Friday, 30 October 2015

Gardening with Rocks: Paths and Walls

Gardening with Rocks: Paths and Walls

Rocky Lemnos

Rocky Lemnos

 To explain their barren, rocky landscape, the Greeks adopted the legend that the gods poured the world's soil through a sieve and created Greece from the rocks that remained.

Lemnos like so many other Greek island was formed from volcanic action. There are many evidences of this as one looks at the rock strewn fields, and rocky cliffs that rise from the shore line.

As far as gardening is concerned and the creation of rockeries, walls, and paths the abundance of rocks is a great blessing and in my Lemnos garden we have used the stones that were on the property to rebuild walls, and create edges to flower beds.


Connected: the sustainable landscape 

by Phillip Johnson

Johnson's 2013 Chelsea Garden

I’ve just been to a library talk in Australia given by Phillip Johnson, a local landscape gardener. I was particularly interested as his book promotes not only natural landscapes but also sustainable gardening. He promotes the conservation of every drop of water that falls on roofs, on driveways, often creating swales and ponds in his gardens. Together with Wes Flemming, a nursery man, he became an international household name after winning Best in Show at the Royal Horticultural Society's Chelsea Flower and Garden Show in 2013 – this, it is said is the equivalent of winning a gold medal at the Olympics.

His book expounds his philosophy of connecting with nature in a sustainable way and is called, Connected which focuses on his key passions of integrated sustainable water management and the creation of natural, chemical-free pools. In this manner his gardens create thriving habitats for indigenous plants and animals.

In reading through his book I was inspired by his conservation ideas. And though his style of native and rock gardening is not for me I think you could still use his recycling ideas in other styles of gardens. In fact we did use a lot of stones and wonderful heavy old paving stones in  our Lemnos garden.

My brother, John Perrett, has done something similar in many of the landscapes he created in South Australian gardens. As a landscape gardener he would know just the size and shape of stone he wanted and take his truck and crane to local farmers fields and remove stones they did not want and that he could use.

Phillip Johnson works on an even larger scale, and he often works with very large cranes. However, as an Australian landscape gardener of the 1950s wrote, this is expensive.

The Edna Walling Book of Australian Garden Design 

edited by Margaret Barrett

 Except at vast expense we can hardly hope to achieve anything so impressive as a natural outcrop, where each stone sometimes weighs many tons, but it is possible, and much better, to employ plenty of labour, and the necessary gear for lifting, to secure a few very big rocks rather than a quantity whose sixe is limited to the strength of one or two men. Without these huge boulder it is difficult to achieve a natural effect…

She finishes the chapter on rock gardens by however by saying that if we do want to make a rockery, to use only a collection of smaller rocks can look wrong.

Great restraint is needed in placing boulders in the natural rock garden, but when one is satisfied that the effect is entirely pleasing and that the plants are playing their part well, the ground they occupy will need very little attention.

Gertrude Jekyll was an early inspiration for Edna Walling and when she writes about rockeries she dwells more on the plants. She also points out that a dry stone wall is one of the best places to put some alpine rockery plants.

Wood and Garden 

by Gertrude Jekyll

One of the best and simplest ways of growing rock-plants is in a loose wall. In many gardens an abrupt change of level makes a retaining wall necessary, and when I see this built in the usual way as a solid structure of brick and mortar – unless there be any special need of the solid wall – I always regret that it is not built as a home for rock-plants.

When we came first to Lemnos there were fallend stones everywhere and walls that were left were basically dry stone walls, though in a very bad condition. However it did mean that plants found a hold there and we had a large caper plant growing there. Unfortunately most of our walls are retaining walls of a height that when rebuild required the use of cement and we lost our caper plant.

In my Emerald Garden I miss all those stones. I have to use box to edge the beds and bricks to make walls. But then this is a different kind of garden, where plants predominate. And one day I might be able to afford the luxury of a rock pool, or rock wall.

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