Rock Gardens forum: Identity Crisis--What is a Rock Garden? A Polemic

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Name: Dirt
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dirtdorphins
Jan 31, 2016 3:16 PM CST
Leftwood said:It would depend on your definition of "rock garden." An arboretum's interpretation would be its truest sense, meaning alpine terrain and/or the harsh conditions that accompany it. They might even go as far as disallowing hybrids.


dirtdorphins said:Ah yes...well, fortunately my definition of my rock garden is whatever I want it to be Hilarious! as long as it includes rocks and plants that please me, it qualifies as my rock garden(s)

Personally, I wish the truest sense of a rock garden wasn't limited to and defined as "alpine", by anybody--perhaps because I am in the freaking desert? yeah maybe--but seriously, we have some dang hash conditions here and many spectacular rock gardens sans alpines, even at the arboretums. I don't see why there can't be a modifier, if the general term is going to have a definition or a truest sense that it must stick to--like alpine rock garden vs desert rock garden. It would make a lot more sense to me that way, rather than defining a rock garden as strictly alpine and also forcing a small scale.

Words matter. Who is the Académie française of rock gardens? How do I join?



Leftwood said:

An arboretum's interpretation would be its truest sense, meaning alpine terrain and/or the harsh conditions that accompany it. [alpine terrain].


That could certainly include the deserts of Utah, and many other ecosystems, too. And for instance, there are a lot of quintessential high alpine plants in the European Alps that grow in low elevations in Scandinavia, and sometimes the same plants that grow on the Appalachian mountain tops also grow at sea level in Labrador. I'm not sure what the problem is here. Why can't there be a "truest sense of a word" and a "more all-encompassing sense" of the same word?

No one said that the truest sense of any word "must be stuck to" in every case. But regarding an arboretum's view, what would be the point of not teaching what alpine garden is, and lumping it with any garden with rocks? Is it not their responsibility to teach what is correct, rather than to bow to what the general population seems think is right?

Example: Most everyone thinks that acorns, pecans, peaunts and almonds are nuts. Should the opportunity arise, is it not an arboretum's duty to point out that acorns and pecans are actually nuts, but peanuts and almonds are actually seeds and not nuts? Should we change the definition of what a true nut is? Certainly not! Does that mean that we must launch a campaign to thwart every instance of true nut misnomers? Also, certainly not. The multiple meanings coexist, along with the knowledge that there is a difference.

Example: I go to a Knitting Class to learn how to knit. However, I then find that the teacher is actually teaching how to crochet. She explains that her definition of "knitting" includes crocheting, and I should shut up and sit down. Who is right? It is true that most people don't realize the difference between knitting and crocheting, but should that have an influence on the true meaning of "knitting"? Does that mean the teacher is right?

People are free to call any evergreen tree a pine tree (most do), but we know there is a difference between pines and spruces, and firs, and arborvitae, etc. Technically, these people are wrong, but it's an acceptable misnomer in most cases, and no one makes a fuss. But it would be wrong for an arboretum to embrace such unclarity.

It is my contention that any teaching institution, like an arboretum, has an obligation to imbue definitive instruction, and not ambiguous nomenclature. This could still include the many forms that rock gardening embraces in a larger sense, but the distinction between them would need to be explained.
Name: Dirt
(Zone 5b)
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dirtdorphins
Jan 31, 2016 3:17 PM CST
Wow Blinking
Although I can read your post as a sort of peacekeeping effort to be more inclusive on the one hand, the meta-message is clear.

Words do matter, but it might just be the attitudes they come with, or that which drives and forms them, that bother me more than anything else.

Specifically, regarding rock gardening, it is the sanctimonious, exclusive, elitist, and snobbish way in which the generic and general term "rock garden" has been co-opted and exalted to mean alpine garden/alpine terrain, necessitating distinction, explanation, and correction on the various other (intimated lower) forms of gardening with rocks for the ignorant general public by those erudite breathers of rare and superior alpine air that precludes my participation.

