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From Canada to New England

From Canada to New England

We were on summer vacation towing 200 tons of rock in our trailer. Harvey was delivering tufa and stone troughs to Robin Magowan, Peter George and Bruce Lockhart. Combined with garden visits we were in for a good time.

We arrived at Peter's after 12 hours of driving. Peter has a large rock garden; astounding, almost impossible. At one end grew 3-foot Echinacaea, lilies and other large perennials right beside a rock garden section with perfect buns of of various Erigonums. How was this possible and why?

He explained this was a former horse pasture with well-manured soil. Where the rock garden sits, the soil was excavated to 3 feet deep and filled with gravel/sand. The large flowering perennials provide habitat and food for pollinators. A circular rock garden featured smaller rocks and plants at the perimeter with larger flat rocks raised to the inside, providing access and viewing platforms. Again the soil conditions were very gravelly, suiting the likes of Centaurea achtarovii.

The next morning Peter served us the most delicious blueberry pancakes. We watched two wild turkey hens with a cluster of chicks eat all the blueberries we had dropped just minutes before. Perhaps a clever decoy to keep them from the rock garden.

A short walk up the road is the home of Abby Rorer, an artist who specializes in woodcut printing. Her gardens are thoughtfully designed and meticulously cared for. A large collection of small succulents and dwarf Pelargoniums, some treated as bonsai specimens, adorn a greenhouse and some outdoor space around it. They give the appearance of easy care, but the urge to water them must be controlled. In the rock garden was a Vaccinum sp. from an island in SebagoLake, Maine-an interesting form (we took cuttings) as it is from a dry site. Also a dwarf (under 8") form of Lobelia syphilitica appeared in the garden-unknown to us and small enough for the bottom of the rock garden.

That evening we were invited to Bruce Lockhart's place. The pastoral view from the house, sheep pasture, orchards and vegetable garden is breathtaking. The rock garden on a gentle slope down to the meadow is in a large expansion. Very exciting, I can see an alpine meadow! We had a wonderful dinner fresh from the garden. Was it a 100-yard meal?

The next day began with a short detour to the Worcester garden of Matt Mattus and Joe Phillip. A large, impressive flower garden (with lilies still in bloom) spills out everywhere, but for me the main attraction was a South African tortoise tethered in the middle of a small piece of surviving lawn. He trims the turf to the correct height, and with his "turtle house", provides the perfect lawn ornament.


From there we left for the Connecticut Berkshires and Robin Magowan's house. I loved the natural outcrop of large stone in his rock garden, but something looked different. In between slabs he planted Saxifraga and Drabas, small gems in a heavier, stickier loam to prevent washout. It was most effective. I checked his many troughs. Wow! What's this? Campanula zoysii, the most choice slug food untouched. I check the pot...ouch!-It's volcanic rock. You are a wise man, Robin.

For unloading Robins new trough (~ 100 lb.), there was a smallish tractor available, but with more capacity than imagined. With Harvey operating it, and Robin directing, the bare trough was placed on 12 pieces of stone coursing brought along to elevate it to a height of about 30". We used a planting soil mix of 3 parts composted pine bark / 1 part sand / 1 part grit, with a large dash of SRC (Spanish River Carbonatite), a slow release rock powder we put in all our mixes now. Two large pieces of tufa that had been specially chosen to fit the trough and create an "elevated" planting were planted with Eritrichum howardii, Phyteuma comosum, Saxifraga x ''Jana', and Jankaea heldreichii. The cooler, wetter weather of this summer was very beneficial for the transplants. Robin kept appearing with more choice plants for the trough and I set them in around the edge until it was complete.

Next day we arrived at Susan Keiser's. She has large tufa rocks planted with Haberlea. Behind the house is a vast area with lichen-covered granite rocks and gravel mulch, awaiting more plants.

We left for the Rockefeller Center to see Susan's trough creations on the 3rd floor balcony. There were many large troughs with trees, shrubs, cacti and alpine plants. Susan has been planting here for 5 years. It looks so easy and beautiful. The Origanum hanging over the side can't be duplicated in a garden. On the South side of the balcony she grows cacti and dryland plants. I wonder what zone this is; there is a large clump of Ruschia, which is not hardy for us in zone 6, and then at the very top of the trough is Centaurea achtarovii. This is the fun part-to see our plants find such wonderful homes. What an oasis in a sea of concrete. I wonder if bees and butterflies find these flowers.

We were back at Robin and Juliet's the next day planting troughs, wining and dining; what a good life. But for visitors and fish, after 3 days it was time to head home!


Back home I looked at my soggy pots and couldn't believe this was the same place that didn't rain last summer. Campanula Mai Blyth looks stunning. The western Phlox are begging for sun and heat. Oh well you can't please everybody.

(Summer 2008)

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