A local garden: This garden rocks!
Falling in love with a new garden concept is typical for a lot of us, unfortunately, we don’t always have the space or time to maintain these inspirational ideas; until now. Most gardeners can identify a space in their yard where things don’t grow well or they are not quite sure what to do with, like those narrow spaces between a wall and a fence, or an old unsightly driveway that is no longer used. These are ideal locations for scree gardens. Of course, you may want to put them somewhere more prominent as well.
Sean James, Ontario's eco-friendly garden guru, tells us that scree gardens are not only beautiful in their simplicity, but startlingly easy to care for. After creating these unique gardens for the past several years he tells us that they can be gems for many reasons.
They grow in rocks?
Scree gardens are grown on sand and rocks, not soil. In nature, scree can be found at the base of cliffs or mountain sides where the land has crumbled away due to the thaw-freeze actions of climate. As the rocks fall they break apart creating a pile of different sized stones and silt. Eventually plants will work their way into the stone and slowly begin to grow.
A home version of these drought-tolerant gardens works in much the same way. Sean describes how he started his latest garden for a friend, "The garden was sculpted with gravel, with particles ranging in size from sand to 3/4 inch pebbles with a few larger rocks added in for a more natural look. Typically, this is referred to as ‘A’ gravel – a specific grade for construction of the base for highways and such."
Ideal gardens to cover up unsightly spaces
If you choose to start a garden over your lawn, Sean recommends removing the top layer of sod or using a base of approximately 12 sheets of newspaper under the gravel, just to kill existing vegetation. Larger rocks can be used to define the edges. Feature stones should be partially buried in the gravel for more authenticity. Once your base is down, the back-breaking work is over.
The next step is to choose your plants and their location. “You can design the garden based on texture, colour and form or just collect neat alpines. Cacti, mini roses, dwarf conifers, alpine species and hardy succulents are just some of the plants that work well in this type of garden,” Sean tells us.
Scree gardens are traditionally placed in sunny locations, but don’t let that discourage you from trying a shady spot. Although shade scree gardens are less common they can be just as beautiful, and with the shade comes a whole new palate of plants to choose from. Sean recommends Solomon’s seal, dwarf broadleaf evergreens, miniature hostas and ferns such as common polypody.
The only soil you’ll need is the soil that comes with your plants! Since the plants grow more cautiously, they are less likely to get diseases or die from winter kill. The largest time investment occurs in the first year. Plants require more care during this time but after that, the garden is relatively maintenance free. During the crucial first growing season, plants will need to be watered 1/2 inch per week in two 1/4 inch increments, after that you should never need to water them again.
Who has time?
Because of the small time investment in their upkeep, these alpine-friendly gardens are called one-hour gardens, the time required to maintain them once they've become established. From then on only new additions will require your attention. (Sean often sticks tiny flags near new plants to remind him that those need water.)
Maintenance is easy, requiring the occasional spot weeding to get seedlings before they take hold.
These are great gardens that not only suit people with a busy lifestyle, but are also very attractive for plant collectors. Intriguing plants that get overwhelmed in a regular garden are able to take centre stage in a scree garden. Plus, you can often grow plants that don’t grow in your zone! Sean tells us he has an agave and yucca in his. “Arie Vanspronssen taught me to place a tupperware container with holes in the sides to protect them over the winter while still allowing air circulation. It isn’t the cold though that you need to be cautious about; it’s the wetness that kills them.”
Plant a scree garden and the earth will thank you. Besides their beauty and ease of maintenance these gardens are also very eco-friendly as they conserve water, and in addition, many of the perfect plant choices benefit pollinators.
Scree gardens highlight the amazing abilities of plants to survive.
Even in this young (2 year old) garden, flowers such as Echinacea and grasses including Evergreen Oat Grass (Helictotrichon) are looking great!
Folks may think a garden all of gravel would look barren. That couldn’t be further from the truth! Many scree plants flower richly.
Lewisia, Euphorbia myrsinites, Sempervivum, Festuca and more.
Sun Rose ( Helianthemum) and Prickly Pear ( Opuntia) offer all-important texture.
Many people can’t imagine that cacti might be hardy in Canada. In fact, there are several native species! They overwinter by pumping extra water out of their cells, shrivelling up, so water won’t freeze and shatter the tissue.
Scree Gardens look lovely in winter since the plants grow in a more stocky fashion and hold up well all year.
Plants suitable for scree gardens often support pollinators. Various cacti bloom richly in June and draw in bees. They’re also edible! Once they get going, try making cactus stew! Honest!
Penstemon pinifolius and Scabiosa japonica var japonica. Country Squires Garden. Photo of The
Scree gardens are earth-friendly, requiring little water.
‘Brigadier’ clove pink ( Dianthus) contrasts well here with Chamaecypariss. Check zones to see which amazing dwarf conifers suit your new scree garden. They offer excellent interest all year.