Living with intention

Lessons from Lithops and other plants

About two months ago, I decided to try my hand at succulents. I shopped around and added twenty plants to an online shopping cart, then got to work sketching where I would plant them. When I researched light requirements in-depth, I realized that the rocky succulent garden I had in mind would not work in front of the house, becuase these plants prefer Southern exposure.

As my garden progressed, I uncovered small hurdles… some plants need more nutrients, some less. Some are easily sunburned. Very few can handle winters here in zone 8a. My list of plants that could thrive here was getting shorter and shorter.

I deleted the online shopping cart and went to the local nursery. I let my kids each pick out a succulent, and my daughter picked a Lithops… a “living rock.” Sounds easy to care for, right?

After a few weeks in it’s new home, the plant started showing signs of ill health. The old me would have tried to revive it. More water, less water. More sun, less sun. The old me would have tried to do anything recover the plant, before tossing it into the compost heap for recycling.


But the now me, the me who accepts that I alone cannot do all the things, know all the things, and fix all the things, recognized that it was time to go to my community for guidance. I posted a photo of my sickly lithops, and immediately learned that it was, in fact, NOT a lithops, but a close relative called pleiospilos nelii. Not a living rock but a “split rock.” The extra leaves that we found appealing at the nursery are, in fact, a sign that the plant was in transition, and in fact I shouldn’t save them… they will feed the plant and shrivel. We had sunburned the plant by putting it in too strong sunlight, for too long, too soon. We had overwatered. We had made assumptions based on research, trusted the nursery would only sell a perfect plant, but we lacked the experience and patience to set the plant up properly.

We are not at our best acting solitarily, living in a vaccuum. Our plants, our selves, require not only sun and water, but patience, support and imput from those who have “been there,” acceptance of who and where we are, and time.

When I looked at this plant, I saw a plant that was dying. But people who have “been there” have assured me that if we re-pot the plant in the appropriate growing media, slowly acclimate it to it’s new home, and wait, the damage will “grow out,” the sunburned leaves will shrivel and nourish the plant, and new, healthy leaves with eventually grow.

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