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Collecting Rocks

Pink Marble Rock showing lots of white

One thing that a rock garden needs is rocks, so I am always in the market for interesting rocks.  When the local chapter of the North American Rock Garden Society said it was planning a trip to a local quarry to harvest rocks, I was all for it.  Especially on Inauguration Day when I wanted some productive distraction.

It was a rainy overcast day which didn’t help the aspect of driving into the quarry which is almost canyon-like after years of harvesting rock.  Despite the mud and wet, cold weather it’s actually a very beautiful place which you would never see unless you were part of a similar expedition.

Entering the Quarry

The slope was steep enough that having my wheelbarrow was less use than I expected, unless you are accustomed to pushing up 30 degree slopes.

Lot’s of Rocks but on a steep hill for getting them out

The most desirable rock was (of course) at the bottom of the hill.

The beautiful pink marble was near the bottom of the hill

By the time I got each individual rock up to the truck I was huffing and puffing like a steam engine.  Nonetheless they were worth the effort.

Pink Marble Rock

I had two concerns that limited my collecting efforts.  One, the sheer physical difficulty, and then two, the fact that the truck was parked on a steep muddy hill and whether I would be able to get it out again.

Cars were parked at the bottom of a muddy road.

Truck wishing it was 4-wheel drive

Turn-around spot was a mud-hole

However, I did manage to get out with only a mild amount of wheel spinning.

Some of the rocks had beautiful crystalline structure.

Rock showing lots of calcite crystals

And one very special rock up at the office illustrated what limestone can do.

Complex limestone formation

In the end I only brought home about a dozen rocks but they are beautiful and I’m sure they will find a place in our gardens.

Rock harvest

If the club runs a similar field trip in the future I am ready to sign up for a repeat visit.

 

Why Alpines Inspire

A sea of buttercups

A sea of buttercups

We’ve been back a little more than a week now from a wonderful exploration of the Dolomites with Greentours.  We spent our days walking through meadows or scrambling up rocky cliffs finding hundreds of species of wildflowers in bloom.

Botanizing in the Dolomites

Botanizing in the Dolomites

The whole experience was a reminder of why alpines are so captivating for gardeners all over the world.  Their relatively short growing season and difficult exposed conditions has produced adaptations characterized by rapid abundant flowering from compact plants that are often nestled in or on rocks where many other plants cannot grow.  Of course it doesn’t hurt that the scenery is glorious whenever you take the time to look up from the plants.

The trick is to learn where to look for the different species.  Meadows are often filled with various small ground orchids in the same way we would expect to see dandelions in Maryland.  Potentilla, Sage, Thyme, and Ranunculus are abundant.

Meadows filled with flowers

Meadows filled with flowers

Common Spotted Orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii)

Common Spotted Orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii)

Dactylorhiza majalis

Dactylorhiza majalis

Bird's Nest Orchid (Neottia nidus-avis)

Bird’s Nest Orchid (Neottia nidus-avis)

Orobanche gracilis (Growing parasitically on Birdsfoot Trefoil (Lotus corniculata)

Orobanche gracilis (Growing parasitically on Birdsfoot Trefoil (Lotus corniculata)

The interplay with the rocks mean that you often seek out rocks in a field to see what has colonized the rocks.  Of course Saxifrages are particularly good at this.

Saxifraga paniculata

Saxifraga paniculata

Saxifraga paniculata hugs the rocks

Saxifraga paniculata hugs the rocks

But in between you find other treasures like the famous Edelweiss.

delweiss (Leontopodium alpinum) amid Bird's Foot Trefoil and other smaller flowers

delweiss (Leontopodium alpinum) amid Bird’s Foot Trefoil and other smaller flowers

The Rampions were a particular favorite of mine.  The Round-headed Rampion was found in many locations.

Round-headed Rampion (Phyteuma obiculare)

Round-headed Rampion (Phyteuma obiculare)

And on three occasions we came upon the famous Devil’s Claw in flower.  This alpine flower is found only in Italy, Austria, and Slovenia and we were fortunate to actually be there when it was flowering.

Devil's Claw (Physoplexis comosa)

Devil’s Claw (Physoplexis comosa)

The Physoplexis seemed happiest when growing on a cliff face.  It immediately produced a question in our group which apparently has been a serious question for botanists.  Namely, how does the Devil’s Claw get pollinated?

