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Showing posts with label Rock Gardening. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Rock Gardening. Show all posts

April 23, 2015

ROCK GARDENING SOCIETIES - BEYOND ROCKS - A SPECIAL GIVEAWAY


NATIVE PLANTS SHINE IN THIS WATER-WISE ROCK GARDEN IN SANTE FE ON A TOUR WITH THE NORTH AMERICAN ROCK GARDEN SOCIETY - A SOCIETY WHICH CAN HELP YOUR UNDERSTAND THAT ROCK GARDENS ARE NOT REALLY ALL ABOUT ROCKS.

Mention the term 'Rock Garden' and most people will offer a different definition. Even amongst the most passionate of rock gardening enthusiasts - member of the NARGS - the North American Rock Garden Society or the AGS - the Alpine Garden Society in the UK, even within the chatty, active chat rooms and forums of the very active and passionate SRGC - the Scottish Rock Garden Club folks disagree on what the exact definition is, but one thing is for certain - rock gardening has less to do about rocks, as it does about the plants - for each personal definition does provide a hint to what rock gardening is today - a hobby or interest which demands more than some basic knowledge about plant life. The art and science of rock gardening errs more on the side of science, ecology and botany than it does the 'art' part of the equation.


TROUGH CULTURE IS A VERY SPECIFIC TYPE OF ROCK GARDEN WHERE HIGH ELEVATION ALPINE PLANTS ARE GROWN IN HYPER-TUFA CONTAINERS MADE OF A SPECIAL BLEND OF CONCRETE THAT MIMIC'S TUFA ROCK - A HIGHLY POROUS LIMESTONE ROCK THAT MANY ALPINES GROW WELL ON, BUT THE TERM TROUGH CAN MEAN MUCH MORE THAN THESE 'SINK-LIKE' CONTAINERS.


Not that aesthetics aren't important to rock gardeners, far from it, but rock gardening is about as far away from landscape design or outdoor decoration as a garden can get. In a nut shell, it's more like recreating nature - think: habitat creation. Many rock gardens are like tiny zoo's for plants. Want to raise a rare, high elevation saxifrage from the Alps? Then you will need to recreate the alpine conditions as best you can right in your own back yard - right down to the perfect drainage, soil pH and rocky outcroppings or screes where the specific genus once grew in nature. It's a bit like creating a living diorama from a natural history museum - perhaps right in a small trough sitting on your deck, which is kind-of cool once you start thinking about it, right?

PURISTS IN THE ROCK GARDEN SOCIETIES STILL ENJOY ATTEMPTING TO GROW THE MOST CHALLENGING OF PLANTS - HIGH ELEVATION ALPINES SUCH AS THIS SAXIFRAGE SPECIES I SHOT IN ONE OF MY TROUGHS, BUT ROCK GARDENING TODAY CAN MEAN SO MUCH MORE.

Although many rock gardeners focus strictly on alpine plants in the UK, in the US the boundaries blur between interests - ferns, woodland plants, bulbs, shrubs, cacti and succulents and true, high-elevation alpines. So even though the first rock garden movement in the 1910's, kick-started by a British plantsman and explorer Reginald Farrer  -  the 'Father of Rock Gardening' -as he he ignited the trend back in the Victorian era and it grew into a specialist favorite throughout the first half of the 20th century. Near the end of the 20th century, the trend started to wane, to evolve into what rock garden is today - more about interesting plants and the people who crave them, than anything else. Some of use still raise proper rock gardens in the English style, others, do it with a twist, raising plants in troughs, raised beds or pots.

ONE OF THE BENEFITS OF JOINING A ROCK GARDEN SOCIETY IS THE SOCIAL ASPECT, TOURS, LECTURES, TALKS, ROUND-TABLES, PLANT AND SEED EXCHANGES AND CONVENTIONS. THIS TOUR IN NEW MEXICO WAS ORGANIZED BY NARGS LAST YEAR, AND INCLUDED HIKES, STUDIES AND PLENTY OF CHATTY MEALS.

That all said, 'Rock Gardening' expland into many tangential specialist groups including the Penstemon Society, the Primrose Society and many other highly specialized groups based around a single genus. Then, there is California and the water shortage, where rock gardening may mean a water-wise gravel or sand garden. Similarly, in Arizona, it may mean a cactus garden or a Steppe garden, or  in Colorado and Utah a mixture of all three. In the North East, it may mean getting rid of your lawn and introducing native plants.

