I never liked rock gardens much. A fake mountain-side with alpine plants plopped into a suburban yard just doesn't do it for me. To my mind, rock gardening is the purview of finicky gardeners trying to coax itsy-bitsy hard-to-grow treasures into bloom in piles of gravel and rock: fussy, and definitely not my style.
So you can imagine my shock several years ago when my husband John announced that he was going to take up rock gardening. But what could I do? He had supported me in doing my perennials and ornamental grasses thing, and had even approved of planting a native plant prairie meadow on two of our acres (which was very expensive). We had 10 acres – surely there was a spot he where he could do his own thing.
Rock gardening attracted John precisely because it was a bit esoteric. What he really wanted was a part of the garden where he could do his own thing. The fact that I wasn't interested in alpines was actually the point.
When he showed me his design for the rock garden, I was relieved. It was a dry stone wall two feet high creating a raised bed in a formal square. A section of the square would be left open so you could to walk into a courtyard area, which would have a group of alpine troughs. So no jumble of rock – this was actually going to look good.
Once we agreed on a site for his garden, John used every spare moment to build it. He learned how to cut and face rock from the expert landscapers who were building an entry courtyard at the front of the house.
Construction of the raised bed took two years. John used rocks that were on the property, which came from the foundation of a barn that had long been torn down. In the meantime, he joined the Ontario Rock Garden Society and started growing plants from seed. (Most rock gardeners get their plants through seed exchanges and rock gardening suppliers, as alpine plants aren't readily available at your average neighborhood garden center.)
His plants from seed were so successful that by the time his garden was ready to plant, he had enough to fill the space. We spent an afternoon setting 700 pots into place and it took him a couple of days to get them all planted.
Although I'd been doubtful about alpines, I must admit that many of them are fascinating and beautiful. John's only real frustration is that too many of his treasures don't survive our hot, humid summers and strange winters (usually too mild and too wet around Christmas time, followed by too cold without enough snow). But he's still growing new plants from seed, and usually has replacements ready for plants that die.
So, yes, indeed, we have his and hers gardens, and it's worked out quite well.
PS: Last May, John announced that he was starting a new hobby: violin lessons (at age 58!). Again, I thought he was crazy. Now he's been at that for a year, as well as rock gardening, and stone carving, (a whole other story). Is it challenging to live with a spouse who continually reinvents himself? You bet!
The Astonishing Catherine Leroy
28 minutes ago