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Garden wisdom from deer country!

Gardening in the Sierra Foothills with Carolyn Singer

The seasoned gardener

published in The Union in Grass Valley CA

More information on soil preparation and mulching is detailed in Deer in My Garden, Vol.1: Perennials & Subshrubs and Deer in My Garden, Vol.2: Groundcovers & Edgers!

Teucrium cossonii ssp majoricum(Along the deer path)
Gardening on the Rocks

by Carolyn Singer
June 19, 2010

When the sun dips behind Sonntag Hill, I am often distracted by my rock garden as I walk through on the way to gather vegetables for my supper. A bench invites me to linger and honor the sunset even in winter.

This small garden, about 20 feet by 20 feet, is a marvelous collection of interesting plants, all with three cultural requirements in common: full sun, very little compost added to native rocky clay soil, and irrigation only once every three weeks during the dry summer months. All the perennials, bulbs, and ornamental grasses planted are deer-resistant.

Seventeen years ago this garden began with a backhoe (and a good friend to operate it), mixing the rocky native soil with some compost, rock phosphate, and oyster shell. Two mounded areas and one slightly more level were accessed by paths, and a few large rocks from my property were nestled into the soil.

Thymus herba-baronaFor years I had been collecting plants with similar cultural requirements. Some (Teucrium cossonii ssp. majoricum, trailing germander, photo above)preferred full hot sun and were placed on the south and west faces of the mounds. Others (Thymus herba-barona, caraway thyme, photo right) thrived in a cooler microclimate on the east side. And a few would tolerate the decided lack of light in winter on the north face of the taller mound.

Allium molyThe project has been a study in plants adapting to microclimates, and always this small garden has given me pleasure. I have played endlessly with adding more rocks, creating small dry-stacked rock walls, and always finding another place for small spring-flowering bulbs. One of my favorites is the June-blooming Allium moly, photo left, under eight inches in height.

CerastiumMany of the plants are easily found in local nurseries: varieties of creeping thyme, baby's breath, snow-in-summer (Cerastium, photo right), fescues, Santa Barbara daisy, cottage pinks, lavender, santolina, rosemary, and even germander. Others are more rare as I have collected from offerings of the North American Rock Garden Society, and jaunts to Pacific northwest nurseries where rock garden plants are more common.

Rock garden perennials could often be considered for use as groundcovers, but in this garden usually a single specimen is planted. A few more aggressive in their spread were introduced, but many are only two to three feet in spread, and some even smaller, accents rather than groundcovers. Contrasting leaves, flowers, and even form create an interesting garden for viewing closely. Most of the plants I have used in my rock garden are evergreen, so the winter garden is just as interesting as in the months of strong bloom.

If a plant does not adapt to the conditions of this garden, and does not thrive, it gets no special treatment (other than perhaps another rock or two added to shade it from the hot afternoon sun). Newly introduced plants need more frequent irrigation, but those that are browsed by the deer or struggle with limited irrigation in the second year are removed.

rock gardenCreating garden areas filled with a variety of interesting plants does not need to include rocks, but they can add interesting accents. A garden walk or entry walkway is a perfect place to play with a variety of smaller plants. Another possibility is near a patio or sitting area. In small gardens, plants should not overwhelm their neighbors, so placement according to the spread of each is important. This is an opportunity to enjoy the unique qualities of the individual and the artistic result of the whole.

©2009 by Carolyn Singer. All rights reserved.

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