Gravel Gardens: Drought Tolerant & Gorgeous

Gravel Gardens: Drought Tolerant & Gorgeous

Part of Ep. 1905 Water Conservation

Plantsman Roy Diblik shows off his low maintenance drought tolerant beautiful perennial garden planted in nine inches of pure gravel!  It’s a new concept brought to the U.S. from Germany, and sure to catch on fast.

Premiere date: Jul 06, 2011

TRANSCRIPT+
Wisc Gardener Transcript: 

Shelley Ryan:

We are at Northwind Perennial Farm near Lake Geneva. I'm with one of the co-owners here, Roy Diblik. Roy, before we talk about one of your really neat new ventures, we need to talk about some of your old ventures, which are very neat in their own right. Millennium Park.

 

Roy Diblik:

Millennium Park, I got involved in that with Piet Oudolf, the designer from Holland. And my role there was to grow 18,000 plants for the park, and then work with him to lay the plant material out and also coordinate 12,000 more plants to be shipped on site when he got there June 1.

 

Shelley Ryan:

What an incredible project.

 

Roy Diblik:

It was a lot of fun. I had a good time.

Shelley Ryan:

A lot of work too though.

 

Roy Diblik:

It took some time. It took two years.

 

Shelley Ryan:

You're still involved in two other things going on the Chicago.

 

Roy Diblik:

I had a nice opportunity last year. I did the Oceanarium at the Shedd Aquarium, which was 11,000 perennials, a stylized garden there. And a very nice opportunity to do the Modern Wing of the Art Institute, the Sullivan Arch Garden, which worked out very nice. I think that's filling in well.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Well, and now you're into something that's going to be a very foreign concept for most of us American gardeners, and Wisconsin gardeners, a garden completely planted in gravel.

 

Roy Diblik:

Right.

 

Shelley Ryan:

But before we get to the gravel, does it have to come with a pyramid?

 

Roy Diblik:

Well, the pyramid is actually put together by my partner Steve. He's a stone artist.

 

Shelley Ryan:

He sure is.

 

Roy Diblik:

And he does it very emotionally. So he picks perfect rocks out that feel what he feels are for the moment. He's very talented.

 

Shelley Ryan:

What holds that whole thing together?

 

Roy Diblik:

It's actually free standing.

 

Shelley Ryan:

I want one!

 

Roy Diblik:

So it's engineered nicely. Steve's very good at that.

 

Shelley Ryan:

I think we should come back and have him teach me how to do that. It's kind of representative of what's going on in here.

 

Roy Diblik:

It's a great setting.

 

Shelley Ryan:

All of the plants in this area are planted in gravel. Explain this to me.

 

Roy Diblik:

Well, we use, it's quartzite chips. The quartzite chips, we put them five inches thick. We use quartzite because it doesn't break down. It's very stable. That way, it doesn't allow seedlings to germinate in it. It allows free drainage and creates a natural weed barrier above the soil.

 

Shelley Ryan:

I couldn't use just any old gravel? I couldn't use limestone or something like that?

 

 

Roy Diblik:

Limestone would break down, weather quickly and then it would catch weed seeds. So you'd have agricultural weeds living in it. Agricultural weeds don't want to live in gravel. They want to live in high organic matter content.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Lots of rich soil.

 

Roy Diblik:

The richer the soil, the more weeds you'll have, right.

 

Shelley Ryan:

So how come these plants-- Pull those aside. Let me just see. They're just sitting there, right? There's no soil around their base.

 

Roy Diblik:

All these plants love being here, because they have drainage around their crown. That's how they naturally grow. Their natural habitat is well-drained dry soil. That's where all these plants naturally come from. So they love it here. This is the happiest place they could be.

 

Shelley Ryan:

They're planted in solid gravel?

 

Roy Diblik:

They're planted in gravel. We grow them in 4-1/2" pots. We remove the plant from the pot. We push the gravel aside, and we put the base of the plant right up against the soil level.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Down at the bottom of the 5 inches of gravel.

 

Roy Diblik:

Down at the bottom of the five inches of gravel. Then we backfill with gravel and the crown of the plant is in gravel, and it gets drainage year round. That's what these plants love is drainage around their crown.

 

Shelley Ryan:

What an unusual concept. Let's talk about some of these plants as we walk past. First, this grass that you were touching. What is that?

 

Roy Diblik:

That's Autumn Moor Grass. That's native to Europe.

 

Shelley Ryan:

I love the color of that. It's also sterile so there's not the concern about invasiveness from a European plant.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Oh, good.

 

Roy Diblik:

It's backdropped by Sporobolus Prairie Dropseed, which is a native prairie grass that loves dry soil.

 

Shelley Ryan:

The way that flows, I mean it's just so graceful back there by the pyramid.

 

Roy Diblik:

It has very nice movement.

 

Shelley Ryan:

What about this little thing right up here?

 

Roy Diblik:

This is actually Calamintha. It's Arkansas mint. It grows in rocks and cracks. Very dry. It's not available in the trade just yet, because most people will put it in the soil and kill it. It doesn't want to live in the garden soil.

 

Shelley Ryan:

It needs a gravel garden.

Roy Diblik:

It loves gravel. So it's made for gravel or rooftop gardens.

 

Shelley Ryan:

With gravel, I'm assuming that we're watering constantly with something like this.

 

Roy Diblik:

Well, actually we watered initially to get the plants established, because they are in pots in the gravel so we watered almost daily.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Wow.

 

Roy Diblik:

Or every other day. We did that for 8-12 weeks. Then, after that period, I've never watered again.

 

Shelley Ryan:

And how old is this garden?

 

Roy Diblik:

I planted this in 2007, June, and haven't watered again at all. Wow. It lives with naturally occurring rainfall. The weeding is very minimal. So far, I've pulled six weeds out.

 

Shelley Ryan:

In three years?

 

Roy Diblik:

In three years.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Okay, that's my kind of garden.

 

Roy Diblik:

There may be more, but it's not-- In Germany, they cut the labor per square meter by 85% of their average garden maintenance.

 

Shelley Ryan:

So, low water, basically non-existent watering. Low maintenance, because there's no weeding. What about fertilizer?

 

Roy Diblik:

We don't do any fertilization, because the organic soil below there is very rich and the plants can live on that. The garden's expected shelf life is about 30 years.

 

Shelley Ryan:

30 years? So, part of that is picking the right plants, using the right kind of gravel, and then putting it I guess in the right place. You also have a barrier along it so that the gravel doesn't escape?

 

Roy Diblik:

We put an edging in there to separate the wood chips from the gravel. The other element is that you can't really garden in this. Once you put it in, that's the style, and that’s the way it has to stay for the 30 year period. So you don't bring soil into the gravel and have weed possibilities.

 

Shelley Ryan:

What about clean up then in the fall?

 

Roy Diblik:

Well, we clean everything in the spring.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Oh, in the spring?

 

Roy Diblik:

We cut everything back in March, and we do it very thoroughly so we don't let organic matter build up on the gravel.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Which would create soil.

 

Roy Diblik:

That would develop soil, develop weeds. Actually, now the plants are mature, they can outcompete the weeds nicely and don't let weed seeds germinate. So it's a very thoughtful process. It has tremendous possibilities, I think.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Well, extremely. Especially when you add the pyramid. This works for me. We will have the recipe and the complete list of plants for such a garden on our Website from you.

 

Roy Diblik:

Sound great, a lot of fun.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Roy, thank you, this a great concept.

 

Roy Diblik:

You're welcome. I had a great time showing it to you. Thank you.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Thanks.

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