Garden Diary - June 2012

A Garden On The Rocks

Friday & Saturday, 12 & 13 October 2012

The Berkshire Chapter of the North American Rock Garden Society asked me to come and lecture on little bulbs for rock and woodland gardens on Saturday morning, and a demonstration / workshop on potting bulbs for forcing in the afternoon. Excellent, other than the fact that the venue is in Stockbridge, Massachusetts and that's a far piece from where I live in western New Jersey, just a couple of miles from the Delaware River. I needed somewhere to stay before and after my talks. Bless her, Anne Spiegel stepped up and said she'd be delighted to be my hostess. And, since she's in Wappinger Falls, New York that makes my drive to and fro that much shorter. Plus, she has this absolutely fabulous, truly stunning, world renown rock garden. Doesn't get much better than this.

The lecture preparations were completed earlier in the week. I boxed up bulbs, pots, etc. for the afternoon demonstration. With a frost warning for Friday night I spent much of Thursday dragging pots of tender plants into the basement or garage. My car can stay outside for a week or so, happens every year. Friday I watered the greenhouse, packed my bag, and headed east. New York Thruway, Newburgh-Beacon Bridge over the Hudson River, various turns, and I arrived.

Up the long driveway, and here's the first thing that caught my eye. Must be a root cellar, how grand.
Later, when I asked Anne she laughed. Back in 1965 when they moved from California and were looking
at property her husband thought "wine cellar." Guess again. It's the well house. It's the country, you know.

Continue up the driveway to the top. On the left, a stone house. On the right . . . . yes, that massive ledge and outcrop is Anne's garden.

To quote from the Garden Conservancy's Open Days Directory: "This dramatic natural rock garden is planted on a series of rugged stepped ledges and cliff. It includes extensive screes, sand beds, lime beds, and raised beds. A large trough collection is integrated into the garden. One end of the garden was newly rebuilt after the tornado in 2000 and is being replanted; the other end has been enlarged another seventy feet in a series of stone-walled raised beds. New crevice gardens are being made at the top of the cliff. This never-watered garden (inadequate well) is open, windy, and sunny; plants from Turkey, the Great Basin, and our western mountains are a specialty. There is continuing experimentation with xerophytic and drought-tolerant plants. "

It wasn't until 1980 that Anne really began to develop the garden. Too busy, at first, mothering their four children. The outcrop was festooned with brambles and poison ivy. The crevices were packed with weeds and crummy soil. Dig. Dig. Dig. Dig some more. The crevices can taper down to knife blade thinness. Plants, the right plants, love it.

This is a site to test both plants and gardener. Anne cannot water. Their well is inadequate for that. This summer was brutally dry, week after week after week with no rain. It's a wind swept site. Even when the air is still elsewhere on the property it sweeps down over the face of the outcrop. And there are deer, as in multiple dozens of them. What they don't eat, they step on, or kick up and unroot.

Rock gardens are at their most floriferousness in Spring. Here it is mid-October and leaves are falling. And there are flowers.

. . . .

Zauschneria with its scarlet firecracker flowers on splayed branches. And Satureja, savory, mountain relative of a kitchen herb.

. . . .

Plants perhaps more familiar to the novice gardener also find themselves at home - tidy rosettes of sempervivums and ferny leaved dicentra.

Better, purpose-built crevices are also incorporated into the garden.
Anne checked out the soles of my shoes for their rock-gripping ability
before we stepped across some less than level ledges to get here.

Anne's is a garden of extremes. If the ledge and outcrop garden has xeric as a defining characteristic
close to the road at the bottom of the driveway is sodden, saturated clay. Of course, the next thing to do
is create another, quite different garden. Excavate. Bales of peat moss. Old wood chips that have begun
to decay. Ligularia are running wild, swamping rodgersias. Candelabra primroses are seeding about with
gay abandon. Ranunculus. Stone lined channel with graceful footbridge. And willows, sucking up water.


Is it any wonder that Anne never has time to sit at this charming little table with its two chairs, looking out
over her creation. She's excavating crevices, hauling the gravel-rich / soil-poor growing mix to refill them.
Traveling to mountains here and abroad, hiking above the tree line to observe the little alpine treasures in their
natural habitats. Acting as a delightful hostess to visitors from near and farther away. Like me. Thank you Anne.

Root deep. Hold fast. Thrive, in a garden built on stone.

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