April 19, 2012

Amp Up Your Garden with Treasures

A Primula marginata blooms, rather weakly, because this one was rooted into a piece of tufa rock, which keeps the plant more in character. 

Ask any child to draw spring, and they will confirm it - springtime is synonymous with flowers ( OK, and maybe Robins),  but I am convinced that mom nature never really intended us to plant flouncy hybrid daffodils along side florescent orange tulips, nor to force Easter Lilies alongside foiled pots of Blue Hydrangeas. The true flowers of spring, are found in the deciduous woodlands and alpine meadows of North America, Japan, China, Korea and Europe. Sure, tulips and narcissus in their delicate, wild forms are indeed, wild flowers, but those are only found in the most serious of gardeners gardens. If you are ready to move forward with your gardening skills, these next few weeks are the best time to start, and with plant societies hosting some very special plant sales and auctions, and even a few plant shows, this may just be the perfect time to amp up your knowledge and skills. Look, you never are going to grow with plants, until you take that next step from phase 1 gardener to phase 2 gardener....I think it's time for you to try something more challenging, don't you? Life is too short to grow the same, dump daffodil year after year. Why not try, say, a Jeffersonia?

Jeffersonia dubia, blooms in the April sunshine, open only for a few days, the honey bees squeal with delight  when it is open. 

These next few weeks marks the peak bloom period for the earliest, and perhaps the most lovely of the alpine and woodland plants, two categories that I group together since for some reason, these groups often appeal to the same audience, the rock gardeners, also known as alpine plant enthusiasts, or those who cultivate wild flowers, the woodland types - ephemerals, ferns  or the wild, deciduous orchids, like lady slippers. Yes, these are not always the easiest plants to grow, but they are truly the jewels of the garden, and all are treasures. Learning to grow something that is really delicate and challenging, can be extremely rewarding, even better if you've been able to cultivate a rare wild flower to naturalize or to get an endangered, high elevation rock plant to bloom, provide you with seed, and then share it.

A yellow Saxifraga from a rooted cutting, that was also planted into a hole that was drilled into Tufa rock, a porous limestone rock which many alpines can actually grow in, especially if planted in a trough.

That's what most people do who are members of the North American Rock Garden Society, or NARGS, and between now and mid May, these societies are very active, with member auctions where members bring plants that they have grown, to share, and with some shows. Most chapters are having meetings during these spring months, and I encourage you to attend one to see how fun and interesting these people can be. You may even wish to join.

Daphnes are rarely seen in most gardens, but the alpine forms are even more unusual, yet I don't know why, for they remain small and tight, and they bloom very early, with numerous, fragrant blossoms. The scent from these Daphne x hendersonii drifts across the garden, and it smells like cinnamon buns.

Two events worth attending if you are even the slightly interested in learning more about rock plants, alpines or wild flowers happening over the next two weeks. In New York City ( yes, New York City) You would be shocked to see the successes achieved by savvy rock gardeners who cultivate rarities on their 'high elevation' balconies and breezy penthouses. They provide  almost the exact environmental conditions found in some of the most extreme glacial mountain ranges.

If you live in the north eastern US, here are two events that are must-visits.

Saturday, April 28 - The New England Chapter of the National Rock Garden Society ( NARGS) meeting and rare plant auction held at the Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge, 680 Hudson Road, Sudbury Ma. ( OK, I will be leading a discussion there too on Troughs), but I am really going there for the plant auction, for most of these plants cannot be found anywhere else, or, they are unaffordable.

Sunday, April 29, The Annual McNARGS ( the Manhattan Chapter of the North American Rock Garden Society) Plant Sale featuring 'Uncommon Plants for City Folk'. McNARGS really knows how to attract both great plants, and educated members, and newbies are always welcome, ( when ever I attend a meeting there, it seems who ever I drag along with me ends up joining too, even if they never attended a NARGS meeting before - it's that sort of group. The sale runs from 10:00AM until 1:00PM and it will be held at El Sol Brillante Community Garden 522-528 12th St. (between Avenue A & B).

 My trick? Get there early before the even open the gates. So ....you New Yorkers....., if you are ready to raise the bar on that window box? If your neighbor has a nice organic heirloom basil in their garden that makes them feel sustainable, you could now respond with "oh, that's fine, but have you seen my high elevation rock garden? The plants are from seed or critical alpine species that grow only in one crevasse found in Val Gardena in the Italian Alps - it's kind of like fostering a rescued snow leopard, but safer" Global warming and heirloom Basil?  Meh.


  1. For me it's lenten roses, forsythia and kyria. Although often called the Christmas rose the lenten is much later here adding subtle color. The other two are bright flashes in a gardne that is otherwise a bit dull this time of year. They're the first signs that things are coming back to life.

  2. StoneCrop Gardens is having a plant sale on April 28, some of your favorite plant sources are listed. NY Botanical Gardens is having a Rock Garden themed day April 21, including a trough demonstration, not sure if they sell aplines in their garden shop.


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