Red in the Rock Garden

Red in the Rock Garden

Red in the Rock Garden © 2011 Bo Mackison

A visit to one of my favorite urban gardens, Allen Centennial Garden in the heart of the University of Wisconsin campus, not only gives me the opportunity to photograph lovely spring flowers and blossoming trees, but also the gift of getting close to the earth and discovering small delights in an intricate series of rock gardens.

This is an example of hens and chicks in its red variety. One of my favorite (and most popular photographs at the art fairs I attend) is another photo I took of hens and chicks, the green variety.  I love both versions–they seem to play off each other. This red one has more composition, the red succulents playing off the light background of small pastel pebbles and large white rocks. The older photo has an overall pattern of the hens and chicks in varying sizes, and the rocky background has more blue tones. Together I think they make an attractive display.

I love the different stories associated with hens and chicks. I heard the first, a passed down family tale, from my great-grandmother, my Grandma Prudie. She was in her eighties when I was nearing ten and given the job of garden assistant by my grandfather. Prudie would often drag a yard chair out onto the lawn near the long strip of garden on the far side of the property and chat about a variety of topics as I hand pulled the weeds.

One day she told me the story of the hens and chicks plant, her version. The story made a big impression on me. I wrote the story in a black and white composition notebook–my diary–but that notebook long ago disappeared. This is the version that my memory remembers:

“Now these plants, the hens and chicks, these are a “sucky-lent” plant. The little plants “suck” all the life from the mother plants–those are the big center plants. The mothers send out roots and then the little chicks grow. The chicks grow and eventually take over the plant. Then eventually the mother plant dies and the chicks become the mothers. And the growing pattern gets repeated over and over, until the hens and chicks spread throughout the  rock garden.” ~Prudence Mackison Willliams

My great-grandmother wasn’t afraid to talk about any topic. I remember conversations about war, jealousy between siblings, religion, marriage and divorce, life and death. She wasn’t a judgmental woman. She thought people did the best they could with what life offered them, and often defended the under dogs of the world.

Grandma Prudie had a hard life, she did many things in her day that weren’t considered womanly things to do, but she was kind-hearted and she was giving; she was an optimist and she lived her life fully. She also loved flowers, and her favorite time of year was when it was flower blooming season.


Bo Mackison is a photographer and the owner of Seeded Earth Studio LLC. Bo is thankful to see the spring flowers blooming and the sun shining. She is also recalling the many garden talks she had with her grandparents when she was a child.

About Bo Mackison

I'm a photographer, book-artist, traveler, naturalist, and creator of the Contemplative Creatives Journey, An Online Workshop and Community and Desert Wisdom Cards and Workshops. Though often not well known, I find the desert a welcoming place - a healing space. Its mysteries and gifts transformed me several years ago. Since that first encounter, I return again and again to fill my well in what most people think of as a desolate region. I'd love to share my desert discoveries and wisdom with you. Please subscribe to receive my five part mini email course The Gifts of the Desert. It's my gift to you.


  1. We have lots of those, the green variety. Now when I look at them I will remember your story.

    • Bo Mackison says:

      W have more green than red, too. This is the first time I have seen them spread out enough to photograph more than just a single plant cluster.

  2. Gandalf says:

    Lovely insight and intriguing photo.

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