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Home > Types of Gardening > Rock Gardening
Rock Gardening
Rock GardeningRock gardens are unique in that they maintain our interest the year around. Some of the plants bloom as early as February and some as late as December. Because it takes so little space and is readily adapted to any contour a rock garden fits into many a home setting. Combined with water gardening in a small pool it is one of the most interesting of garden features. While few of the plants may be used for cut flowers, a careful selection will insure a continuous bloom, and the foliage of many of them is as beautiful as the flowers themselves. In order to be at its best a rock garden should be almost covered with plants; a mound with a few petunias is not a rock garden; it is more likely to be an eyesore.

The first essential to success in Rock Gardening is the careful selection of the site. This should be a sunny location since but few plants suitable for a rock garden thrive in shade. If no slope is available a low mound may be constructed against a wall in the corner or at the edge of garden plan. Mounds made in the center of a lawn should be avoided. Drainage is absolutely necessary for success. Our illustration shows how to treat a rock garden on a hill, which is composed of heavy clay soil. In this instance the topsoil should be stripped off, if it is worth saving, and composted with some good humus or well-rotted manure; work in some sand and have the soil perfectly light and friable before using.

Remember, you cannot reach under the rocks and condition the soil when it has once been placed. See that it contains plenty of vegetable matter before using. If necessary, bring in a load or at least a few barrels of rich soil with which to build a rock garden "for keeps." It is better to build one square yard with the proper soil than a larger one with the improper soil. Avoid excessive chemical fertilization. All stones must go through to drainage and they should be tilted at a slight angle so that any rain falling on them will run back into the ground.

Place the stones irregularly with good size pockets of soil between. Leave out a stone once in a while to make the larger pockets. Irregularity is essential. A rock garden must not look like masonry wall, unless you are building a wall garden, and even then, broken courses add to the charm. Enough stone must be used to keep the ground from washing, but by using smaller pieces of stone between to block these washes a large amount of dirt can safely be exposed. The idea is to use as few stones as possible for the effect desired and to use this material so that it looks like a natural formation. For instance, a limestone rock garden in connection with a pool and waterfall should look like the ledges in creek beds, while a hillside rock planting should look like the natural outcropping of limestone in hills.

A wall garden is essentially artificial and need not be an imitation of any natural setting. However, an appearance of ruggedness and rustic effect is essential; it must not look like a brick wall. Decide what you want the rock work to look like; spend your efforts toward that end.

The material to be used will, of course, depend upon what is readily obtainable. Limestone or well-worn rock of any kind is very good. However, it should not be so soft that it will crumble away in a few years. Boulders properly handled make a good moraine garden, but they should not be used for ledge effect. Avoid absolutely broken concrete and building rubbish. Do not build a rock garden if you feel it necessary to use these materials. Better, in every way, to raise the plants without the use of stone. After drainage the next essential is firm soil. The soil between the crevices should be firmly compacted. Some plants have a tendency to work themselves out of the ground, or expose their roots.

Small pieces of stone left from the construction work should be saved and placed around the roots of plants, both to conserve the moisture and to keep them in the ground. Additional soil must be added from time to time to protect the root systems.

As to the selection of plants: Shade plants will bear sunshine, whereas, sun-loving plants will not do well even in partial shade. It is, therefore, necessary that the major part of the area be in the open, and that a careful study be made so as to plant only shade-loving plants in the unexposed portions.

Most plants do not like lime, and this should be avoided, although a mulching with limestone chips firmed into the top part of the exposed soil has a tendency to keep it from drying out and adds to the naturalizing of the plant. Some rock garden plants like modeiately alkaline soil and others acid soil. Ordinary soil will do for the alkaline-loving, but the acid-loving plant should have soil composted with peat moss or treated with Aluminum Sulphate.

Visit places where rock or alpine plants grow, or are offered for sale in bloom. Consult the grower as to whether the plant is a rampant or a slow grower. Attempt to group them according to foliage, color of bloom and also as to whether the rampant growers will crowd out the slowgrowing plants. Trailing plants should have room to spread or hang down from projecting ledges. Do not be afraid to weed out the quick growers and keep them from strangling the others.

The soil in which the plants grow should be open enough to allow excess water to drain through readily, but must hold water properly for plant use during dry spells. This writer has produced beautiful results with either a base of black soil from the woodland or good, dark, friable loam from the garden. This is spread on the ground in a three-inch layer and over it is spread one-inch of 3/8-inch screen stone chips. Now comes two inches of fine-texture peat moss. As this is acid it must have about one-half pound of lime to the bushel. Domestic peat or pure leaf mold is just as good. An inch of sand completes the formula. Mix all of it together well. Good soil can be bought by the load and stone chips, lime, and sand can be ordered from a building supply house. Make up plenty of this soil mixture; any left over is fine for dressing other beds or plantings.

Any form of rock gardening requires more drainage than ordinary plantings. Also, all structures should have solid foundations. In the case of a wall on ordinary soil we are able to somewhat combine these two. Dig down approximately a foot and lay a tile on the firmly compacted bottom. This tile should run the length of the wall, but if no outlet is available at either end it is best to connect it with a drain out the front. Compacted cinders should be placed over this to approximately four inches below the grade line. If you are building against a clay bank or location damp in ordinary weather, a four-inch layer of cinders should run up this bank as shown in our picture. The first stone should be a large, heavy one and should set at least four inches below grade on top of the cinders. If the soil is loose sand or gravel, the first stone should be set on a concrete footing, one foot below grade, and built up with other stones set in cement mortar to the soil level.
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