True story Rick: your posts at NARGS talking about all the nice, but ignorant, "general public" type gardeners at ATP is what led me here and away from there Rolling on the floor laughing likely to the delight of all the purists!

edited to add:
Thank You! I love it here--it is a much better fit for me and my appreciation for all kinds of plants and types of gardens
[Last edited by dirtdorphins - Feb 4, 2016 1:53 PM (+)]
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Name: Dirt
(Zone 5b)
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dirtdorphins
Jan 31, 2016 3:17 PM CST
Dyck Arboretum of the Plains
http://dyckarboretum.org/rock-gardens/
omg, this must be a terrible arboretum because they are not fulfilling their obligation to properly educate people about the truest sense of the term 'rock garden', in fact, they've got it all 'wrong'!

South Seattle College’s Arboretum, Coenosium Rock Garden
http://www.westseattleherald.com/sites/robinsonpapers.com/fi...
http://www.northwestgardennews.com/sitebuildercontent/sitebu...
here we have an actual educational institution and an arboretum, and again they have the wrong idea of what a rock garden is--how dare they call this a rock garden--it is, after all, just trees and shrubs with rocks...right?

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/a/a8/Da...
"Daisen-ji, a smaller temple in the complex is recognized for its rock garden, which closely resembles those found in China. Thought by scholars to represent the metaphorical journey of life, Daisen-ji’s rock garden includes two cone shaped hills of white gravel and a number of smaller landscaped arrangements. Beginning with a cluster of rocks, this waterfall is believed to signify birth, the waterfall then leads into two gravel rivers, scattered with large boulders denoting life’s obstacles. Finally leading to a bed of raked pebbles, the metaphorical rivers flow into an open ocean, signifying the end of life."

I would think that if any subset of the rock garden continuum could get away with sanctimoniously co-opting the term "rock garden" and making it their own, excluding other forms/requiring specifiers, modifiers, distinctions, etc., that it would be these types of gardens which are all about the rocks. I have never encountered that, though. Maybe in Japan they call everything else by modifiers like European rock gardens or western rock gardens or non-zen gardens Shrug! Around here, the spiritual rock gardens just go by their individual names and nobody ever says that rock gardens must be spiritual and have names.

some more rock gardens--
Wallace Gardens prior to relocation to Boyce Thompson Arboretum
http://logansimpson.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/BTA_2.jpg
http://logansimpson.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/BTA_3.jpg
Coastal Maine Botanical Garden
http://www.gardenvisit.com/uploads/image/image/178/17886/coa...
New York Botanical Garden
https://c2.staticflickr.com/4/3002/3011386712_a13fccc7ec_b.j...
http://www.nybg.org/gardens/rock-garden/
New Zealand Botanical Garden
http://photos1.blogger.com/hello/209/6374/1024/Ch-59.jpg
South Africa, Karoo National Botanic Garden
https://dreersouthafrica.files.wordpress.com/2014/09/dsc_068...

Interestingly enough, most/many of the world's botanical gardens do have areas designated as rock gardens, featuring rocks and plants, and the variety is astounding. The rock gardens are not all about alpine terrain and/or the harsh conditions that accompany alpine terrain and the plants are not all alpines.

Here's the thing--either they all bow to whatever the general population seems to think is right, abandoning their responsibility to teach what is correct, or it's not correct that rock gardens are alpine gardens.

The ability of a botanical garden to successfully supply the harsh conditions that accompany alpine terrain and grow alpine plants is dictated more by the garden's location and environment than anything else. In fact, some of the most famous botanical garden's alpine plant collections are still grown in pots in alpine houses rather than the rock garden.
http://www.rbge.org.uk/the-gardens/edinburgh/garden-features...
And, many botanical gardens don't even bother with alpine plants at all.
http://bloomingrock.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/Desert_Bo...
https://pbs.twimg.com/media/CQU4ispUsAASsZ7.jpg

Of course, some do seem to have it all, but even they acknowledge that alpine gardens are a subset of rock gardens --
from a review of the best, must-visit botanic gardens:
"Denver Botanic Gardens, Denver, Colo.
Worth a visit because: This internationally acclaimed garden is a premier example of the art of rock gardening.
Description: There are more than 500 tons of rock and 2,300 species of plants in the garden. The rock placements provide habitats similar to more than a dozen different environments based on slope, soil type, moisture and exposure and serve as a testing ground for many uncommon Southwestern plants. The Alpine plant collection recently achieved national status and is now part of the North American Plant Collections Consortium. Succulent collections can be seen in the Dryland Mesa and include cacti, yucca and other xeric plants. The garden does not get any supplemental watering except during severe drought. Another garden showcasing xeric plants with limited watering is the WaterSmart Garden."

