Five years ago I had the notion of building a 3 foot by 14 foot raised bed on the side of the greenhouse that would simulate alpine conditions with a well draining stony soil that was over 2 feet deep. You have to work at it to convince alpines to be happy in the Maryland climate. The construction was long and hard. Just moving 84 cubic feet of soil is a chore. But I was more that pleased with the result (think of it as a giant trough). Things which were difficult to grow now became rambunctious. Although the bed was fast draining, it also retained moisture well so that watering was not a big issue. I built the bed on the shady side of the greenhouse and discovered that while that worked well for some things my notion of the Aubreita cascading over the wall didn’t work because, strangely enough, it grew towards the sun which was on the other side of the greenhouse. So I have begun to tailor the planting on that side to things which were happy with a bit of shade, such as a couple of nice dwarf Rhododendrons.
Meanwhile there a number of plants like the dwarf Aruncus and two Daphnes that seem to be very happy.
In the meantime I decided to build a second Alpine Bed on the other side of the greenhouse which have a sunnier outlook. I finished that construction project last year and this is the second growing season for the sunny side. There have been a number of successes for that side and the latest is seeing the little Alpine Poppy for the first time yesterday.
This came from seed obtained from the Scottish Rock Garden Society‘s annual seed exchange in 2017. I got only this single plant from the seeding and it sat quite tiny and unmoving through the 2017 season. But I had read that it wants a cold winter before flowering and indeed this seems to be the case. From the Poppy’s point of view it’s in a very appropriate mountain environment.
Overall the sunny Alpine Bed looks really nice as spring begins.
The Stachys and the Aubreita show every sign of diving over the wall the way I had hoped.
Hidden amidst the Aubreita is a fabulous eye-catching group of ice plants
This is from the highest part of the Drakensberg mountains of South Africa and despite it’s succulent nature it is complete hardy here.
Other happy residents of the sunny Alpine Bed are growing out of the tufa rock.
Suffice it to say I really enjoy the Alpine Beds!
Around the corner, at the front of the greenhouse is the first of my troughs with a now six year-old planting of Vitaliana, another alpine native.
Of course there is life outside of the Alpine beds, and I should share the posting on jewels in our garden from Dan Weil. He spent last Saturday on his stomach crawling around the yard taking some very nice images of the little spring ephemerals in our yard. Dan is an artist (paint and photography) with considerable talent and looking at other parts of his website is also rewarding.
In closing, the Kwanzan Cherry came into bloom yesterday, always a lovely milestone for the season.
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.
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.
The most desirable rock was (of course) at 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.
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.
However, I did manage to get out with only a mild amount of wheel spinning.
Some of the rocks had beautiful crystalline structure.
And one very special rock up at the office illustrated what limestone can do.
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.
If the club runs a similar field trip in the future I am ready to sign up for a repeat visit.
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.
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.
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.
But in between you find other treasures like the famous Edelweiss.
The Rampions were a particular favorite of mine. The Round-headed Rampion was found in many locations.
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.
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.
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.
But on closer inspection you see that many things thrive in the scree.
Especially prevalent was the Round-leaved Pennycress which seemingly colonizes every spot where someone else is not…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…