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Rock Shrubs



Though much is written about the various families of Alpines and herbaceous rock plants, it is seldom that we see attention drawn towards the evergreen and other shrubs which rightly belong to that part of the garden we are now considering. Not only are we depriving ourselves of a very beautiful and interesting class of plants, but without shrubs, a rock garden of any size is bound to present a confused or dreary appearance.Rock Shrubs


Rock gardens are often tame and dull, partly because the foliage and flowers of most Alpines is light in color, but mainly owing to the fact that in such places there is nothing very definite to hold the eye.


A small group of evergreen shrubs comes as a welcome relief, connecting scattered units so that they form one consistent collection and making the color and form of the smaller rock plants more vivid and distinct by contrast.


The ability to grow plants is a wasted opportunity if no attempt is made to display them to the fullest advantage.


In the true Alpine garden our choice of shrubs is necessarily limited, and any we use must be kept on the lower slopes and approaches. In the mixed rock garden no such restrictions apply, and the heights may be crowned with the fiery spikes of Gorse and Broom, whilst patches of Rosemary and Lavender will act as a foil to bright colonies of herbaceous flowers.


The family of Heaths contains several beautiful varieties, many of them especially suited to the rock garden. These delightful shrubs from mountain and moorland are among the best possible plants for the rough grass and boulder strewn approaches, and when strongly massed among herbaceous flowers create a welcome note of soft color.


The Alpine Forest Heath (Erica carnea) is perhaps the hardiest of all, and thrives in practically any class of soil. On the mountains of Europe it is snow-covered throughout the winter, bursting into a multitude of rosy blooms in the early days of spring.


The white variety should not be forgotten. In warm districts the Tree Heath (E.arborea) may be planted in the lower sections of the rock garden. A native of Southern Europe and the Canaries, it is found in oak woods, where its snowy flowers produce a charming effect. In favored spots it reaches the dimensions of a tree, but with us it is shrub like. Slightly peaty soil suits the Bell Heather (E.tetralix), which flowers freely in late summer.


The Scotch and Dorset Heaths (E.cinerea and E.ciliaris) are both dwarf kinds, covering the ground with spreading masses of graceful foliage, and blooming as early as June. The Cornish Heath (E.vagans) and the Common Ling (E.vulgaris) should be freely planted in rough meadow land or woodland clearing.


Similar to the Heaths, and equally desirable, are the dwarf Menziesias, tiny Alpine shrubs with dark tufts of evergreen foliage and clusters of white and rosy bells. M.coerulea, M.empetriformis, and M.polifolia are the best known, and thrive in the higher ledges in a sandy­ peat soil. Near these we would place a clump of Pernettyas (Prickly Heath) whose claim to distinction lies in their large berries in all shades of scarlet and purple. During the winter their bright appearance is particularly welcome.


The Skimmias, spreading evergreens from China and Japan, are precious rock garden shrubs, their small size and adaptability to varying soils render them valuable almost anywhere. Their bright shining leaves are much like those of the Garland flower (Daphne), whose delicious fragrance rivals that of any other flower. Such gems as these, far too small and dainty for the mixed shrubbery, and quite unnecessarily grown in pots, are best placed in the rock garden, where their beauty can be readily appreciated. D.cneorum, with dense terminal umbels of pink flowers, blooms twice in the year, a small bush but a few inches high, flooding the air with its perfume.

 Rock Shrubs

The Rock Daphne (D.rupestris) is a little more difficult to grow, and demands slightly peaty soil with free drainage and abundant moisture. If a slow grower, it is very free blooming, the whole plant being densely covered with waxy pink flowers. The old fashioned Mezeron, the joy of cottage gardens, blooms before winter is past, though, unlike the others, it is deciduous. A white­ flowered kind, D.blagayana, is also worthy of notice. 


Alpine Rhododendrons possess great depth and richness of leafage color. Belonging to the mountain ranges of Europe, they are perfectly hardy and well fitted for association with Alpines and rock plants. R.chamaecistus, an exquisite little shrub, only a few inches high, may be grown in the highest situations in sandy loam with a slight mixture of peat. It is always found naturally on the limestone formation, and is impatient of granite soils. Other dwarf kinds are R.myrtifolium, Hybridum, and Odoratum, the latter a scented variety.


