A lo­cal gar­den: This gar­den rocks!

Ontario Gardener Magazine - - CONTENTS - Story by Tania Mof­fat, pho­tos by Sean James

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.

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