The Shinn garden in Ft. Collins, Colorado, features several rock garden areas. Photo by Barb Gorges.
Rocky gardening featured in Rocky Mountain garden tour
By Barb Gorges
It’s always interesting to find out what is remarkable to visitors about your home or home garden.
In this case, the visitors were 83 garden bloggers/writers from 28 states, Washington, D.C., Canada and England. It was the 11th annual Garden Bloggers Fling, this year headquartered in Denver mid-June. I was the first blogger from Wyoming to ever participate, qualifying because my Wyoming Tribune Eagle garden columns are posted to www.CheyenneGardenGossip.wordpress.com.
Cheyenne gardening is a little tougher than down in the “lowlands” of the Colorado Front Range, but we have more in common with those gardeners than anyone else. I saw lots of plants we grow here. Then I’d hear other visitors say it was either too hot back home, or too wet, for them to grow them. It made me appreciate my favorite prairie and mountain plants more.
In the weeks afterward, several of the bloggers wrote posts noting how rocky the gardens we saw were. It’s the fashion here.
One private garden we visited was planted around an installation of 600 tons of beautiful sandstone rocks stacked as low walls, waterfall, pond, grotto and retaining walls for a daylighted basement. It was an amazing property—and it can be yours for the listed price of $4 million.
Looking through my photos from 21 stops over three days, I noticed how many rock gardens we saw, or crevice gardens—a subgenera.
I saw my first crevice garden at the Denver Botanic Gardens several years ago. I saw it again on this tour, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the one at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens now in extravagant bloom by the front doors of the conservatory. This is only the second year and it should be getting even more spectacular.
Many of the rocky gardens on the tour featured cactuses and succulents, low-growing mats of creeping plants and neon bright delosperma, or ice plants.
The cool thing about rock gardens is that when rain (or snow) hits them, the water runs off the rock and into the crevices where the plant roots are. The plants essentially get more water than if they were planted in a normal garden. Jake Mares, the CBG’s outside horticulturist, expects that our crevice garden, once fully established, will be able to make it solely on naturally occurring precipitation—no irrigation at all.
Rocks as part of landscaping have been around a long time. Sometimes they are even naturally occurring. Often today rocks are stranded in a sea of gravel or wood mulch which is quickly invaded by weeds—whether there is weed-barrier cloth underneath or not. It would be so easy to plant a ground cover that crowds out weeds instead, I think.
Pea gravel is popular around here as mulch because it doesn’t blow away. And it shares some water-concentrating properties that the rocks in a rock garden have. Certainly, weeds have adapted to gravel roads whenever there isn’t enough traffic to keep them down.
But there are problems with pea gravel. It sinks into the dirt eventually. Someone in the future is going to cuss when they dig to grow vegetables. But also, when it hails, your plant leaves are caught between a rock and the hard ice. A softer mulch, leaves or even wood, absorbs the hailstone impact, even if a leaf is in between. It also keeps the hail from bouncing high and hitting leaves twice.
Old leaves and other organic mulch decompose and feed the soil, gravel does not.
In addition to bringing in rocks, several Denver-area gardeners featured on the tour created hypertufa pots (see how to make your own with cement, peat moss and perlite, https://www.marthastewart.com/268962/hypertufa-pots). Many featured collections of cactus, agave and succulents. All are fine outside year-round with winter-hardy plants.
Speaking of concrete, one of the most amazing structures I saw in a tour garden was an enormous, permanent, concrete-topped table. As if in a baronial hall, it was set for 12 for a Father’s Day celebration later. It was decorated with pots of branches hung with candles in glass globes. Down the center of the table was a trough where more candles floated. With steel table legs, it never has to be put away for the winter and never needs refinishing.
Next summer the Garden Bloggers Fling is in Madison, Wisconsin. My mother’s side of the family had a dairy farm there for over 100 years and I grew up nearby. I’ll get to see if Wisconsinites rock garden as much as we do.