Miniature Portable Rock Gardens

Miniature Portable Rock Gardens

Part of Ep. 503 On the Rocks

Create a rock garden in a small space.  Barbara Cochrane uses smaller varieties of plants to create interesting rock gardens in containers around her yard.

Premiere date: May 31, 1997

TRANSCRIPT+
Wisc Gardener Transcript: 

Shelley:
You know, one of the reasons rock garden plants are so versatile, is because they are so small. They can be tucked in almost anywhere. We're in the front-yard garden of rock gardener, Barbara Cochrane. Barbara, you've just done a wonderful job out here along the sidewalk. Tell me a little bit about what you've done.

Barbara:
I wanted to capture all of the available growing space in my very small yard. I used concrete blocks that are eight inches tall and sunk them half their height along the sidewalk edge. That stops the runoff and saves the water for me. In each individual hole, I was able to put rock garden plants that I picked up at the local nursery.

Shelley:
So, commonly available, but beautiful plants. What is this one, here?

Barbara:
That's a Veronica. I'm sure you recognize Veronicas from the perennial border with the same electric blue.

Shelley:
But mine are taller.

Barbara:
That's right. Another genus that gives us small choices from otherwise tall plants is the genus Dianthus, the pinks. Many of the Dianthus are very touchable. They have a prickly, but soft effect.

Shelley:
It's a beautiful color, too.

Barbara:
And they're fragrant.

Shelley:
That's what I like about these little containers. You've brought them up close to my fingers and my eyes.

Barbara:
And it protects them from the feet on the sidewalk.

Shelley:
You've really solved a very high-traffic problem area by raising this edge up like this.

Barbara:
Yes. Now, each of these is an individual growing container for an individual plant. And, no rocks! But these are rock garden plants.

Shelley:
That's true. So, I can do them, too.

Barbara:
That's right. Larger containers, like these, let us combine multiple plants and add the rocks, as well.

Shelley:
So, I don't even really need to have a yard.

Barbara:
No.

Shelley:
Just maybe a spot on the patio for something like this.

Barbara:
To give it a try, yes.

Shelley:
Okay. Well, you said this is a concrete container.

Barbara:
It's called a trough. In reference to the fact, in England in the 1900s, the stone troughs that were used for watering and feeding the cattle were being discarded. So, rock gardeners snapped them up as quick as they could.

Shelley:
They're great containers. So, are we looking at an old trough, then?

Barbara:
No. This is hand-made. It's a modified concrete mix.

Shelley:
So, this is something I could do.

Barbara:
Sure.

Shelley:
Let's talk a little bit about what you've got in this one. I don't recognize this at all, this is beautiful.

Barbara:
That's Lewisia, named for Lewis of the "Lewis and Clark" expedition. And those flowers are honoring us today. They don't always open. It has to be fairly bright.

Shelley:
Beautiful. We're lucky, then. Now, I do recognize this. It's Hens and Chicks.

Barbara:
Sure. And it's making its little chicks all around the edges.

Shelley:
It will just keep spreading. What is this? It's beautiful.

Barbara:
Shocking pink-- This is the genus Androsace. It's related to Primula.

Shelley:
Again and again, we see plants that are miniature versions of fairly common garden perennials.

Barbara:
Of course, you must recognize this!

Shelley:
These look like Coral Bells, but the color of the flower isn't right.

Barbara:
It is. It's a Coral Bell. It's not showy, but it's very fragrant. They smell like honey.

Shelley:
Is the size of the plant an issue, as far as how small these things are?

Barbara:
The container allows us to grow more of the small plants in the same amount of space. And it also protects them from the intruders in the larger garden.

Shelley:
Are we looking at rock garden plants the same size as we'd see in an open rock garden?

Barbara:
No. This guy right here, he's your normal-size rock garden plant. And he doesn't belong here. This is a mistake on my part. I grew it from seed and I didn't know it was going to get this big. It has yet to bloom and that will be the day I decide if I keep it or not.

Shelley:
If it stays or goes. Now, this is obviously at a better scale in the container.

Barbara:
It's perfect for the trough. It's a perfect rock garden plant. It's called Saxifrage. It means rock break. And these are the Silver Saxifrages from the little silver encrustations on the edges of the leaves.

Shelley:
The leaves all look like they've been dipped in frost. It's beautiful. How do you use these containers?

Barbara:
The containers allow us to modify the soil. Not all the plants are going to want the same kind of soil mix.

Shelley:
That's true, like a desert...

Barbara:
A desert plant is going to want dryer conditions. An acrid-loving plant is going to want peat for its soil mix.

Shelley:
So, you look at each individual container as a separate plant community.

Barbara:
That's right. And I decide based on the plants that I'm putting in that container.

Shelley:
What's the standard soil for these? Is it the same as an open rock garden?

Barbara:
That's right. The drainage is no problem here. It's equal parts sand and soil and organic matter.

Shelley:
And then I noticed you actually have a black rock as your mulch, here.

Barbara:
That's the other advantage to gardening in containers. We can vary the rock. And the mulch, then, you want to always match the rocks that you've used.

Shelley:
So, each one of these becomes a completely different garden.

Barbara:
Sure.

Shelley:
That's a great idea. Thanks, Barbara.

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