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The Rock Garden in Spring

 

 

 

 

 

With the first breath of spring bright patches of color will fleck the slopes of the rock garden, and with the lengthening days the flowers from mountain and hill clothe themselves in summer garb. Quite early, though the keen winds check all tender vegetation, the Alyssum and Rock Cresses shake out their banners of purple and gold.

 

A little later the Cushion Pinks and snowy Arabis mantle the ledges with rosy blossoms and cascades of white. Now the rock garden is at its brightest and best. After the barren grayness of winter, when the flowers in garden borders have scarcely roused themselves from sleep, here is the fullness of life and color.

 

To which class of spring flora are we most indebted for the freshness and charm of the rock garden at this season. Surely our chief cause of thankfulness is to be found in the myriad bulbous plants, the Alpine Irises, the Fritillaries and Muscari, the Narcissi from mountain pastures, the Snowdrops, Chionodoxa, Snowflakes and Scilla. If rock gardens were formed for these flowers alone, they would still be worthy of our care, and in this section only bulbous plants will be considered.

 

There is no comparison between the stiff lines of Snowdrops and Crocuses used so frequently as border edgings, and the same flowers grown in drifts and colonies among the stones in the rock garden. There is, too, so much variety among these bulbous plants that they may be used with certainty of success under almost any circumstances.

 

Before the winter snow has disappeared, the narrow leaf spikes of Iris Reticulata begin to show above the ground. A small colony of these flowers produces a beautiful effect in the rock garden. There are several varieties, but none can exceed the gold and violet splendor of the common Netted Iris. I.r .cyanea is a dwarf blue form, and Purpurea with rich purple flowers is adapted to warm sheltered corners. The Netted Irises prefer a sandy soil. Grown in bold clumps, with a ground­work of small Ferns and Mossy Saxifrages, they are among the best of early bulbs.

 

Japanese Rock GardenAnother good dwarf Iris is the Armenian variety, I.bakeriana. It is much like Reticulata in color, but possesses a distinctive charm in its violet like scent. The Iberian Flag (I.i berica) is worth growing if only for the singular beauty of its flowers, the contrast between the purple veined falls, with their sheen of gold, and the violet pencilled standards is very striking. A warm, well drained soil is necessary, as the Rhizomes decay unless they are kept dry during the winter.

When planting, the roots should be surrounded with sand. Iris Cristata (Crested Iris) is a gem for the rock garden, where it may be grown on sunny ledges with a carpeting of small leaved Alpines. It is only a few inches high, with broad leaves and pale blue flowers, pencilled with darker markings. In the border, this exquisite little flag would be lost, but a sunny corner among the rocks offers a charming alternative to growing it in pots.

Quite the best dwarf Iris for color effect is I.pumila, which, owing to the size of its flowers, forms compact masses of violet or pale blue. It grows about six inches high, and from the sturdy character of its leaf growth, smaller plants are not required to hide the soil.

 

Most of the early flowering bulbs produce but few leaves, and therefore look best rising from sheets of dwarf evergreen foliage. This gives a far better effect than the bare earth, furthermore, in the latter case the blossoms are liable to be stained during rainy weather.

 

There are many other Irises for the rock garden, and it is a never-ending pleasure to experiment with new kinds, supplying suitable soil and trying the effect of a few bulbs in sunny corners. In addition to those already mentioned, Korolkowi, rosy-lilac; Balkana, claret and white; and Cengialti, light-blue, should be remembered.

 

The Narcissi are another large family of bulbous plants, and to them we owe an everlasting debt of gratitude for many precious garden pictures. The larger kinds should be naturalised in grass, in woodland vistas, and among choice shrubs, but the smallest and daintiest varieties are best in the rock garden.rock garden

 

Most of the dwarf Daffodils prefer a slightly peaty soil, all demand good drainage and sharp sand around the bulbs. A light top dressing is an incentive to fine bloom, and the delicate kinds, which are liable to injury from spring storms, should be afforded the warmest and most sheltered positions.

 

The Hooped Petticoat Daffodil (N.bulbocodium) is found growing wild in many of the southern European countries. It cannot be considered a hardy variety, but is worthy of a good position. There are various forms all having rush like leaves. Conspicuus, with large yellow leaves, is very early, as also is Citrinus, the pale sulphur French kind.

 

The White Hoop Petticoat (N.b.monophyllus) is an exquisite variety from Algeria . N.Triandrus (Ganymede's Cup) and its sub-variety Albus (Angel's Tears) are among the daintiest of the race, but must be carefully sheltered from high winds. The Rush Jonquil (N.juncifolius) is sweetly scented and not difficult to establish. Though somewhat expensive, a small clump of the Queen Anne's Jonquil (N.odorus minor) well repays the outlay; on warm soils the pale yellow double flowers are very striking.  