In summary,
While I do understand and can appreciate the widely held belief that alpine gardening is perhaps the pinnacle of rock gardening in general (when it is actually done in the rock garden), I vehemently disagree that it is the definition of, and standard of, rock gardening in general --by fiat, or by any number of respected international Alpine Society cults' decree(s).

So, the upshot of this Polemic is: This Rock Garden forum on ATP should be, and is, open to those who define rock gardens more broadly - like the ecumenical DBG mecca of rock gardening. This might be tough on the elitists (alpine gardeners), but it more broadly serves the ATP community - and would promote a better, more open sense of community - and more discussions all together.
I, for one, have been thoroughly discouraged and dissuaded in sharing and discussing my rock gardens in this forum because they don't meet the narrow definition and standard of alpines in aesthetically natural alpine terrain, notwithstanding the few alpines tucked here and there, and I've detected the unpleasant sense of disapproval --intentional or not-- because of this.
No More!
We have so much more unexpressed potential here--
It is high time for those of us who garden with rocks (and in my case, at the base of a big rock, calving rocks onto the rock rubble pile on which I live; whatever, I am a rock gardener Hilarious! ) regardless of how tall our perennials might get, to share the joys and sorrows of rock gardening in all of its many forms.

Thumb of 2016-01-31/dirtdorphins/2024be

Name: Jennifer
48036 MI (Zone 6b)
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jvdubb
Jan 31, 2016 4:12 PM CST
Dirt please feel comfortable here! When I think of rock gardens YOURS are the first that come to mind for me!
Name: Jennifer
48036 MI (Zone 6b)
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Hummingbirder Sedums Winter Sowing Peonies Region: Michigan Garden Ideas: Level 2
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jvdubb
Jan 31, 2016 4:17 PM CST
I should add that I'm a bit reticent to participate in the rock garden forum because my "rock gardens" are basically big dirt mounds with some rocks in them.
Name: Cinda
Indiana Zone 5b
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gardengus
Jan 31, 2016 5:29 PM CST
My Grandmother had a beautiful rock garden that only included rocks. She would have never even thought of putting plants in her ''rock garden'' although she had some beautiful flower gardens.

I have been watching this forum from onset and it appears that almost all the rock gardens here do not represent the one category(alpine) you have mentioned.

I think there is plenty of room for ALL types of gardeners and gardens here at ATP.

My rock garden consists of the plants that will grow in a pile of river rock and fieldstones the previous owners left and I have neither the time nor energy to remove the stones so I made a garden among them.

Dirt, your photos are beautiful and I have been inspired by your garden Thumbs up
Keep on posting Smiling
Keep believing ,hoping,and loving
all else is just existing.
Name: Jeanie
Minnesota (Zone 4a)
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foraygardengirl
Jan 31, 2016 5:54 PM CST
My 2 cents worth... If rock garden purists wish to stick to purely alpine plants, that is certainly fine. If some gardeners have a less restrictive definition and post accordingly, that is fine too. It seems to me that the culture and climate at ATP is generally one of acceptance and encouragement, which is the reason I enjoy and participate in this site. We gardeners are at all different levels and abilities and are here to help one another and share our love of gardening. I hope it stays that way. And Dirt, your gardens are so extraordinarily beautiful that I think you have earned the right to label them in any way you see fit.
:+:+:+:+:+:+:+:+:
Old gardeners never die. They are just pruned and repotted.
Name: Dirt
(Zone 5b)
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dirtdorphins
Jan 31, 2016 7:56 PM CST
Jennifer, Cinda, Jeanie thank you!

