North Wales Diary Discussion: May 2015
Started by: John RichardsGo to latest contribution by John Richards, 18 July 2015, 16:59. Go to bottom of this page.
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Goodness John, what a broad church we are!! I too have admired the Canary Echiums in the wild, and never thought we could grow them here in North-east England, but some years ago some seedlings appeared in a border at the late-lamented Newcastle Botanic Garden (they were grown in the hothouse and some material from here had been composted), and in due course a couple survived two winters and flowered. Of course, this had a city climate, even in Geordieland! However they seem to love you! It is worth experimenting with the hgher-growing of the Canarian plants. Greenovia aurea from about 1800m on Teide survives frosts well under glass here.
More controversially, I have been unsure of my attitude to the aesthetic qualities of crevice beds ever since they became popular, and I think your photos of the Wisley construction (which I have also visited) has finally made my mind up. I loath it!! (although I like the Pershore example rather more).
If your Greenovia (which I have never heard of!) sets seed I should love to give it a try.
As regards crevice gardens in general and the Wisley manifestation in particular, we must just agree to differ!
I think Zdenek's 'Beauty Slope' in the Czech Republic is one of the finest alpine gardens I have ever seen and many of his crevice gardens beautifully constructed and really effective in growing the plants but I don't like the crevice garden at Wisley either, partly because it is so high and dominant and also because it doesn't sit well in its surroundings. Clearly there was little choice about this but I'm not sure it would encourage many people to make something similar in their gardens, whereas a smaller outcrop in grass - using the principles that Symons-Jeune writes about is much more pleasing. Mind you I can't write from the experience of growing the plants anywhere near as well as Zdenek and many of the Czech growers - it's just great to try!
I take your point about location, the crevice garden certainly surprises you when you walk round the back of the Alpine house, and the paving right up to it looks harsh, but the actual construction is superb, and many plants clearly love it even though they are in some cases growing the best part of 2 m above ground level in a very dry climate. I don't know what the watering arrangements are, however.
further photos of natural rock formations with vertical crevices
large fissures at Sisteron
I am reminded of this article :
Nothing reflects the spirit of the times more accurately than a garden. Whereas the original rock garden at Wisley is a work of imperial grandeur, the new crevice garden is designed to be easy to maintain, water-wise and ecologically correct.
“In nature,” observes Paul, “you don’t see many plants growing in horizontal crevices, whereas in vertical crevices you get a much bigger flora. The traditional British rock garden has horizontal layers, in effect, a stepped series of raised beds, where the rock has little influence on the plants.
“But in these deep crevices the roots are forced downwards, where you get much more constant temperature and moisture, and the plants grow much better in these more stable conditions.”
Surface drainage, too, is better – the biggest killer of alpines is winter wet. The style also allows for the creation of sunny and shaded areas, so Paul has grouped dianthus, erigeron and eenista on the hot south-facing cliff and plants requiring cooler conditions on the north side. All are arranged geographically.
The garden is striking – compatible, as ZZ points out, with modern architecture. “But the greatest thing about crevice gardening,” says Paul, “is that it works on every scale, even a five-inch pot.
“At 80 square yards, this is bigger than many new gardens, but you could equally well take up a slab of your patio and make one there. It’s ideal for tiny spaces: where you could fit in only two or three shrubs, with a crevice garden, you can enjoy 20 or 30 truly beautiful plants.”
This last comment is one which rings very true and must gladden the heart of many a gardener who lacks space and has a love of the smaller plants of our world!
Crevice gardens are excellent for many alpines and allow a large number of plants to be packed into a small space. They can look a bit artificial in a garden setting - but then, if it allows you to grow the plants you enjoy growing does this matter? Most of the alpines we see in Patagonia are on bare exposed ridges or scree slopes rather than rock faces and crevices, though, in cultivation some of these grow well in crevice beds.
Horizontal crevices can also support a rich flora. The two images below are near horizontal, the first with wide crevices (and icebergs in the background) near Lago Argentino in southern Patagonia; the second high on a mountain in southern Peru, both supporting interesting species.
and the other image of wide horiontal crevices.
It's great to get more of a discussion on this! No dispute about there being natural vertical crevice gardens and their efficacy in providing habitats for plants both in the natural world and when copied to the garden - and the inspiration that comes from them. My criticism of the Wisley crevice garden is more to do with how much it is likely to encourage gardeners to actually make something similar in their own garden, and as a consequence become drawn into the world of alpine plants. Aesthetically and practically it doesn't provide a direct example that could be transposed to the garden; it is just wonderfully dramatic (and yes it does illustrate that the plants can grow very well in this way but I think quite a bit of maintenance and weeding and replanting is involved, which would be less so on a smaller scale). Where rock is available cheaply and easily, and around you as in the Czech Republic, then it becomes a more approachable way of gardening with alpines, but for many of us this is not so.
I have a similar criticism of the planted-out Alpine House at Wisley where again for me the rock is too dominant aesthetically. The earlier planting that I remember from when Ralph Heywood was at Wisley, where many plants were at ground level, and actually often planted in crevices, I found much more attractive (probably simply because I could imagine doing something similar myself with limited resources). To a great degree this is about how any ‘garden’ you make is an ongoing enterprise and not a fait accompli - and that is quite a personal judgement.