There is still an identity issue here to those trying to wrap their arms around what rock gardening actuall is, but there is one thing clear to all rock gardeners - a rock garden is not simply a garden of rocks. It's about creating an environment or a habitat where these plants can grow, as most will sulk in a regular garden. This may mean fast drainage, protection from winter wet, or sand beds, gravel mulches or tiny crevice gardens of clay.


A VIEW OF MY RAISED ROCK WALL ROCK GARDEN WITH A MIXTURE OF LOW GROWING ALPINE BULBS, SPECIES TULIPS, DWARF EVERGREENS AND PERENNIALS. I TRY TO NOT GET TOO GEEKY ABOUT STAYING TRUE TO WHAT A TURN-OF-THE-CENTURY ROCK GARDEN MIGHT HAVE HAD IN IT, I PLANT A LITTLE OF EVERYTHING, FROM ANNUALS TO TREES AND BULBS. I NEVER HAVE TO WATER IT.

Even nurseries and garden centers are confused, often clumping together various low-growing or dwarf plants in areas and labeling them as 'rock garden' plants. There are only a handful of true alpine plant nurseries in North America, but as the term broadens to include woodland and shrubs and grasses, you can begin to see that a rock garden enthusiast could find a suitable rock garden plant in many aisles of a nursery, but the purist would most likely need to either join a local club, or order plants from a specialist nursery as few garden centers carry any rock plant beyond a sempervivum or a dwarf campanula.

WE DECIDED TO ELIMINATE THE LAWN IN OUR FRONT YARD, WHICH NOW LOOKS LIKE NEW YORK's HI-LINE MEETS THE NETHERLANDS, BUT EVERYTHING IN IT CAME FROM INSPIRATION I RECIEVED FROM NARGS MEETINGS, EVEN THIS BLACK, DWARF IRIS, WHICH I BOUGHT AT A NARGS PLANT SALE.


In many ways, the North American Rock Garden Society is stuck with a very unfortunate name.  It may have been appropriate in 1930, but today, it can be misleading. First, the idea of a 'society' is limiting and off-putting to some, then there are the words North and American - it used to be called the American Rock Garden Society, but once again, Canada is left to fend for itself, so the name was changed. Even so, North America is limiting as well, especially as NARGS is a global society now. The word 'Rock' has many believing that rocks are essential to rock gardens ( and in many, they are), but as you can see here - rocks are only part of the story.  What about bulbs, ephemerals, woodland plants, wildflowers, prairie grasses or ferns and mosses?

Clearly, this is simply a PR and identity issue more than anything else. We should be smart enough to be able to overcome such issues, but changing names of large organizations is challenging, and although acronyms seem to only make the matter worse (NARGS…really?), the future of these groups weighs more on the members and what they believe in more than it does what they are 'in to'. It's safe to say that NARGS, AGS and SRGC attracts the most intellectual of the plant people, sure, but it also attracts those who are curious, smart, adventurous and who love learning more about plants.

A GROUP OF NARGS MEMBERS MEET ON A SATURDAY FOR A BOTANIZING HIKE. USUALLY THERE ARE A COUPLE OF INFORMED LEADERS, AND EVERYONE ELSE TAKES NOTES AND INSPIRATION. THESE ARE ALWAYS A GREAT TIME FOR NOVICES AND EXPERTS ALIKE.

Of all the benefits that are worthy with these groups, by far, the best part of membership are the sed exchanges. Annually, each of these clubs offered members a long, long list of fresh seed - seeds available from no where else - forget about saving heirloom tomatoes - what about an endangered plant from Brazil who's habitat has been destroyed, thought to be extinct? I want to save THAT seed. Not a bean that I am saving because of some crazy, unfounded GMO fear. Make a difference in the world.

MY LOCAL CHAPTER, THE NEW ENGLAND CHAPTER A COUPLE OF WEEKS AGO, WHERE THE LUNCH-TIME TALK WAS ON GESNERIADS WHICH ARE ALPINES. YOU MIGHT THINK THAT THIS WAS TOO INTENSE, BUT EVEN FIRST-TIME ATTENDEES WHERE ENGAGED AND MADE MUST-GET LISTS, 

Attend any NARGS meeting ( there are many regional clubs that you can join, or you can simply join the national organization of NARGS, which, some full disclosure here,  I am currently the president of NARGS, something of which I am proud of, even though I still feel a bit inadequate in the role.  Attend any local or even the national annual meeting ( in two weeks???) and  you will find a cheerful, friendly group of plant enthusiasts who welcome both newbies and experts.  You just need to be curious and open about learning new things. Friends tell me that attending meetings is a little bit of boy scout meets a college lecture.