No worries--I'm good--and I fully intend to come back into the rock garden forum ...maybe start a new thread like 'Hmm...what to do with piles of rocks and dirt' or something, so we can explore the ideas of gardening with rocks more. I do have a pile of really bad dirt and rocks still languishing in the driveway...it grew sunflowers last year disguising the garage Hilarious! something must be done Rolling my eyes.
I'm hoping that any and all who have been reluctant to play around in the rock garden arena, for whatever reasons, might join in for fun.

And, it's really not right that my rock gardens come to mind *Blush* all ya all need to get yours in there for sure!
Tell you what--I'll even run around town and and sneak a few pictures of other people's rock piles--necessity is the mother of invention--everybody does something a little bit different Smiling

Cinda, do you have any pics of your grandmother's rock garden?

(Jeanie, Hilarious! I have the right the right to label my gardens even when they are not beautiful. Although, some of the labels I come up with are not very charming, they suit the gardens alright)
Name: Jeanie
Minnesota (Zone 4a)
Replace your lawn with a garden!
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foraygardengirl
Jan 31, 2016 9:06 PM CST
Thumbs up
:+:+:+:+:+:+:+:+:
Old gardeners never die. They are just pruned and repotted.
Name: Caroline Scott
Calgary (Zone 4a)
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CarolineScott
Feb 1, 2016 9:02 AM CST
A rock garden is whatever the maker of that garden wants it to be.
Mine is rocks with plants including peonies and wildflowers !

"I love my Rock Garden----
so far none have died"

Name: Karen
NM , AZ (Zone 7b)
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plantmanager
Feb 1, 2016 12:55 PM CST
Mine is rocks with cacti and succulents. I still call it my Rock Garden. Green Grin!
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Name: Mary Stella
Anchorage, AK (Zone 4b)
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Oberon46
Feb 1, 2016 4:28 PM CST
Since I am new to rock gardens, only working in the botanical garden's RC here in Anchorage, I am going to focus on alpines. At least I will try. A new type of gardening for me. So the first step is to gather rocks, eh?? Hmmm, even I can do that. Rolling on the floor laughing
"What a person needs in gardening is a cast iron back with a hinge in it" Charles Dudley Warner (spelling edited by Dinu lol)
Name: Dirt
(Zone 5b)
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dirtdorphins
Feb 1, 2016 10:18 PM CST
I have coined a new qualifier term for my rock gardening--I'm going to call it Anarcho-Cottage-Rock-Gardening (for the bees!)
because that's about what it is Hilarious!
a little bit of everything Smiling no strict commitment to alpines only or wildflowers only or xeriscaping only or fruits and veggies and herbs only or roses and vines and border perennials only or rocks of just one kind


Mary Stella, Anchorage should be a very fine place for alpines Thumbs up
How's your drainage?
That might be the first step for your quest to grow the alpines, quoting Lori--she knows!
growitall said:
... it is really soil conditions (drainage and lean, mineral soil ), rather than the presence of rocks, that allows what are thought of as "rock garden" species to grow and maintain their forms... lots more about this in the other threads here.


just for grins, here is an interesting blog post from the current president of NARGS confirming that alpine gardening really isn't about the rocks per se
http://www.growingwithplants.com/2015/04/rock-gardening-soci...
Name: Mary Stella
Anchorage, AK (Zone 4b)
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Oberon46
Feb 2, 2016 10:11 AM CST
I just read the entire article. Really interesting. The local president of our rock garden group (or maybe it is the alpine plant group lol) said the same thing. Attend meetings, workshops, go on outings. That is the best way to learn. Our botanical garden built 18 new hyper-tufa troughs last year and I spent a very cold wet fall documenting each trough, what was in it, taking pictures both of the entire trough then each plant, then entering them into IrisBG - our plant inventory. I even built a garden cart (or rather added infrastructure to an existing cart to cover it is visqueen so I could carry all my note books, cameras, hand held that uploads from IrisBG, tags created from IrisBG, legs to place them - what ever. I needed someplace to have this stuff out of the rain. I just bundled up in raincoat and carried on. It was great. Just before freeze up they added a wall perpendicular to the new troughs that will also have rock garden plants. We have a long real tufa mound further on and three little hillocks. Nothing like the fancy places 'outside' but still they hold the most interesting plants. Any way. Obviously I could go on forever with what was done in the past, what we are doing now to fix the results of some years of neglect, and what our future plans are. I am just a volunteer (3 hours a day three days a week - except when I am totally engaged and forget the 3 hour thing Hilarious! ) and have to control my impulses to think I have any vote in how things are done but I am so privileged to be a part of this garden.
"What a person needs in gardening is a cast iron back with a hinge in it" Charles Dudley Warner (spelling edited by Dinu lol)
Name: Cinda
Indiana Zone 5b
Dances with Dirt
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gardengus
Feb 2, 2016 4:07 PM CST
Sounds like a great undertaking , I bet you are excited for spring Smiling

