You’d think, living in Newfoundland and Labrador, that anybody into gardening would know all about crevice gardening. Well, maybe all of you do, but until last summer, I’d never heard of it. Daughter No. 2 and I saw our first crevice gardens while on the Mystery Garden Tour.
The ones we saw were small, really cute and interesting. With a bit of research, I learned that they don’t have to be small at all.
MUN Botanical Garden has had one for a while. Its website informs us that “the crevice garden was constructed in 2009 with the help of a grant from the North American Rock Garden Society and donations from the Newfoundland Rock Garden Society and a supportive Friend of the Garden.
“A crevice garden is a specialized form of rock garden where the rocks are positioned, rather closely together, in a vertical pattern” continues the description. “This results in many narrow cracks or crevices. Small-stature alpines are planted between the cracks, where, over time, they will run, cascade and self-seed. These gardens are far more common in Europe, but slowly this style of rock gardening is spreading across North America. It enables more plants to be grown in a small area than conventional rock gardens.”
The MUN crevice garden features alpine plants from all over the world: European Alps, Asian Caucasus, Himalayas, Rocky Mountains, South African Drakensbergs and Patagonia Andes. There are also several native Newfoundland arctic-alpine species that call this garden home, including the rare and endangered endemic barrens willow, Salix jejuna.
Another description says that the larger crevice gardens are meant to give the impression of ancient rocky terrain that has cracked and eroded over the centuries, creating fissures and pockets where plants can grow. The cracks give a level of protection and the rock absorbs heat.
Why were we not on top of this crevice gardening ages ago?
Think of all the houses clinging to the sides of cliffs in outports all around the province. Think of the Battery. We should have been North American pioneers in crevice gardening.
We’ve all seen plants, even trees, growing out of cracks in seemingly solid rock. It occurs to me that this is a great example of the quintessential old Newfoundland trait of thinking that in order for something to be any good, it has to look like it came from somewhere else; our forefathers thought that “real” gardens should be created in the image of the ones left behind in the British Isles and passed that belief on.
Now I read about people actually jackhammering cracks in solid rock or even large slabs of concrete to create gaps where small plants will take root. Of course, our forefathers could never had grown their essential vegetables in a crevice garden, but, ornamentally, seeing the beauty in rock and learning how to use it sounds a lot easier than trying to turn your terrain into something it isn’t.
Some basic rules for creating a crevice garden are (if you don’t have natural outcroppings of stone to work with, or a jackhammer) to use flattish stones (flagstone, limestone or split layered granite, shale) and bury them on edge, if possible a couple of feet deep, flush to the ground, roughly parallel, or in a design to create narrow veins of soil. (Not too narrow; I can’t get anything to take hold between my patio blocks, except of course weeds). Don’t use good soil, but rather a dryish gravelly mix. Choose plants that grow slowly and don't need much water. You also want them to stay small because you don’t want them to cover the stone. Sedums are good, alpines, and some dwarf mounding plants.
A crevice garden can be an attractive alternative to terracing or retaining walls for grade changes in steep or sloping gardens, while providing an unusual environment for some different plants. In this case, I would think the stones would have to be set horizontally or on a slant.
Finding the stone shouldn’t be a problem.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Note to readers: please do not send thumbnail-size photographs, as they are too small to publish.