8th January 2015
If you think 'Rock Gardens' are an old fashioned feature to have in your garden, this interview with Margaret Young will make you re-consider that view after reading about her infectious enthusiasm and passion for Alpine plants! Margaret is the Vice President of the Scottish Rock Garden Club and editor of the International Rock Gardener (IRG) monthly e-magazine.
Can you tell us a bit about the Scottish Rock Garden Club and its aims?
SRGC is a club formed in 1933 in Scotland to foster interest in rock garden and alpine plants - we have now grown into a truly international group of plant lovers whose interests cover a wide range of plants from tiny alpines through every sort of bulb , corm and tuber, to trees and shrubs, and everything in between - with more of an emphasis on flowers which are nearer their "wildflower" ancestors than are many of the common garden flowers seen - but anything which contributes to a wonderful garden really.
What is the appeal of a rock garden, and why would you say that gardeners should create one in their garden?
There is still a core of devotion to rock plants and the diminutive mountain and moorland wildflower plants of the world by our members. Particularly in our competitive shows where the cream of the alpine plants of the world can be seen. Many members like to build "rock gardens" of various designs, from raised beds to crevice gardens to give their favoured plants a home in the ir garden that in some ways replicated their natural habitats - or just as a design feature to be enjoyed by the owners! The dwarf nature of most alpines makes them the perfect plants for use in the smaller gardens so prevalent today - it is possible, using these plants, to have a display with year-long interest in even the smallest area. Not something that can be said for most standard garden plants. Plus the fact that so many rock garden and alpine plants are so small and pretty, and so tough, in spite of looking so fragile is a real draw – dare I say most of them are just so darn “cute”!?!
What rock garden plants are the most visually appealing?
It’s almost impossible to make a choice - there are so many which not only flower well but also have good shape and form, often evergreen with stunning foliage - it is this richness which is the general appeal of these tiny little plants with big personalities.
What plants do you recommend for a beginners rock garden?
There are hundreds – if not thousands! Saxifragas, Dianthus, Aubrieta, cushion Phlox, Primulas - most of the wonderful specialist nurseries (which sadly are not as numerous as in previous years) will supply plants specially selected to be easy to grow in most soils and situations.
Pic: Saxifragas in old concrete.
The SRGC has a huge online site and forum ( www.srgc.net) where you can learn lots – and ask questions yourself or share your experiences.
Organisations such as the SRGC and the AGS, for example, have great shows where you can see the best of the best and be inspired by what is possible and also buy plants from the nurseries that know these plants really well and who may have travelled some distance to attend the shows outside their own area. The clubs also run annual Seed Exchanges where you can get involved in the fun process of growing your own plants from around 5500 types of seed.
Are there any rock garden plants that are native to the British Isles?
Yes, though many are quite rare in nature now. To give a few instances - there are forms of Lloydia, Diapensia, Saxifraga, Gentiana, Dianthus, Primulas and various orchids which are British natives and there are more besides.
Do you have any good tips for Alpine plant growing? Can rock gardens be created in containers for small backyards or balconies? If so what plants are good for a small rock garden?
Because of the diminutive stature of most rock garden plants, they are not really suited to being planted in "normal " garden beds and borders where they will tend to become overgrown and overshadowed by their neighbours. Because of this they are ideal for growing in a purpose built rock garden, or raised bed - or even in a small trough or big pot or window box on a balcony. It is possible to landscape such an area to both make the overall effect attractive and to give the plants used different aspects - such as a northern crevice or a west-facing overhang - to give them some protection from too strong a sun or too much wet -within a small space.
Pic. Alpine plants in raised beds.
One of the easiest and prettiest rock plants is the "fairy foxglove"- Erinus alpinus - which comes in various shades of pink, lilac and white and makes little spires of minute flowers over rosettes of toothed leaves. The "stone breakers"- Saxifragas - and the succulent Sedums come in so many types, forms and colours it is possible to find one for any situation and are good beginners' plants.
There are dwarf Daphnes, Celmisias - wonderful Australasian plants with white daisy flowers and a remarkable range of green , silver, grey and evergreen foliage. there are forget-me-nots that have white flowers and furry foliage - all manner of dwarf bulbs - tiny shrubs and charming perennials of perfectly tiny proportions. In all, an immensely varied array of plants from around the world to excite you and to beautify your surroundings.
Pic. A rock garden in Spring with Erythronium.
Which is considered the best rock garden in Scotland and can people visit?
Quite a few of the gardens open to the public in Scotland have good rock gardens - but the very best, and one which is known throughout the world for its quality is the rock garden at the Royal Botanical Garden in Edinburgh. Not only is there an extensive outdoor rock garden with slopes, cliffs, a stream and some large plantings of extraordinary well grown and attractive flowers, the RBGE also has a traditonal "Alpine house" and its new and to some, controversial alpine house which contains a spectacular new tufa cliff full of t some of the rarest plants which are most challenging to grow. These sit in a charming area with a range of lovely troughs which show how well these plants can look in tiny containers displayed on a terrace.
How can people get involved with the Scottish Rock Garden Club?
Very easily! The SRGC Forum is open to all - and our website has a large range of resources which are open to everyone to read and study. Local group programmes are listed online, of course. The website has weekly and monthly additions, in the form of the Bulb Log Diary and International Rock Gardener e-magazine as well as many archived resources, including all the back issues of the Journal - a wealth of information, freely shared with all.
Membership of the Club - and our members come from around fifty countries around the world - offers the choice, to have our twice yearly journal, "The Rock Garden" posted to you or an electronic version, where the journal is accessed online at a reduced super-rate.
What is your favourite Alpine plant and why?
Answer to this probably varies from day to day - hard not to favour whichever plant was the most recent to flower or "hit the spot" with a spectacular leaf display! I have a great fondness for rhododendrons - especially the small species, which only grow to around 30 -60cms high and which can bloom twice a year, like R. saluense chamaeunum, and also all the other hardy Ericaceae from native heathers to the glorious and dainty Kalmia polifolia compacta alba -( a little stunner with a name bigger than it is!) but I also have a real passion for all sorts of bulbs corms, tuber, rhizomes - the plants which we can loosely call "bulbs". On the Ist January and coping with a deep frost, a favourite is Narcissus 'Cedric Morris" a pretty little daffodil, about 15cms high with perfect trumpet flowers about 3cms long which has been flowering outside for several weeks already and which will continue in flower for many weeks yet. The spring is a joy to me with so many alpine and rock garden plants having their major flowering season at a time when most garden plants are only beginning to wake up from winter dormancy. Masses of plants burst into flower and make the rock garden a joy to see. In May I adore the many forms of the South African corm, Rhodohypoxis -the whole plant only 10cms high at most but which can produce a huge number of flowers from a tiny corm, over many months through the summer. Woodland plants, such as Anemones, Trillium and Pododphyllum are irresistible. Summer orchids and Arisaemas delight - then we have autumn gentians, crocus and colchicum to join the cyclamen.
Pic. Cyclamen & Galanthus in a sand bed.
Through the winter we have shrubs and yet more bulbs to see us through the darkest days. So, you can see, really hard to pick any all-time favourites from the palette available to the rock gardener. We're spoiled for choice!
For more information visit - srgc.net
IMAGES - Copyright. Scottish Rock Garden Club.
Interview with The Scottish Rock Garden Club