THE BRITISH SOCIETIES ARE VERY SOPHISTICATED ABOUT HOW AND WHAT ALPINES TO GROW, AND I TRY OCCASIONALLY TO IMITATE THEM IN THIS ALPINE HOUSE COLLECTION OF POTTED, TRUE ALPINES AND SMALL BULBS. NOT FOR EVERYONE, BUT I REALLY ENJOYED THE CHALLENGE.

My love for rock gardening and alpine plants started early in life, when I was a gardener at a small estate here in my home town which happened to have an extensive rock garden, tufa rock walls and an important collection of true rock plants. I just never took it all very seriously until I was much older, when about 20 years ago I started visiting some of the British sites - the Alpine Garden Society in the UK , in particular, as well as the Scottish Rock Garden Club. Both have deep sites where they share many  photos of their shows which happen it seems, every other week. No one can grow alpines in pots as well as those in the UK can, but believe me, I try. Just check out their show reports here - the Scottish ROck Garden Club imges are here.  Ian Young's bulb log was the inspiration for my blog, he and his wife Margaret are both active members of the Scottish club, you just have to visit his extensive collection of images on his bulb log here. It is insane!

THE PLANT SHOWS OF ROCK GARDEN PLANTS IN THE UK ARE SPECTACULAR. MOST GROWERS RAISE THEIR ALPINE IN POTS AND IN ALPINE HOUSES, WHICH ARE ESSENTIALLY COLD GREENHOUSES. ALPINE HOUSES ARE DIFFICULT TO KEEP HERE IN THE US, BUT MANY OF US TRY.




I kind-of knew that I could not raise such plants here in the US, but I have tried - unfortunately, our climate doesn't' cooperate in most of the US (unless one lives in Alaska or the North West), but I tried, and continue to try to raise alpine-type plants in pots and containers. I brought a few of these to my first NARGS meeting where I quietly entered them into a show - basically, a folding table near a window in an all-purpose room our local chapter rented at a state park. Most meetings occur monthly, and some include an opportunity for 'show and tell', where members can bring in a pot or even a cutting of a precious plant, and members talk about it - sharing how they grew it. There is usually coffee and treats, and then a presentation of some sort, usually a guest speaker. A great way to spend a Saturday.

FORMER NURSURY OWNER AND PLANTSWOMAN ELLEN HORNIG, THE PRESIDENT OF MY LOCAL CHAPTERS AUCTIONS OFF A RARE MONOGRAPH ON THE GENUS GALANTHUS (SNOWDROPS) AT OUR LAST MEETING. I LEFT WITH ABOUT 25 BOOKS! THE TABLE IN BACK WAS A SHOW AND TELL OF MEMBERS PLANTS. IT WAS MARCH, AND MANY PLANTS WERE LATE THIS YEAR.


It was at this first meeting when I realized that although I knew so little about these plants, that everyone was taking notes, laughing, sharing stories about how they killed something, or triumphed with it.  There was a plant auction ( it was spring) and members brought in plants that they grew or divided at home ( a note about this - NARGS members run the full gamut, from novice to expert - and it's these experts, which most chapters have in one way or another, that make membership so special - in this way, NARGS is not unlike an elite country club.

At this first meeting, I met and became friends with Darrelll Probst, the then epimedium expert who offered up few flats of rare plants that he raised from seed that he collected on expeditions to China with Dan Hinkley. These were amazing, to say the least - I mean, podophyllum that were just too precious or rare to sell to commercial nurseries like Plant Delights because he only had ten of them - each plant made me want to empty my bank account. " This white dwarf Iris came from my last expedition to China, we are not sure about the taxonomy, the species may be new to science, it's only 8 inches high, and covered itself with white Iris blossoms early in the year,  super hardy and it makes a huge mound - no one has it yet, so I'll start the bidding off at $5 - any takers?). Crazy.