Another particularly beautiful flower, like the Rampions, is also in the Campanula family.

Bearded Bellflower (Campanula barbata)

Bearded Bellflower (Campanula barbata)

Mostly we explored the areas around the mountain passes, but we also got to higher elevations on two occasions.  One I wrote about on the previous posting and the other was on the next to the last day when we took a ski lift up to the shoulder of Marmolada at 8500 ft.  The ground at the top is all scree below the snowline and at first you would conclude there is nothing gowing there.

Barren looking landscape on Marmolada at 8500 ft.

Barren looking landscape on Marmolada at 8500 ft.

But on closer inspection you see that many things thrive in the scree.

Purple saxifrage (saxifraga oppositifolia)

Purple saxifrage (saxifraga oppositifolia)

Vitaliana primuliflora

Vitaliana primuliflora

Saxifraga androsace

Saxifraga androsace

Especially prevalent was the Round-leaved Pennycress which seemingly colonizes every spot where someone else is not…

Thlapsi rotundifolium

Thlapsi rotundifolium

 

A Primula Arrives Early to the Party

Primula allionii 'Wharfdale Ling' peeking out

Primula allionii ‘Wharfdale Ling’ peeking out

I was surprised to see a glint of color in the Alpine bed yesterday.  Indeed it was actually a first flower from the exquisite little Primula allionii ‘Wharfdale Ling’.  This tiny little primula species is relatively rare in the wild but has been widely propagated and hybridized because of the size and beauty of the flowers for such a small plant.  Jim Jermyn has a great write-up on this species and its natural growing conditions.  I’ve just finished my seed order for the Scottish Rock Garden Society seed exchange and I’ve included a different Primula allionii selection on my list.  This one has the honor of being the first plant to flower in the new alpine bed — months ahead of time.

Early blossom on Primula allionii 'Wharfdale Ling'

Early blossom on Primula allionii ‘Wharfdale Ling’

It’s been generally a great week for gardening.  Crisp mornings but sunny afternoons.  I spent this afternoon cleaning the moss off of pots in the greenhouse.  But not before noting that yet another oxalis species had come into flower.

Oxalis densa

Oxalis densa

Notice the little hairy leaves.  The oxalis are all so different.  The buds on these are yet another distinctive image — I need to get a picture.  Back to the moss, it  had really built up on some of the small bulb pots.  As it turns out when you use a gravel top dressing the moss just lifts out taking the some of the old gravel with it and doesn’t disturb the underlying bulbs.  And then you just replace the gravel.

We took off one day on an excursion looking at garden art at Alden Farms and the unusual plants at Susanna Farms.  Many of the items at Susanna Farms were landscaping specimens beyond our price range, but we did come back with two very nice additions.

Rhododendron nakaharai 'Pink ES'

Rhododendron nakaharai ‘Pink ES’

The fall coloring is just great on this prostrate rhodie.  It will be interesting to see how it flowers out in the spring.  It’s said the flowers appear at nearly the end of the rhododendron season which would make them very late indeed.

Crytomeria japonica 'Little Diamond'

Crytomeria japonica ‘Little Diamond’

We have always liked Cryptomeria.  Our biggest one is 30-40 feet high at the back of the yard.  This one should stay within the 2-3 ft range.

The garden art visit was equally fun.  We met David Therriault, stone designer and walked through his sculptures.  He works mostly with salvaged materials and repurposes them into artwork.  We saw several pieces that we liked (it’s Beth’s birthday present), but the one which was our favorite seemed to large for the new garden that we’ve built this fall.  However, when we came home it seemed like it could fit after all.  To check our perceptions I photoshopped a copy of the sculpture into place, and indeed, we think it fits.

Garden without totem

Garden without totem

 

Garden with Totem

Garden with Totem

This is all part of our growing love for stone of all sorts.  We went to the local stone dealer yesterday and came home with some very pretty pieces from their loose rubble.  It’s like buying plants except you don’t have to water them…

Stone with character

Stone with character

Silverlake strip

Silverlake strip

Emmitsburg-Brown

Emmitsburg-Brown