It ain’t easy growing things on rocks

Janice Wells
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My column about crevice gardening prompted this letter:
“In outport N.L., you will find people making use of the ‘holes’ in the rocks. For instance, my sister in Moreton’s Harbour; her house is nestled on two sides by approx. 10-foot rock, in the crevices she has sedum growing, no additional soil needed. I once had a big old poplar tree in my garden with many holes in its trunk, so I put a little soil in each hole and had impatient flowers growing out of them. So I think there is more crevice gardening here on the island then you may realize. I have never tried the pot idea but will this summer. Interesting article and may inspire many to take another look at their surroundings.”
— KJ Payne

I don’t know what part of the province KJ Payne gardens in, but I’m sure he/she is right.

I do enjoy pictures that show gardener’s ingenuity and determination to adapt to our rugged natural landscape, and I’d love to have more of them just to prove that having a rocky landscape and little or no soil doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy gardening.

In fact, I’m sure there are really keen gardeners who wish they had a section of rocky landscape just so they’d get to try yet another form of gardening.

Whenever somebody asks me for advice about starting or improving a garden, one thing I always feel confident about is suggesting that they not try to turn the piece of land they have into something entirely different.

Of course, we’ve all seen astounding transformations, but beginners often don’t realize the amount of time, work and expense that can be involved in making the grass greener on your side of the fence.

Of course, that’s just an analogy. I’m not into lawns. But if you are, or if you want traditional perennial beds, at least two feet deep, and you have a property of rocks, shale, gravel or the like, then a lot of soil amendment or a lot of new soil is in your future.

If you can’t afford to hire help, so is a lot of back breaking work. And of course you can always get a little help from raised beds.

In my Sudbury Street garden, I had soil absolutely full of small rocks.

That is very different from having rocks with little or no soil. The former can be rectified with patience, a good soil sifter and soil additives like compost, peat moss or whatever you can get. I’ve known people who just bury their kitchen peelings deep in the soil and let nature do its thing.

The latter is a whole different kettle of fish, or garden of challenges, and not to be confused with a traditional rock garden.

I’m talking about swaths of exposed rock, natural, in situ, not large rocks placed on a slope to create pockets for plantings.

Some of these created rock garden manage to achieve a natural well-balanced appearance, but many end up looking like a bunch of rocks sitting on top of the soil, either because the rocks were too small for the site to begin with, or they simply weren’t buried deep enough to look as though they belonged there.

Personally, I haven’t had much luck growing things on rocks. I have a few bare spots of stone or concrete in the back and have tried Irish moss, Scotch moss, sedum and numerous thymes with little success.

I cannot figure out why thyme will not establish itself between the steps leading up to my back gate where there actually is some soil, when other people have trouble keeping thyme from covering everything up.

Maybe next year. I do keep trying.

P.S. In the previous column, the captions for the stony slope and crevice garden were transposed.

Janice Wells lives in St. John’s. Her latest book, “Newfoundland and Labrador Book of Musts,” was published in October 2010 by MacIntyre Purcell Publishing Inc. You can reach her at Note to readers: please do not send thumbnail-size photographs, as they are too small to publish.

Organizations: MacIntyre Purcell Publishing

Geographic location: Sudbury Street

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Recent comments

    February 03, 2014 - 16:10

    That is so beautiful,I've heard of people doing this but I've never tried it.My daughter has some rock gardens and they are pretty too.I will have to try this.Thank you for posting these pictures.