Four summer rock garden plants

I am quite exhausted by the currently raging transatlantic controversy concerning the ethics and efficacy of chopping up seed potatoes, so here’s a nice, quiet post about my scree garden.

Just to re-cap, I grow a variety of alpine plants in a gravel bed (about three inches deep above the usual clay) and here are some that will flower between May and July depending on where you live:P1010723

This is dryas octopetala. It’s a plant of the high Arctic and forms a large mat of small green leaves and woody stems, never rising much above ground level. With me, it spreads rapidly – rather too rapidly for my limited space, in fact – but is easily kept within bounds by cutting back the branches which have got into the wrong place, and it does not seem to mind a severe pruning. Apparently, it’s quite hard to reproduce from seed, so it may be worth trying to establish any of the prunings that turn out to have roots. It’s good ground cover, but these delicate white flowers are its real charm. That, and the curious seed heads:P1010776

These start by winding themselves into a tight spiral, as you see, and then explode into a sort of fluffy ball. I’m not a huge fan of seed heads on the whole, but I love these ones.

(Update July 18th: Here’s a picture of the ripe seed heads:)P1010845

Here is a commonly grown alpine columbine: aquilegia flabellata var pumilaP1010731

This remains a small, delicate plant, but, like all its tribe, seeds itself everywhere.  It’s ideal for establishing a bit of blue in a rock garden (blue’s curiously rare among June alpines), but you do need to keep an eye open for the seedlings, and move them before their tap roots go so deep that you are bound to damage them if you lift them.

Here’s one of my favourites: edrianthus pumilioP1010778
This is a very small, creeping plant, fairly hardy, though short lived, and much more delicate in its habit than the dwarf campanulas, which it slightly resembles. It dies back completely in winter and looks totally dead until about April, then pushes out its strappy leaves followed by a mass of flowers. Unfortunately, slugs seem to regard the flowers as a delicacy, and they need to be protected as soon as the buds emerge if you want to have any left.

Finally, an encrusted saxifageP1010765 s. ‘White Hills‘:
There are many cultivars and hybrids of s.cochlearis and s.paniculata but, for my money, this is one of the best. There’s a tendency to breed encrusted saxifrages with huge, spectactular flower stems, but in my conditions they just fall over and look silly, so I prefer the rather less dramatic types that just get on with producing a mass of  properly proportioned flowers. Even when they are not flowering, the crackly, silvery-grey rosettes look great – much better than the house leek tribe which many people seem to favour.


12 thoughts on “Four summer rock garden plants

  1. These are all unusual and lovely. But I believe I would award the prize to the white dryad with extra points won for the dramatic seed head which looks as if it has just washed its hair. I hope you will photograph it again as a fluffy ball. The little blue acquilegia recalls the taller Colorado blue one I grow but I like the white petal trim on yours.

    It is a wonder these delicate flowers can thrive on rocks while my potatoes seem at high risk in well-watered compost. Also, how did my planting technique become an ethical problem? (My posts BEGIN quietly, just like yours…)

    • I don’t know why your posts seem to dissolve into controversy. It’s probably because you have disruptive followers.
      I’m pleased you like the dryas. If you have a gravelly patch, or even a path, you should try it. It seems happy in sun, rain and snow alike.
      I found some of that Canadian dogwood you mentioned, so I’ve planted it in a damp shady area – we’ll see how it does. Thanks for the tip.

      • Oh I’m glad you found the bunchberry. I have a new one this year as well. I’m trying to keep it watered–should be easier in your garden. I’ll watch for the dryas here. It might be fun to establish what is called a rock garden.

  2. I first met Dryas octopetala on a mountain top in Austria a few years ago and was so taken with it. I had a bit of a search down here to find a nursery that sold it, but eventually I found one and it is now happy on my small scree. Keeping it company is your small aquilegia, such a lovely little plant which I dead head promptly so that it doesn’t seed everywhere! I like your other 2 plants but would need a larger scree to accommodate them!

  3. I’m very fond of White Hills – it’s one (of the many) plants I grabbed when I left the alpine nursery. I like and have Southside Seedling too – neither preclude me liking semps as well though. Dave

    • So where do you grow your alpines, Dave? In all your many posts, I find few about them. Do you confine them to pots in the greenhouse? Southside Seedling I have yet to acquire. I shall keep an eye open for it.

      • Mostly still in pots, Mr K, around the greenhouse. There are quite a few plants and areas of the gardens that I haven’t really covered at all. I like to keep some stuff in reserve!! D p.s. Winfred Bevington is another I have.

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