The scarlet flowered Swiss Rhododendrons (R.ferrugineum and R. hirsutum) known also as Alpine Roses, are of larger growth, and do best in peaty soil in the lower parts of the rock garden. All the dwarf Rhododendrons except Chamaecistus form suitable backing plants for bright patches of herbaceous flowers.


Included among these dwarf evergreens is the Partridge Berry (Gaultheria procumbens), with drooping white flowers and winter berries. It succeeds in sandy soil in partial shade, and is easily increased by division. The other Gaultherias are too large for any but rock gardens of considerable extent.


Above the groups of small plants and the hard edge of the topmost rocks, there may be planted those hardy flowering shrubs which are happy in the sunniest and most exposed positions. An unbroken line of upstanding foliage is not desirable, but bold groups in several places, with an occasional fringe of overhanging branches. When the rock mound or bank is of only slight elevation we may in this way screen distant objects from view, and give an air of completeness to the whole design.


If the upper part of the rock garden is tenanted only by plants of small stature, it almost appears as though the object of such dwarfing was to enable an uninterrupted view of scenes beyond. This, however, is unfortunate, a full measure of beauty is to be found among the Alpines and rock flowers themselves, and a degree of seclusion and privacy is necessary for their full appreciation.


In the hottest situations where nothing else will thrive, various kinds of Broom and the double and dwarf Furze may be planted. It is a mistake to look down on the latter shrub because it grows wild on English commons, there are few more glorious sights in Nature than a golden sea of Furze beneath a stormy sky.


The double variety is to be preferred to the single wild kind, lasting longer in bloom and giving more vivid color effects. The dwarf Ulex nanus flowers at midsummer, and is suitable for small rock gardens. Furze requires regular pruning to keep it within bounds, and young plants are much easier to establish than older specimens.


The Brooms (Cytisus) are a beautiful family, from the strong growing C.albus (Portuguese Broom) with its long slender branches wreathed with white flowers, to the tiny C.ardoini, a miniature Alpine shrub. The Spanish Broom flowers freely in hot, dry soils, and even our British Broom (C.scoparius) is worth growing on the wilder outskirts of the rock garden. Of different habit to others of the genus, the Purple Broom trails along ledges and falls in dense curtains over large boulders.


It is unfortunate that the Rock Roses (Cistus) are not more hardy, as they are particularly suited to a dry sandy soil in the upper parts of the rock garden. They are easily propagated, and a stock of new plants can be raised from time to time, so as to make good any losses. The flowers last but a single day, but are borne in such profusion that this peculiarity is hardly noticeable. C.laurifolius and C.cyprius are among the best.


The Genistas (Rock Broom) are a large family, and contain many varieties for the rock garden. G.germanica is free flowering, and forms a shrub of moderate dimensions. The double form of G.tinctoria, G.aspalathoides, G.praecox and G.andreana are among those from which a choice may be made. All the Genistas are readily increased by seed, are indifferent as to soil, and need transplanting before the roots become too coarse and straggling.


Owing to the practice of crowding the hardy junipers among free growing evergreens in the shrubbery, their value is seldom realised. When grouped together in the rock garden it will be seen that they are by no means unworthy, the common Savin (J.sabina) is graceful and has feathery branches. J.prostrata is a good sub-variety.Rock Shrubs


On warm, sunny banks a few plants of Lavender and Rosemary. The older bushes look best, the trim balanced form of the young plants having given place to a freedom of gnarled and twisted branches, lightly flecked with glaucous leaves. Both the white and blue Lavenders are worth cultivation. Apart from other reasons there is a charm attached to these old ­fashioned flowers, which gives them a special claim to our consideration.


Rock shrubs of trailing character are of the greatest possible value in forming connecting lines between upright groups. The beautiful Rocksprays (Cotoneaster) drape the larger stones and boulders, and the evergreen kinds are like cheerful garlands on the cold slopes of the winter rock garden.


The Wall Cotoneaster (C.microphylla) is quite hardy, and produces a pretty effect with its deep green foliage, white blossoms and crimson berries. C. horizontalis (Plumed Cotoneaster) is brilliant in autumn, with vivid scarlet berries and flaming leaves. The Rocksprays are of the easiest culture and do well in almost any soil. With other trailing shrubs the graceful Muhlenbeckias may be associated, complexa and varia being chosen for preference.




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