Rock Garden Bed Creation

Rock Garden Bed Creation

Part of Ep. 503 On the Rocks

Join botanist and rock gardener Olive Thomson as she explains how to create a little rock garden in an existing perennial bed.

Premiere date: May 31, 1997

TRANSCRIPT+
Wisc Gardener Transcript: 

Shelley:
We just looked at a very large rock garden. Now, we're going to look at one on a little smaller scale and show you how you can start one of your own. I'm with botanist and rock gardener, Olive Thomson. Olive, you've told me that what you've done here is created pockets of little rock gardens in an existing rock bed. How did you go about doing that?

Olive:
I just, simply, selected one of the areas in my perennial garden where I needed to do some changing. And the first thing that I had to do, having learned how to construct a garden, was to excavate. Where I have made my little gardens, I have always taken out the soil down to about ten or 12 inches.

Shelley:
Just remove it?

Olive:
Yes. And then fill it in with rubble and rocks that I don't want to use as landscape rocks. Then, I sort of make an edging and build up the center into a cone. And, eventually, I do sort of a terracing job, adding rocks around as I go up.

Shelley:
Now, you said that you don't-- you use rubble in the bottom and then you have landscape rock. These are the rocks--

Olive:
These are the very weathered rocks from around this area. They were on top of the soil. Here is one that has come up from deeper and there isn't any weathering. So, when they look like this, I don't use them for decoration, I just use them as scrap.

Shelley:
So, they go on the bottom, and these are the ones you let show.

Olive:
Then I put together some of that soil with gravel, peat and sand, usually in a wheel barrow.

Shelley:
So, you mix the sand, peat, the original soil and the gravel.

Olive:
Right.

Shelley:
In any proportions?

Olive:
I use that to pack around the landscape rock, to make little pockets where I can plant these little plants. The little pockets give the roots a place to penetrate and it makes little micro-climates for the plants to grow in.

Shelley:
That would be a good idea with a windy sight. They would need a little shelter. So, in the soil, this is what you started out with.

Olive:
That's what I started with. It's hard loam, probably not even top soil.

Shelley:
Okay, and this is what we want to end up with.

Olive:
This is quite coarse, but it will be okay. There's been some compost put in there that wasn't quite decomposed.

Shelley:
So, basically, it has to be a loose soil, like this, and provide good drainage. Well, you've told me how to start. Now, let's look at one of your finished products.

Olive:
Okay.

Shelley:
Now, this is lovely. How old is this bed, Olive, that we're looking at?

Olive:
I began excavating for this bed four years ago, but I didn't plant anything until three years ago. This year, with all the color today, I'm really happy. I must have done something right. I'm a Primrose lover, and I have places for the other kinds of Primroses, but I never had very good luck with these. This is a Julie's Primrose.

Shelley:
It's an alpine Primrose?

Olive:
Yes, but it needs a crevice situation because it has creeping root stock. And the fact that this and several others are in here doing well--

Shelley:
They're happy.

Olive:
They're happy and I am too.

Shelley:
You just basically tucked it in between the two rocks?

Olive:
I did. And this is the way that alpines are supposed to be planted. The rocks give protection and they help hold the moisture.

Shelley:
Now, if we were planting this Primrose, what type of site would we look for to get it the proper protection?

Olive:
Well, actually, here's a little spot where I could put it in.

Shelley:
So, you're basically using these walls as shelter from the wind.

Olive:
That's right.

Shelley:
What is this?

Olive:
That's Mossy Saxifrage. In my other garden, I had a very difficult time getting those to live. Now, that one has done very well. Mossy Saxifrage is threatened with our hot summer and they die back quite a bit. But, now, I've got several plants, here, that are looking pretty good. I'm going to try and keep them.

Shelley:
It may be a little bit cooler site.

Olive:
Yes, and they need some shade.

Shelley:
This one is lovely.

Olive:
That's an alpine Primula, a Primula Farinosa. And I've never been able to accommodate what they need before. I'm pretty happy with the fact that I have two.

Shelley:
Something is going right, then.

Olive:
Something's going right. And we don't have much color in the rest of the area today, but I planted things either for their texture or they will bloom later in the summer. That's when the challenge is to keep some flowers going. Most of these are spring bloomers.

Shelley:
So, we're trying to extend the interest as long as possible.

Olive:
That's right, and other species will do that.

Shelley:
Okay. Thanks, Olive.

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