I agree very much with Paul and Margaret about how such ideas can be transposed to the smaller scale of the garden and since any form of gardening is an individual learning experience it is better to start small and with good foundations and build from here rather than be too ambitious to start with, and Wisley (and the RHS) is not only about wowing people with plants but also showing them practically how to go about growing them. (So to take a tangential example - the incredible rock garden that Dan Pearson made at the Chelsea Show was stunning artistry but nothing to do with people’s individual gardens or what they learn from and get out of them, whereas the 60th Anniversary AGS Garden that Michael Upward and others made in 1989, was). I don’t know what Zdenek would say, but he is more like a ‘master craftsman’ whereas most of us are just apprentices learning our trade! And there is such a strong culture of rock and crevice gardening in the Czech Republic which is not so much the case (now) in the UK - though it would be nice if it became more so. The comment that ‘crevice’ gardening can be very compatible with modern architecture is very pertinent if you view this as a way in which more people might become aware of the plants that we all find so interesting and important to know about.
The of defense of crevice gardens has been swift and passionate but in an arena completely about aesthetics there should be room for debate. I have often wondered if a little of "The Emperor's New Clothes" has fueled the crevice garden rage. It is done to marvelous effect by masters in various countries but these are often on areas of dramatically sloping ground or by careful addition to an existing outcrop. To arrange dozens of flat stones on end (like so many books on a shelf) in the middle of an expanse of manicured grass can look incongruous. It may enable someone to grow a great variety of plants but it really can be an island unto itself. We can certainly find examples of crevice gardens in nature as well as waterfalls, lakes, prairies, bogs and sand dunes but trying to re-create or integrate these ideas into a modest residential setting is rather difficult. These attempts may bring joy to their owners and that should be the main point but others may prefer a more natural (for their location) landscape. One of the more effective uses of the crevice style is in troughs. Here they are more Object d'art or accent that can be enjoyed on their own. Ian and Maggi Young have done this to lovely effect in their naturalistic garden were plants are allowed to seed around and mingle and troughs of all sizes don't compete with the landscape but act as jewelry or accessories that draw the eye for closer inspection of the treasures they contain.
Well, I did start something here, didn't I! But it is good to see such a wide-ranging discussion which hopefully at least a few of our Members (and 'visitors') may read. Of course, many of the most choice alpines were grown beautifully in 'conventional' rock gardens for decades before the crevice gzrden craze arrived from E, Europe, and still are, and that should not be forgotten, but for me it is the appearance of the well planned and constructed crevice garden that makes it so attractive. The plants love it, yes, but in my garden I love it even more!
Having just quickly looked through the pictures that Jon has shown from Wisley I should probably eat my words because there are some wonderful plants in the crevice garden there and the plants do definitely soften the rockwork and create more of a balance with time. And the acantholimons in the alpine house are amazing. The trouble is I can't imagine making anything like these in our garden (admittedly because my interest in plants is far too broad and alpines are not the only plants we grow, but also because of cost: as Ken says, doing something similar on the smaller scale of troughs or raised beds does appeal and might lead on to something larger). One of the things that came across to me when viewing the crevice gardens in the Czech Republic, and Zdenek's constructions in different places, is the way they always involve several people and close friendships. One of the gardens we visited after the Czech Conference was partly inspired and made by Josef Halda, and he also helped make Ron McBeath's rock/crevice garden at Lamberton, and a tufa garden with Harvey Wrightman in Canada; and Zdenek has worked with the young Canadian, Paul Spriggs, as well as in so many other places. For me gardens do this - they bring together expertise and share successes and failures - and you do need encouragement from others which is why I think discussion like this is so valuable.
(This might be why the introductory Alpine Anthology in earlier Bulletins was always so popular - it gave the chance for gardeners to share their personal opinions and sometimes provoke, which John R. certainly did at the beginning of this discussion thread! If you look at some of the plantings that Peter Korn is making using sand beds and rock on a large scale, as landscapes, such a different impression comes across of the plants. Our very individual botanical/collector's instinct gives way to a much more ecological view which must be good given the sensitivity of alpine plants to environmental change and how plants should be viewed as 'communities' in their natural state. I must say I like that second picture of Martin's - the icebergs might be more tricky to incorporate into the garden scene though!!).
Having been away, I have just caught up with this excellent discussion. Although it has developed several moves from where I started, let me say that I didn't say that crevice beds are 'unnatural' (that is to say, that sort of formation does not occur in nature, of course it does), and neither did I say that it is not a good way to grow challenging alpines, this has been proved time and time again. My comment on a particular example was merely aesthetic, and thus very much prey to individual taste and opinion. In fact I do like many crevice beds. What I don't like are beds in which the rock is too uniform in width, or too regular, or too thick, as I have never seen these sorts of formation in the wild, and although I have been fortunate enough to see many vertically placed strata in the wild, none of them ever looked like the Wisley example.