Sunday, May 20, 2007

Rock gardening anyone?

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!


  1. Anonymous10:16 AM

    Thanks for the nice post. I like the pictures. Also, your comment about people liking rock gardens precisely because it's esoteric is spot on. I talked to a couple of rock garden enthusiasts for my post on rock gardens and that point definitely came across.

  2. Anonymous10:32 AM

    My best to John - reinventing oneself is a "good thing" to quote some obscure gardening maven. Me, I've moved from gardening lessons to auto mechanics to keep the new toy on the road. Never look back, they might be gaining - Satchel Paige.

  3. I pretty much don't like rock gardens, least those messes I've run across...but John's rock garden is wonderful :)

    No little animal figures or fake Mountains of Heidi things going on...just clean lines & a design that works with your surroundings :)

    Good work, John...and good luck with those violin lessons...

  4. What beautiful rock gardens! It looks like a perfect setting for those little alpine gems! I especially like how he has plants growing from cracks between the rocks in the rock walls. There must be a lot of will and creativity to explore new interests like this!

  5. Gardenista: You're so right, it does take a lot of will and those plants in the rocks get replaced if one dies, even if the wall needs to be taken apart.

    Doug: I tried to reinvent myself as a golfer, but it just didn't take. I can't seem to find the time. Gardener, writer, photographer, and cooking maven will have to do.

    Cheers, Yvonne


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