Kent Alpine Gardener's Diary
This entry: 11 January 2015 by Tim Ingram
... the Czech Gardens - Day 2
Martin Brejnik - Černošice
Lets say, with reasonable verisimilitude, that alpine gardening is not so well endowed with younger practitioners. Here is a rock garden, made by a younger gardener, which many older gardeners could certainly learn from.
This garden is quite new and relatively small, typical really of many gardens except for what you discover behind the hedge. Martin Brejnik has a skill with stone and hard landscaping and with rock gardening. These first few pictures show how effectively rocks and plants can be integrated around the house, in a similar way to how others might use raised beds and troughs. It will be very interesting to see how the garden develops over the next few years as the plantings mature. Natural stone used on this sort of scale is very striking in itself and perfect for setting off choice alpines, bulbs and small shrubs.
The last picture in particular shows how crevice gardening can be made on any scale. Using stone of different widths and textures gives interest to this scene which uniform rock would lack. On the other side of the path, and look how finely that has been made, is the rock garden proper...
For very many years the most well known of all daphnes for the rock garden was D. cneorum 'Eximia'. On a raised bed with good drainage this can very rapidly make a wide spreading bush to 2m or more across - a glorious plant but prone to swamp more choice plants on the same bed; it is less easy to grow and propagate than it used to be but many other forms have been introduced more recently. This plant though, whether 'Eximia' or not, shows how fine these larger forms of D. cneorum can be, and how quickly they will make good specimens in the right situation.
In the longer term though the smaller daphnes will prove a better bet - these are D. arbuscula (which must really benefit from the warmth held by the stone - with us it is shy-flowering in the open garden despite growing strongly) and one of the forms of D. x hendersonii. Go to such lengths to construct a crevice or rock garden and plants like these show how that energy and skill can be rewarded.
The real stimulus behind rock gardening, as well as its relationship with the mountains that these plants come from (which I pointed out at the beginning of this Tour), is the opportunity to grow so many plants in such a small area. They are immensely diverse - the AGS Encyclopaedia of Alpines runs to two large volumes! Many are genera well known on the larger scale in the perennial border but which most gardeners will have no inkling of as rock garden plants, for example compact centaureas like this one - rather fascinating in bud as well as flower.
From both practical and aesthetic viewpoints making a rock garden does involve experiment. This first picture doesn't work aesthetically as well as the smaller planting near to the house - but don't tell the plants that, they prosper anyway.
However, another part of the rock-work where a different and darker stone is used horizontally is really very attractive, here looked at from further away and closer to. The plants here are cushion Acantholimons and Dianthus and the self-seeding crucifer Degenia velebitica.
Stone is often beautifully encrusted with lichens but I haven't seen it providing a home for a moss flora quite like this! A rock garden with a difference.
Jiří Pospíšil - Dobřichovice
This garden and the next were distinctly different from the others we visited in being less centred on rock gardening and the great diversity of alpine plants (and often those rare and special plants which you can become more and more drawn to with time). They were no less interesting for this and heightened that touch of contrast and individuality that was such a feature of the whole tour.
On the whole, except for the last day at the Prague May Rock Garden Show, we were lucky with the weather. Here though it was fortunate to visit Jiří Pospíšil's garden in a rain shower, where we were kindly given hospitality - drinks and tea and coffee - in a remarkable 'room' in the middle of the garden! (If only we had something like this in our garden - refreshments are a big part of opening a garden for the NGS, or any other charity, especially early in the year for snowdrops).
Gardens at their best reflect the beauty and order of the natural world, which must reach its epitome in Japan where stone and form is so revered. This garden perhaps came closest to this with small conifers, acers; not a lot of flower and colour. Quite relaxing after the gardens I have shown before, and very welcoming.
The rock garden used bold stones rather finely and naturally placed and complemented especially by dwarf pines, which of all conifers have the greatest style.
In the last garden of the tour I will introduce these in their full variety along with other coniferous genera. Here though are two examples from this garden at that phase of spring growth when they are so attractive.
Jiří Sládek - Malý Chumec
Gardens are uniquely personal places which allow free expression of ideas and interests. This was a particular appeal of this Czech Tour and Jiří Sládek's garden at Malý Chumec was the most idiosyncratic of all that we visited, and rather thought provoking if your view of a garden is quite traditional.
In Britain we are very used to the idea of people opening their gardens for others to see, either locally in towns and villages or wider afield as in the National Gardens Scheme. The personal nature of gardens is widely expressed and shared more than anywhere else in the world. This may be a result of our 'equable' climate and long history of botanical exploration and discovery, but also it shows how individual gardens provide a driving force behind getting to know plants in a very significant way. For a Society like the AGS getting to know plants is as much to do with the world outside the garden as within it, and so a garden can be many things.
Here the garden is in places quite uncontrolled and yet still very effective. Alpines are only a small part of it, but other plants such as rhododendrons and magnolias give it a different personality. The house is pretty intriguing in itself and sits rather comfortably amongst the plants.
In the front garden a small stream meanders through a miniature woodland and is then channelled by the side of the house beneath a run of troughs...
... eventually emerging to form this wild and remarkably natural pond behind the house. What a unique feature to have in a garden - I have never seen anything quite like it - and it sits perfectly below the house and redefines what a garden can be.
There is something very stylish about the way this garden has been put together which the following scene, secluded to one side, accentuates.
Finally a couple of alpines - Verbascum (Celsia) acaule, from S. Greece which Farrer describes as a 'neat and tiny thing...', a nice description and a nice plant which I have not come across before.
And sempervivums cleverly used in the capping of the wall fronting the garden and house.
Certainly a garden that gives pause for thought...
(15th May 2015 - for anyone reading these descriptions of Czech Rock Gardens I intend to continue featuring this Garden Tour, with many gardens to come - later this year)