At the same meeting, I met chapter members allium expert Mark McDonough, bulb expert Russell Stafford of Odyssey Bulbs and the speaker who spoke on water-wise sand beds. I bought a beautiful hyper-tufa trough and a few flats of woodland plants, bulbs and alpines, a small Daphne shrub that a member started from seed ( a species which was hard to find) and I bought a tall stack of old journals that another member was selling. Throw in a few books from the chapter library that would be lucky to every show up on Amazon, and I was hooked.

I couldn't wait for the next meeting - but I had to wait for an entire month! How could I ever survive?
NARGS is like that. Nothing at all like what my mother said rock gardening was about - rocks, placed in a garden. Ha.

THE PAGES IN THE CURRENT JOURNAL OF NARGS SHOWS THE DIVERSITY OF WILD PLANTS IN NATURE, FROM PATAGONIAN OXALIS  TO RARE PRIMROSES NOT IN CULTURE YET AND POPPIES FROM THE HIMALAYA. TELL ME - WHAT MAGAZINE FOR $35 OFFERS THIS SORT OF CONTENT TODAY 4 TIMES A YEAR? AND AT THE SAME TIME, OFFERS SEEDS OF MANY OF THESE PLANTS?


Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of rocks in rack gardens - in particular, tufa rock, a porous limestone rock treasured by rock gardeners for true alpines, as they can root directly into the rock, but it is difficult to come by, and if you do, it is expensive. Hyper-tufa is a concrete mix, I think you've all seen it - people use it to make troughs or bowls in which to plant alpine plants.  You may remember it being used in some classic Martha Stewart Living TV episodes, or from a few DIY craft blogs. If done right, it can look very much like rock, and it is the preferred method for creating troughs, a very specific type of alpine garden where high elevation plants are raised in carefully constructed troughs which mimic the stone sinks early rock garden enthusiasts used in England, but if done poorly, it could look like dinosaur poop.


TROUGHS, WHICH ORIGINALLY WERE WHAT FARRER  CALLED SINK GARDENS IN 1900, ARE GAINING POPULARITY - EVEN IN THE SOUTH WEST - WHERE THIS ONE THRIVES IN THE SHADE OF A PINON PINE.

Regardless of how you define rock gardening or what a rock garden is, the art and science of it makes sense, as explained in a nice post on the NPR blog this week - where the author has shared some interesting thoughts about how relevant rock gardening can be today.


A SPREAD FOR THE CURRENT JOURNAL OF THE NORTH AMERICAN ROCK GARDEN SOCIETY, THE ROCK GARDEN QUARTERLY FEATURING AN ARTICLE ON PLANTS FROM AFGHANISTAN AND MUCH MORE. THIS IS CLEARLY NOT GARDEN DESIGN MAGAZINE OR WILDER, BUT IT SURELY HAS SUBSTANCE.


MY VERY SPECIAL GIVE AWAY

So in an effort to promote rock gardening or alpine gardens, I am offering two precious copies of the latest journal of NARGS to two randomly selected readers who leave comments on this post - how great is that? In this issue, you will see articles on plants from expeditions to Afghanistan, to China, and Patagonia, but mostly, I hope that you will see that rock gardening is more about discovering the wonder of some of the most special plants in the world, be they endangered or threatened, curious or odd, or simply rare and undiscovered.

I AM OFFERING A GIVEAWAY TO TWO WINNERS - THE LATEST ISSUE OF THE ROCK GARDEN QUARTERLY, THAT I HELPED REDESIGN - NORMALLY ONLY AVAILABLE TO MEMBERS OF NARGS. BETTER YET, JOIN!


All this said about rock gardens because our national Annual Meeting is being held in a couple of weeks in Ann Arbor. Hey, you could always attend and really get introduced to the whole scheme - I am bringing a couple of friends who have never been. If not, then at least check the NARGS sites for a local chapter of NARGS website here, and attend the next meeting - I promise you that people will welcome yo - tell them I sent you, and maybe you will be so inspired that you will join this great plant society that has such a long and respected history.


ALL SORTS OF INTERESTING ARTICLES COME IN THIS PRESTIGIOUS JOURNAL, FOUR TIMES A YEAR.

