The Rock Garden

Though I wrote the post some days ago I write this introduction from Montreal where I will be meeting up with the rest of the When Fashion and Nature Collide’ team. I arrived yesterday evening to be met by Dominique, was stuffed full of great Thai food and delivered to my accommodation with instructions to sleep off the jetlag. I have done this and sorted out my main priorities – making coffee and toast.

A few posts back I described the ‘protected’ parts of my garden, the greenhouse, frames and raised beds.

This time I want to talk about our rock garden. Here nothing gets extra protection and we have tried to create a habitat that will make alpine plants happy. Here we have been very lucky:

Our property is basically built on top of a huge heap of fractured limestone. The shallow soil on top of it is a very well drained silty loam with a pH of 7.7. And the garden slopes down to the West, with almost no shade. What this equates to is generally very good conditions for alpine plants, and also for Mediterranean plants ( we get little frost). Saxifrages seed themselves around. Normally tricky Daphne thrive (I stopped counting at 30 types of Daphne) and plants that put deep roots down into the cracks in the limestone absolutely love our garden – Peonies and Pulsatilla come to mind.

2018 really tested things. An arctic blast in late winter killed a few Mediterranean plants, then several hot months without rain really stressed some shallow rooted alpines. The downside of our garden in summers like that is the poor moisture retention of such well drained soil. That said, total losses were few, though some little alpine willows did die back partly.

Plants mentioned in my blog have often been those that I grow in pots. Partly because the rock garden was quite neglected until I overhauled it in summer 2017.

Another stroke of luck is the ready availability of stones – all of the stone you see in these pictures was dug up from within the garden, sometimes involving a crowbar.

The main rock garden surrounds a wildlife pond. It contains lots of plants and hundreds of newts. Susan saw an albino newt in the pond last week. If I can catch it I will take a photo.

Leading from the pond back up towards the house is our ‘dry stream bed’ which is a path using pebbles we found in the garden, winding between slightly raised flower beds. The spaces between the pebbles have been fantastic sites for planting alpine plants, some of which are self sown from the rock garden.


  1. My mom had a rock garden in Massachusetts, I never heard of anyone else having one until now!! Brings back beautiful memories, it’s where I learned to garden💚 She’s now 99, we sold her house last year but I have some of her ground phlox!!

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    1. Thank you! I think rock gardens are a very british thing, though these days there are gardeners in the rest of Europe that have taken it to the next level. The Czechs especially, with their crevice gardens. Japan also has a rock gardening tradition. There are some great ones in the US – Denver botanic gardens for example.
      I show a few ground phlox in my post and some do very well here in the UK. Those from the drier parts of the Rockies tend to hate our wet winters though.
      Like you I have plants in my garden that I treasure because they came from people now-deceased. It is a nice living memento. x

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  2. I may move my peony to the front bed where I have a lot of …oh dear, I don’t remember what you called them. Pulsatilla?? They have the most adorable seed heads afterwards!

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  3. I can’t believe I missed this post. Must be because I was having so much fun in Montreal with a certain Englishman! Your rock garden is lovely Darren. What is the name of the white flower with a purple center? And the plant shown in the last photo is beautiful too. Looks like a purple dandelion. Cool. Can’t wait to have more details about your exhibition in London.

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    1. Those Englishmen can be a terrible distraction😉💕
      The white flower with purple centre is Oxalis ‘Ute’ and the last picture is Globularia cordifolia. The Globularia looked half dead after our hot summer last year but has flowered better than ever this spring😊💕

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    1. Thank you Val💕
      That plant is Oxalis ‘Ute’. A variety or hybrid of Oxalis enneaphylla. It is available from a number of alpine nurseries in the uk. It is no trouble to grow here and I have it in troughs as well.

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  4. Such lucky plants to have you to take care for them! 😄 I’m absolutely fascinated by rock gardens, maybe because I love the visual contrast between a hard rock and a delicate flower coming out of it. I don’t have many alpine flowers though but have got myself an ‘Edelweiss’ (sorry, but I don’t know the English word for it) two weeks ago. Any tips on how to treat it? 💕

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    1. There is something very pleasing about a rock garden and I think you explained it well 🙂

      We call it Edelweiss too! It is not an easy plant for me but we grew it well for many years on our green roof which might offer a clue – lots of air and perfect drainage but moist at the roots (we lost ours last summer in the drought). Here it hates our mild wet winters. It might be happier with your colder ones.

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      1. So, lots of sun too for my edelweiss, I guess? Tell me about that drought last year – it was horrible! And I’m slightly afraid we might be headed for another this year as well. 😦

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        1. Yes, full sun if you can but shade at midday would not hurt it at the moment! This year we have had some rain here in may and june thankfully. Usually it rains anyway in july and august but we will see.

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          1. Thanks, Darren! 😀 Will keep my best to keep this plant alive! I’m usually not too bad at that but always a bit unsure when I get a new one that I hadn’t had before. 🙂

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