Is the garden a public garden? If so do you have a few photos?

If so would you consider posting in the forum for public gardens photo-tour.
Maybe a link to their website Smiling so we could look at your garden.
I enjoy looking at gardens I may never get to see in person

Thank you
Cinda
Keep believing ,hoping,and loving
all else is just existing.
Name: Dirt
(Zone 5b)
Plant Lover: Loves 'em all! Garden Photography Bee Lover Region: Utah Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Celebrating Gardening: 2015
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dirtdorphins
Feb 2, 2016 11:11 PM CST
great undertaking indeed Thumbs up
and I would love to see pics too Mary Stella!


http://www.srgc.org.uk/logs/logdir/2015Nov261448562891IRG71N...
here is an outstanding garden that I will not see in person and a very nice tribute to Ota Vlasák

Name: Jennifer
48036 MI (Zone 6b)
Cottage Gardener Houseplants Spiders! Heucheras Frogs and Toads Dahlias
Hummingbirder Sedums Winter Sowing Peonies Region: Michigan Garden Ideas: Level 2
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jvdubb
Feb 3, 2016 7:54 AM CST
Dirt thank you for that link. That was a very enlightening read.
Name: Mary Stella
Anchorage, AK (Zone 4b)
Peonies Ponds Dahlias Canning and food preservation Lilies Permaculture
Garden Ideas: Level 2
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Oberon46
Feb 3, 2016 9:28 AM CST
the Alaska Botanical Garden is where I volunteer. I have tons of pictures. Just can't remember if I have any on my computer or if I transferred them all to ABG. Sometimes the hand held that uplinks to the IrisBG database doesn't take such hot pictures so I doubled up and took a picture (as well as gps coordinates) with their devise, then a picture with mine. I can just dump to a thumb drive at ABG as I put them all in a folder so I could go to Iris, then confirm which pics I wanted to transfer from the folder to the database. None of the pictures have flowers though. But the troughs are really interesting to see.

I also read the article. Great read and the pictures are gorgeous. Thanks so much
"What a person needs in gardening is a cast iron back with a hinge in it" Charles Dudley Warner (spelling edited by Dinu lol)
[Last edited by Oberon46 - Feb 3, 2016 9:50 AM (+)]
Give a thumbs up | Quote | Post #1050034 (18)
Name: Caroline Scott
Calgary (Zone 4a)
Charter ATP Member Region: Canadian Bulbs Winter Sowing Enjoys or suffers cold winters Lilies
Peonies Plant Lover: Loves 'em all! Garden Ideas: Master Level
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CarolineScott
Feb 3, 2016 12:11 PM CST
Thank you for the article.
The pictures are amazing and inspiring!
Name: Dirt
(Zone 5b)
Plant Lover: Loves 'em all! Garden Photography Bee Lover Region: Utah Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Celebrating Gardening: 2015
Photo Contest Winner: 2015
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dirtdorphins
Feb 3, 2016 9:28 PM CST
Thumbs up Yeah, amazing Lovey dubby
Just one great example of many, very impressive rock gardens and the masters who create and tend them!
Hence the chasm between a rock garden and a garden with rocks Sighing!

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