Watering a Rock Garden
Watering a rock garden is a matter of the utmost importance, which nevertheless is scarcely mentioned in rock garden literature. In England, of course, this is not so vital a matter as with us. With
less sun, more rain, and more moisture in the air, rock garden plants, especially alpines, are as apt to suffer from excessive moisture there as they are from lack of it here.
When speaking of the proper means of applying water, however, it is not in reference to either the watering can or a hose with the usual garden nozzle. The former takes too much time, and the litter applications water so quickly that it will begin to run on the surface before the soil is neat clear through.
But it is a simple matter to provide a mist like spray which will saturate the dirtest soil through and through without splattering mud on the smallest leaves or the most delicious blossoms, or causing the soil to run out from the most precarious rock crevices. There is a special type of greenhouse irrigation nozzle which applies the water in this fine mist like spray.
If this type of nozzle is substituted for the ordinary nozzles in a portable irrigating outfit, the rock garden can be watered with the utmost thoroughness and safety whenever necessary. Such a watering will last two or three times as long as one given with the ordinary watering can or hose nozzle.
Another option available is a short, brass tube fitted with a hose coupling at one end and one of these mist-throwing nozzles at the other-recommended for watering all fine seedlings or delicate plants. The hose, equipped with this nozzle attachment, may be supported in one position and left for a long time without any danger of overwatering.
For a large rock garden, however, a portable irrigating outfit of the nozzle-line type, with greenhouse nozzles in place of the ordinary garden or lawn nozzles, will be found the watering system par excellence. It is supported on metal rods which may be pushed down anywhere along the garden path or between outdoor statue without disturbing the growing plants and it may be set up or taken down in a few moments.
There is probably no question connected with rock gardening which is more of a bugaboo to the beginner than that of providing suitable soil, or soils, for the little friends whom he has invited into his garden and intends to do his best to make happy.
To read some of the works on this subject, the layman may easily get the impression that it is really necessary to provide each individual plant with a soil made up according to a special prescription! Nowhere in the whole broad field of gardening is "debunking" required more than here.
The secret of success with rock plants, so far as soil is concerned, is the old, old one of going back to nature and of taking a look at what she provides them with.
If you climb up a rocky mountain slope to the timberline, to the bleak and native haunt of the alpines, or search out most of the other rock plants and find where they grow as wildlings, the most obvious characteristic of the soils in which they grow is plainly to be noticed-it is exceptionally excellent drainage.
Drainage not of the subsoil-as we usually speak of it in connection with flower garden, orchard, or field-but quick and complete drainage of the surface. Often the clumps of leaves of the little plant, hugging the ground nearly as they must to preserve an existence, rest directly upon shale, gravel, splinters of rocks, or garden fountains.
Our first consideration in supplying a man-made soil for this class
of plants should be porosity, assuring not only good drainage as we ordinarily use the term, but the immediate escape of all surplus water to the lower soil levels.
If however, you attempt to pull up one of these tiny, and possibly rather frail-looking, denizens of the plant world, you get a sharp surprise. It is simply anchored fast, and will require much more effort to dislodge it than would many plants in your garden ten times its size.
In fact, if you could succeed in getting it out, roots and all-which would be extremely difficult-the most conspicuous thing about it would be the extreme length of the roots in proportion to the top. This would involve dredging up any soil, earth, rocks, or outdoor water features that may be obstructive access to the roots.
If you could follow to where the roots penetrate, you would discover an unsuspected degree of moisture in the stone-filled soil; for stones, in spite of their dry appearance, are among the most efficacious of moisture conservers. Thus, in addition to exceptional drainage, we must add to our analysis an abundant moisture supply.
If we inquire still further into the life secrets of these little plants, and attempt to seek out their food sources of sustenance, we immediately strike a rock, both figuratively and literally. Most of our common garden plants would starve to death in the soil in which they thrive.
Vice versa, many of these little plants can not long survive a diet of manure and fertilizers on which our garden plants grow lustily-although some of them, it must be confused, will take to the change like ducks to water. It is remarkable that a large supply of plant food, as we prepare it for our long domestic garden flowers and shrubs, is one of the things that is not essential for the class of plants under consideration.