IN THE GARDEN: Embracing nature’s rocky landscapes

Wednesday, July 19, 2017 - 04:53

If it’s one thing we have in our area to work with its rocks. The land here has natural outcroppings and rocky slopes that can be transformed and arranged into a beautiful rock garden, embracing’s natures built in gift. A stone wall and stone garden paths adds interest and provides functionality to steep areas in the garden. Rocks and walls add value to your property.

When nature takes the lead, gardeners may only need to find areas of native soil and natural planting pockets in the rocky surfaces of their garden to place their plants in. If more soil is needed to bed in your plants, consider that rock garden plants are used to porous, fast draining soil. This soil is made up of particles of mineral mater of broken rock, humus from rotting leaves, gravel and sand. Overly rich potting soil is not recommended for rock garden plants.

There are many rock garden plants that grow well in Alaska’s climate and here are a few listed below:

Sedum, also known as stonecrop p, is a group of succulent plants that comes in low growing and taller versions. There are several hundreds of species, but look for the zone 3 varieties.

Primula, p auricula, provides beautiful color early in spring and is hardy here. An alpine species forms thick oval gray green leaves with fragrant yellow flowers. Primroses, Polyanthus and Cowslips Primula veris are other varieties that are hardy here, zones 3-8. I love my Primulas and look forward to seeing them pop up and bloom in the spring.

Saxifrages, which means stone-breaker in Latin, grow best in the dappled sunlight and is hardy in zones 3-6. They love the gritty soil that is well drained. These alpine plants have many species and are found creeping on low growing stems. There are over 440 species of this pretty plant.

Tsuga canadensisis a dwarf Canadian hemlock with over 75 cultivated varieties. These small conifers have shallow roots and have a draping appearance that falls nicely over rock landscapes. These small bushes are gorgeous green and hardy here from zones 2-8. Tsuga grows best in full sun but will tolerate partial shade.

Grape hyacinth, Muscari are hardy in zones 2-10 in full sun. These blue shaped cone flowers are grown from bulbs and grow best if kept moist throughout the growing season.

Phlox, p bifisla is a creeping low growing plant that likes carpeting banks and rock walls. Full of flowers, Phlox is hardy in zones 3-8.

There are many more rock garden plants out there for us to use successfully here. It amazes me how these plants can survive in the rocky crags and crevices of the garden. Their determination to live is strong and depends on nature’s balance that provides the right mix of soils.

If you have a stone walk, a trough-like container, or an area with rocky outcroppings, a rock garden can occupy your landscape and fit in naturally in our glacial moraine area.

Just digging a hole here we are welcomed with an array of rocks in various sizes and challenged by nature it seems to use them somewhere in the garden. A rock garden is a perfect place to add our beautiful alpine plants that grow well in the rocks and soil deposited by the previous melting glaciers of our area.

There is a rock garden society in Alaska that is very active and can add to your interest and answer your questions regarding growing a rock garden. The Alaska Rock Garden Society can be found online at akrockgardensociety.org. This fun group has a lot going on, including hikes, seed collecting; and international, national and local speakers. Every spring there are plants sales, garden tours and hands-on workshops and demonstrations.

The Alaska Botanical Garden has a nice rock garden to explore if you get the chance and need some inspiration.

As you enjoy the summer think about planting a rock garden maybe in an area of your garden.

Upcoming Events:

On July 22, 2017 from 12-4 p.m. The Greater Eagle River Garden club will host its first garden tour locally. Save the date and come see your neighbors beautiful gardens.

Chris Wood is a certified Master Gardener from Eagle River. If you would like to add your garden to the garden tour or have other gardening questions, e-mail her at chriswood_ak@yahoo.com.

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