My rock garden, a cautionary tale.

It isn’t a real rock garden, in the sense that rocks were placed there on purpose for effect. It used to be a honkingly huge shrub bed, badly overgrown with ugly yews, five-foot-tall cotoneasters and a vigorous stand of invasive buckthorn. We decided to pay a landscaping company a tidy sum to dig out all the ugly shrubbery, remove the hideous volcanic rock and landscaping cloth beneath, take out the rotting railroad ties surrounding it, and create a rounded raised planting bed that I could fill with all manner of pretty things.


It didn’t take long to figure out something was amiss. I had to call the landscapers back twice—once to remove enormous rootballs from a couple of shrubs that remained just below the layer of nice new topsoil, and again to get them to repair a gaping hole left in our composite siding when they removed a scrubby pine inexplicably planted rightnexttothehouse. (They argued about that one, but eventually fixed it—two months later.) They removed the offending roots without much of a fuss, but the biggest surprise was yet to come. Once I actually started planting, I realized they hadn’t removed any of the volcanic rock. I couldn’t poke a trowel in deeper than in inch without hearing the sickening clink of metal on stone.

After doing battle with them over the root balls and the siding—and with spring edging into summer—I just wanted to get some stuff planted. How bad could it be, really?

I decided to stick with tough, never-fail annuals like marigolds and zinnias, plants that shouldn’t be discouraged by a few crummy rocks. They bloomed, for the most part, but never spread beyond their landscaping-pot size, so the bed always looked patchy. I planted three shrub roses at the back of the bed; they produced a grand total of three roses, two of which flowered for exactly one day before the deer found them. This year, all the roses are dead.

Last summer, I got smart and took buckets and coffee cans with me every time I planted something. And every time my trowel hit a rock, I dug it out and threw it into the bucket. I filled lots of buckets. The garden bed still looked like crap.

There is one bright spot, though. Our former neighbor Alice, who talked me through many travails in my first garden, once told me that when she started gardening, she was so clueless that she planted daylilies in gravel. And they came up. Hmm. I have a wildly overgrown daylily bed in the back yard, so I divided them and planted a bunch on either side of the rocky bed. And you know what? They’re coming up like troupers. They aren’t the prettiest cultivars—they’re the orange ones we always called ditch lilies as kids. But dammit, they’re growing. It’s a start.

Posted on Wednesday, April 7th, 2010 at 7:13 pm. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

There are 4 comments on this post.

  1. Thomas says:


    You can never go wrong with daffodils — I wandered lonely as a cloud, drifting gently o’re dale and hill. Wordsworth, you know.

    Posted at April 8th, 2010 at 2:27 pm

  2. tt says:

    Thomas, I do know. (How could I forget, after hearing you recite that poem about a million times?) Daffodils are at the top of my list for planting this fall. Then I just have to figure out something else to plant around them. This spot is too sunny for hostas.

    Posted at April 8th, 2010 at 6:11 pm

  3. Thomas says:

    Tulips. We have Dafs and Tulips in the same spot. Just as the Dafs begin to wane, the Tulips wax.

    Posted at April 9th, 2010 at 4:06 pm

  4. tt says:

    Yes, tulips…but I also need something really sturdy and tough that will stand up to rocky soil and salt (the bed is close to the street, which means tons of salt ends up on it thanks to our brutal winters–and provide some long-lasting summer color. I’d like to try some smaller coreopsis. Anybody know how those stand up to salt?

    Posted at April 9th, 2010 at 6:44 pm

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