But for the vast majority of us this is not possible or
desirable. But it does not mean we have to give up the notion of
having the beauty of mountain scenery as a part of our garden.
When I took my first stroll around the garden of the house I
moved into eight years ago, as soon as I saw the bank of tall
quack grass across the width of the backyard “rock garden”
immediately sprang into my mind. Actually, it was “rockery”,
because I’m a Brit and we give some things different names.
Another thought simultaneously passed through my mind- “hard
work”, and although this has been the case, it has been worth
it. Today the quack grass has been, more or less, eradicated and
replaced by rocks and, for good measure, a trickling waterfall
and stream. During the four-year period it took to achieve this,
I made mistakes and would like to pass on the worst, so you can
avoid them when you launch into building your own rock garden.
One thing I did do right was to join the local chapter of NARGS
(North American Rock Garden Society). There is nothing like
rubbing shoulders with like- minded people and gleaning their
freely given knowledge forged over many years.
the basis that I had a garden, and now needed rocks, I set out
to find them. You can go to a specialist and purchase rocks and
have them delivered onto your driveway. Or you can ask everyone
you meet if they have any rocks they don’t want, which is a
surprisingly lucrative method. It means you have to transport
them and lug them into place. As a result, my rocks are
generally only as big as I could lift. This is not a deterrent
if they are placed carefully. As my rock garden is about 50 feet
long by 10 feet wide this meant a lot of lugging.
Boulders in the Garden
biggest mistake was not properly preparing the soil before
placing the rocks. In my enthusiasm to make progress I neglected
this basic need for the plants I wanted to grow. Alpine plants
do not like our clay. Where they come from is, believe it or
not, rocky and this provides fast drainage. I have corrected
this by replacing the clay with a mixture of sand, gravel and
peat to a depth of about twelve inches. The weeds love it!
Placement of the rocks is important. More rocks rather than less
are best. I put mine in rough rows touching each other and
slanting down from the top of the garden to near the front to
try and emulate a strata formation. The rocks should lean back,
so that rain drains to where the plants are located, rather than
run off and away. This also helps to stop the frost toppling
them over. All you need is imagination and a pleasing layout
will be achieved.
I’m sure some of you are thinking that this all sounds like too
much hard work, but as I alluded to above, there are
alternatives. Crevice gardens use thin slabs of rock placed
vertically close together with the plants grown in the gaps. A
garden wall can be used in the same way. The size of the garden
needed to achieve the pleasure to be gained from growing alpine
plants is immaterial. It also means spending less on buying
plants. I have seen many rock gardens the area of a bathtub;
many older gardens are planted in stone troughs previously used
for feeding and watering cattle.
If you have a small garden or like to have your plants nearby or
inside the house, a popular method of rock gardening is to
utilize containers. Troughs of many sizes, shapes and materials
can be used. If you want a reasonably large area to grow in,
decide on its final resting place first as you are not going to
move a concrete trough once it’s full of soil mixture, rocks and
a variety of limestone, formed by the precipitation of carbonate
minerals, is very popular rock. Its porosity is conducive to
growing healthy plants. Hypertufa, typically made from a
mixture of cement, sphagnum and pearlite, can be used to emulate
natural rock and can be formed into troughs.
Styrofoam boxes can be used, modified to look as if they are
concrete, and have the advantage of being light weight. You can
then move the trough to a more protected location during the
Troughs are often referred to as miniature gardens. The design
can be enhanced with dead branches and other objects. If they
are whimsical, and incorporate miniature objects, such as
gardening tools, benches and figurines, they are called fairy
gardens. Children are especially enchanted by fairy gardens.
What plants to use? In addition to numerous alpine plants there
are many choices. Irises, bulbs, hostas, aquilegias, heucheras
and cacti are but a few. All come in miniature varieties, as do
many different trees and bushes.
hope this brief excursion into the pleasures of rock gardening
has whetted your appetite for more information.
Hold More Interest
High Line Park in Manhattan