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Cultivation (growing techniques): Czech Interlude - Trough Demonstrations

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Started by: Tim Ingram

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Contribution from Tim Ingram 23 June 2013, 10:48top / bottom of page

I have been describing the Czech 2nd International Rock Garden Conference under 'Any Other Topics', but this short interval of 'Trough Demonstrations' in the courtyard of the hotel captured the imagination of everyone, and showed even on such a small scale, how rock and plants complement one another.

Zdenek Zvolanek and the Canadian Paul Spriggs (who has worked with Zdenek constructing crevice gardens) showed a very simple trough, using a 'crumbly' metamorphic rock, the idea being that in a proper example the plants and stone would be in balance (the plants used were much more vigorous species just for example).

A more sophisticated example, using thin slivers of rock to make crevices, was demonstrated by Vojtech Holubec. This beautifully illustrated the Czech style of rock gardening on the smallest of scales, making very different places to plant even within a few inches of one another.

Here Vojtech's wife and others are pointing out where he has gone wrong (!) but it looks pretty good to me and only took 30 minutes or so to make. The idea was to use relatively few plants and again retain that essential balance between plant and stone.

I found both these and the gardens (which I will describe later under the 'Any Other Topics' thread) thoroughly inspirational and it has tempted me to plant up a trough in the same way, only the stone I have available is much bolder Kentish ragstone. So, take one trough...

Fill it with sand and rocks... (some loam was put into the base and to hold chock stones between the larger stones - thus providing more nutrition for the plants when established)

Add a few plants...

And a few more... (about 20 plants were used altogether)

Top dress with crushed stone... (an enjoyable hour or so spent bashing larger rocks with a lump hammer!)

Et voila...

I am quite pleased with the result and now after a month or so the plants look to be growing away well. This is a shallow trough and in time it will be necessary to feed plants and pay close attention to watering, just as you would plants in pots. I am sure this will be the way we will grow many more choice species in the future, and although we only have some seven troughs at the moment I can see this number increasing steadily!

Contribution from Tim Ingram 08 July 2013, 07:41top / bottom of page
Rendering a glazed trough

You know how it is - those glazed sinks you were given sit in a corner of the garden neglected for far too long. Inspiration from others is important and the numerous trough plantings in the Czech gardens were very exciting to see, especially some of the extremely choice species growing in them. At the beginning you need your trough, and old glazed sinks are perfect in every way except for their glaring whiteness! This is a demonstration of covering them based on the Info Leaflet produced by the AGS: 'Easy Ways with Hypertufa'.

There is not the gravitas associated with these practical matters, compared to looking at the plants themselves, either at home or abroad, but there can be more childlike fun which never seems a bad thing. So for those, like me, who have just never got round to doing something with those old sinks, here is a photographic account.

Given a good clean these sinks show why they are sometimes used again in the home - they are functionally simple and attractive (and ideal for the gardener who is likely always to be shooed out of the kitchen.

Rendering a glazed trough

The next step is to provide a key for the hypertufa render. The thought of chipping off the glaze didn't appeal greatly (though probably very effective) so the alternative is to coat the surface with PVA adhesive. In fact I did this twice with the hypertufa being applied as the second coat was still tacky.

We had a second sink where some of the covering (a more gritty 'concrete' mix) had come off over time, and this was treated in the same way, using PVA adhesive over the original render as well. In retrospect we may find that all of this should have been chipped off and the trough started afresh (but sometimes life is just too short!).

The mix used was based on the AGS leaflet where several different combinations are described to give different final appearances - so this was: sand/cement/fine peat (5/2/3) - by volume.

The render was made up as you would mortar or concrete, adding water carefully to reach that point where running the trowel against the mix provides a smooth coherent surface. (In fact I found that I started with slightly too dry and crumbly a mix which didn't apply easily to start with, and so added a quick spray more of water to smaller quantities of the mix as I worked round the trough).

There is a certain degree of faith that the covering will actually stick to the sink - it shouldn't be too thick, nor too thin, carefully worked round under the edges of the trough, where that thin layer of PVA has an almost magical ability to resist the effects of gravity (!). Good pressure with your fingers or a trowel help to ensure proper adhesion. What I hadn't anticipated was quite how long it would take to work around a sink - this took a couple of hours or more (no doubt further attempts would be a lot quicker with more experience).

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