cultivars of Sempervivum. I’ve never seen such variety. Cultural requirements: full sun, little moisture. Sempervivum is one of those plant-it-and-forget-it kinds of plants.

Cobweb Buttons

Cobweb Buttons

These plants are perfect for a corner of our planter along the deck. It gets lots of sun, the beating, late-day sun, and rarely catches the rain because it is tucked under the roof overhang. My mom especially liked Sempervivum arachnoideum “Cobweb Buttons”.  We selected CB and four others to weave a tapestry in our tiny xeriscape.

In Kutztown I grew one species of Sempervivum, aka hens-and-chicks, on a stonewall surrounding my kitchen garden. My first plant came from Emelie, I think, and its offsets burrowed into nooks and crannies on the wall, spilling into the gravel path. Hens-and-chicks are chlorophyll-packed rock climbers who have a heck of a good time scaling limestone and granite. But to tell you the truth, the plant never excited me. I just let do its thing, and I did mine, cutting asparagus and picking alpine strawberries enclosed within the stone and Semp walls. We lived in harmony but without passion.

Now I’ve met the more exotic relatives. There is Commander Hay, Dream Catcher, Amelunga, Cobweb Buttons, and a distant cousin, Jovibarba arenaria, in our collection. So, I started reading more about The Sempervirums.

If you split the word into two Latin roots, you get semper (forever) and vivus (living). In Europe, Sempervivums are called houseleeks and are grow on tile roofs, where folk superstition purports they repel lightening and prevent fires. (They are not related to the edible leek, which is a member of the onion family.)

In this country, when we install green roofs, we often use mats of tiny sedums. In Europe, robust, fleshy Sempervivums are sold in rolls for roofing material. Sempervivums are succulent perennials native to the Alp, Carpathian, Balkan, Armenian, Caucasus, and Himalayan mountain ranges. Their “mother” rosettes spread by offsets or “babies.” When the “mother” flowers (it takes several years), she dies, creating an open space for all of those grandkids. With that thought in mind, from my rooftop to yours, Happy Mother’s Day!  Laurie LynchSunset

Written On Slate: “Life’s single lesson: that there is more accident to it than a man can ever admit to in a lifetime and stay sane.” –Thomas Pynchon

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