 

If the rock garden contains a somewhat moist corner, it would be worth an effort to grow the Cyclamen Daffodil (N.cycla­mineus). The flowers are bright golden, the leaves a vivid green. On peaty soils it would almost certainly succeed.

 

Beside the Narcissi with their note of creamy yellow, we may place the Scillas and Muscari, giving us a pro­cession of blues from porcelain to deep indigo. Scillas are of the simplest culture, and when once established merely require an occasional top dressing.

 

The best known and perhaps most beautiful form is the Siberian Scilla (S.sibirica), with flowers a delicate shade of pale blue. It is a vigorous kind, and the clumps should be divided every few years. On a warm, sandy soil it blooms in February.

 

One of the most delightful ways of growing this Scilla is to plant bold colonies near the margins of Alpine shrubs. The sight of the blue drifts of flowers escaping from the shelter of dark foliage, and in small colonies descending the rock slopes, is a spring picture of true charm. Later in the year the Spanish Scilla (S.hispanica) raises its stout racemes of pendent bells. It is a vigorous kind, and is suitable for natural­ising in grass and on the outer flanks of the rock garden.

 

The white variety (Alba) and Rosea, a pink form, are also good. For association with choice Alpines it is a trifle too vigorous. S.bifolia, with deep blue flowers, is the type from which several handsome varieties have been evolved. S.b.taurica, S.b. praecox, flowering very early, and S.b.alba, are all worth growing.

 

The Italian Scilla (S.italica) combines extreme hardiness with brilliant coloring and sweet perfume; in semi-wild places we must not forget the improved forms of the Woodland Bluebell (S.nutans). Deeper shades among the Scilla blues may be provided by patches of Grape Hyacinths (Muscari botryoides), which will answer to the same treatment.

 

Other blue flowers are the Chionodoxas (Glory of the Snow), of which C.luciliae and C.sardensis are desir­able. They are at their best after they have had time to become thoroughly established. The Bulbous Fumi­tory (Corydalis bulbosa), with purple blossoms produced in April, may be included in large rock gardens, and in really warm localities the lovely Chilian bulb Teco­phylaea Cyanocrocus gives us a shade of blue hardly to be equalled.

 

Finally, there are the Dog's Tooth Violets (Erythronium), with spotted leaves and single, drooping flowers. E.dens-canis, the best known of the family, thrives in fairly moist sandy soil, but requires a sunny position. The white, tooth like bulbs should be planted deeply, and division every few years will increase the stock. This variety is of European origin; others come to us from America . E.giganteum and E.grandiflorum are large, white flowered, and succeed on slightly peaty soil.

 

Blue is a color which in garden pictures calls for contrast. In the spring rock garden, patches and drifts of Snowdrops and Leucojum should be associated with the Scillas and Muscari.

 

There are many varieties of Snowdrops, but we need ask nothing better than Galan­thus Elwesii, with its pure, shapely flowers and bright spikes of green leaves. In close, retentive soils it is disappointing, but is perfectly happy in a mixture of good loam, leaf mould, and sand. Snowdrops should never be grown in open beds, when such ideal positions as shrubbery and woodland, close turf and, above all, the rock garden, are available.Natural Rock Garden

 

The Spring Snowflake (Leucojum vernum) may be regarded as a large and handsome form of the common Snowdrop. It grows well in similar positions, and with the same class of soil. In a shady corner, with peaty soil, a clump of Wood Lilies (Trillium) display their pure white three petalled blossoms above rich shining leaves.

 

Other small bulbous plants there are in plenty. The Cyclamens, Europaeum, Atkinsii and Coum; the Spring Star-flowers (Triteleia) and Fritillaries, Anomatheca and the American Cowslip (Dodecatheon).

 

Several of the smaller varieties of Tulips are com­monly recommended as suitable for rock garden planting, such kinds as Greigi, Sylvestris and Kaufmanniana especially. To my mind, however, they never look well in such positions. Their stiffness and formality are not in harmony with the wild freedom of mountain plants, and their blaze of color, glorious though it be, blinds us to the beauty of many a dainty flower and shrub.

 

The wild Tulips are delightful in woodland clearings, meadow sides and shrubbery margins, and nothing can exceed the suitability and charm of old world Tulip gardens, in the Dutch style, ­a formal arrangement for purely formal flowers. They even look well in borders, so that it seems unreasonable that they should occupy valuable space in the rock garden, which affords a home for many plants that will not thrive elsewhere.

 

The same feeling applies to the dwarf Liliums, Elegans, Tenuifolium and others. These noble flowers are so much better suited to border grouping, or the peaty soil among Azaleas and Rhododendrons, that despite the opinions of others, I never recommend them for the rock garden.

 

 

 

 

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