August 15, 2012

The Alpine Rock Garden at the Denver Botanic Gardens



 The Alpine Rock Garden at the Denver Botanic Gardens is world-renowned for its diversity and collections of high-elevation alpine plants, and western US native plants, steppe plants and succulents. One of the largest rock gardens in the United States, I saved this garden for a different day, as it deserved a more focused visit. Rock gardens can be controversial - at least properly defining them when garden geeks get together. Even today, many gardeners cannot agree on where they should be gardens filled with rocks, or gardens constructed to house true rock plants or alpine plants. The Alpine Rock Garden at the DBG is a little of both - but it is clearly inspired by the great European rock or alpine gardens from the turn of the century. This garden houses many plants native to the prairie and steppe areas of the great American south west. Purists may grumble, expecting to see sweeps of gentians and pulsatilla such as those seen at Kew or the Montreal Botanic Gardens, but the DBG garden is unique in the world of alpine gardens, and it is often listed as one of the great three ( Kew, Edinburgh and Denver) Rock Gardens maintained today. It alone is worth a visit while in the Denver area.

MANY TRUE ALPINE PLANTS GROW DENSE AND TIGHT UNDER THE EXTREME CONDITIONS FOUND AT HIGH ELEVATIONS. THE TIGHT GROWTH HELPS THE PLANTS CONSERVE ENERGY, AND MANY FORM TIGHT BUNS AND TUSSOCKS, LOOKING MUCH LIKE THE ROCKS WHICH THEY GROW NEXT TO,

A NICE, WHITE ALPINE CAMPANULA


ROCK GARDENS ARE HABITAT GARDENS, THE CLOSEST THING IN ANY BOTANIC GARDEN TO A WILD HABITAT.  IT'S THAT BALANCE BETWEEN ROCKS AND PLANTS, THAT MAKES A ROCK GARDEN SO APPEALING, AND PRACTICAL - MANY ROCK GARDENS CAN ALSO BE XERIC GARDENS, REQUIRING LITTLE WATER IF PLANTED WITH THE PROPER SPECIES. ALPINES HAVE DEEP TAP ROOTS.

A NEW FEATURE AT THE DENVER BOTANIC GARDENS IS THIS CZECH STYLE CREVICE GARDEN, NEWLY PLANTED WITH ROCK PLANTS.

Ehedra przewalskii,  WITH RED BERRIES. IT'S IN THE JOINT FIR FAMILY- EPHEDRACEAE
A POISONOUS PLANT, THIS IS THE EPHEDRA THAT CAN CAUSE HEART PALPITATIONS 

Phlomis alpina, ALPINE JERUSALEM SAGE LOOKS NICE, EVEN AS DRIED SEED PODS FORM

Manfreda virginica, THE FALSE ALOE, NATIVE TO THE SOUTH EASTERN US. STILL A MEMBER OF THE AGAVAEAE ( AGAVE or CENTURY PLANT FAMILY), THE FLOWER STALK WAS NEARLY 5 FEET TALL.

A PRAYING MANTIC, HUNTS FOR SNACKS ON A Pelargonium englicherianum WHICH HAS GONE TO SEED

A MORE WELL BEHAVED FIREWEED, THE ALPINE WILLOWHERB OR Epilobium fleischeri, ALSO A PLANT SELECT® OFFERING IN THE SOUTH WEST.



MANY DESERT PLANTS AND DRYLAND PLANTS ARE INTERPLANTED WITH HIGH ELEVATION ALPINE PLANTS IN THE DBG ALPINE AND ROCK GARDEN. I WAS IMPRESSED WITH THE LABELING, MOST EVERY PLANT WAS LABELED, AN ENORMOUS TASK, BUT HELPFUL FOR THOSE OF US WHO ARE STILL LEARNING.

THIS TINY FLOWER ONLY A HALF INCH IN DIAMETER ON A THREE FOOT SHRUB IS A CLEMATIS.
MEET Clematis stans NATIVE TO JAPAN

ANOTHER VIEW OF THE CREVICE GARDEN. I WILL HAVE TO COME BACK AND SEE THIS IN JUNE.

SENIOR HORTICULTURIST, MIKE KINTGEN, CAN BE FOUND TENDING THE COLLECTION IN THE DBG ROCK GARDEN MOST EVERY DAY, AT LEAST WHEN HE ISN'T IN HIS OFFICE.  WHO COULD BLAME HIM!
MAIN VIEW OF THE DENVER BOTANIC GARDENS' MAGNIFICENT ALPINE AND ROCK GARDEN