ROCKY REFUGE

I used to carry a small crowbar in my car in case I saw one [rock] that needed relocation.”
—Linda Osborn White

 

interview NANCY GORDON
photography LYNN KARLIN

Photo: Linda Osborn White
Photo: Linda Osborn White
Photo: Linda Osborn White
Photo: Linda Osborn White
Photo: Linda Osborn White
Photo: Linda Osborn White
Photo: Linda Osborn White
Photo: Linda Osborn White
Photo: Linda Osborn White

Do you have a background in gardening?

No, I do not. Growing up, my mother always had a garden spot in our small city backyard. This gave her pleasure and she was rather creative with flower arranging. So, I was aware but not actively interested until I married and had a home. From that point on, I “headed down the garden path” with increasing speed!

What about the landscape said “rock garden”?

Your question makes me chuckle. First, because I live in Maine and Maine is full of rocks and I happen to LOVE rocks. (I used to carry a small crowbar in my car in case I saw one that needed relocation.) Second, the view out back is dominated by rocks around the “pit” and the pit has a rock foundation from an 1892 farmhouse that burned down in the 1970s, I am told. While rearranging a few rocks, we turned one over and found the cornerstone with “1892” engraved on it, just like new.

How was the pit created?

The pit was not created, it just happened to BE there. It was filled with debris mostly but also a couple of tires and a mattress and box spring. To add to the ambiance, there was a birch tree growing in the middle. The walls are comprised of mostly granite boulders and miscellaneous other rocks, which could not have been better for what I was thinking of starting. All around the perimeter were various-size rocks tossed about just waiting for something… or someone… to come along.

How did you go about planning this garden?

Other than thinking that “This pit I have would make, possibly or obviously, some kind of neat garden,” the planning was more of an evolutionary event. More or less at the same time, I wanted to turn a small outbuilding into a tiny guest cottage. With that in mind, I simply wanted to begin adding plantings around the perimeter amongst the scattered rocks. Since the building is about 15 feet from the entrance to the garden, I felt it would start to bring our stone garden to life to see cheery plants nestled there that my husband, Jay, and I could enjoy from the house. It would also give me a chance to get my feet wet finding what would work and what would not. I knew it would not happen overnight.

Did you do any excavating?

We shoveled an area approximately 10 x 10 feet and about 18–24 inches deep and lined it to create a pond. We did not bring in any rock. We used what we found that would work to create a step-like waterfall with the help of a young man who was able to move more quickly than we could. There are no fish but we do have a few frogs. The water feature is important but not the centerpiece. I think of it more as a way to complement the garden as a whole.

What part did your background in interior design play in the planning of this garden?

Since my degree is in French/Education, I would have to say I backed into landscaping the same way I backed into interior design. But unlike interior design, I had only two landscaping clients: Jay and myself. I thought about sunlight and shade, plant visibility, colors that appealed to us, the zone for our coastal area, etc. Because we had many visitors in our first summers here, we did a great deal of sightseeing and exploring. We visited as many open gardens as we could find. We also zeroed in on a number of local suppliers. Plus, I bought many beautiful gardening books. All of these components really fueled the fire. Placing plants, accent (aka movable) rocks, garden sculpture and other features were rather like furniture placement, hanging art and staging in an interior design sense. At any rate, that is what it felt like to me as I look back on it. To this day, I still enjoy every minute of it.

What are the three most important elements to consider when planning a rock garden?

I would say: Think about the site from different angles before bringing in any rock you cannot easily move, if you need to; consider the amount of sun, shade, soil, water and how that may change over time when trees and plants grow; think about a rock garden in the sun OR in the shade and don’t be afraid to move a plant or change your mind. Most of all… have FUN!

Did you build the rock sculptures?

Sort of… With help, we simply uprighted a piece of granite to create a post which marks the entrance to The Stone Garden. We made a small bench in one corner, by the pond, out of three pieces of stone. The large feature opposite the entrance—which we call The Pi because that is what it looks like—took the effort of two extra strong men. It turned out to be a convenient server for entertaining.

Tell us about your floral choices. Are there certain plant varieties that do better with rock than others?

Initially, I added a few winter-tolerant succulents, some perennial sundrops, a transplanted iris clump that needed to be divided. I tried an English boxwood as an evergreen anchor and it worked well. I saved areas up front for annuals and my two favorites are Felicia amelloides and English daisies. They are so lovely and sweet that I do not mind the deadheading to keep them blooming all summer and they add a lovely touch of blue, yellow and shades of pink with white.

Then I concentrated on perennials. I did put some lilies of the valley and white bleeding heart in a section that got a bit more shade near the large birch tree outside of the garden area, not the one that had voluntarily grown in the middle of the foundation floor. We removed
that one.

I found I needed to create a backdrop in the back of the perimeter mainly to create a stopping point for me. That area was more shady once the trees leafed out. I added blue rug juniper in a cluster that filled in and handled the slope well. Plus, I can keep it trimmed. I added a few Chionoides rhodedendron, which are manageable and bloom a lovely creamy white, and blue lace cap Hydrangea macrophylla on the other side of the blue rug. I have creeping phlox in pink, white and lavender for a blanket on the northwest slope. On the southeast side, I planted a yellow and an orange azalea where they are sheltered from the wind. They grow slowly but seem to like the spot and are a nice, delicate touch of color in late spring.

I used hostas to fill in with some fern as you descend to the floor. By the entrance post, I have creeping thyme as a carpet and tiny blue and white iris to the left of the brick path and a few mouse ears hostas on the right side at the three steps. I used campanula and armeria behind the post to have height but not much mass. I put some European ginger where the porch foundation had an opening. It can be temperamental depending on the particular summer weather, but I love the shiny leaves. Around the pond are ferns and hostas plus columbine and some barrenwort. The first few years, I tried a water iris in the pond but it didn’t bloom. On the wall sides, I used Solomon’s seal, wood poppy, hellebores, lungwort, pink cranesbill and primrose, which eventually lost out to the fern, as did a lady’s mantle.

What advice would you give someone who is interested in creating a new rock garden?

Don’t hesitate to give it a try, keeping in mind that rocks hold the heat and can be hard to move, as I said. Also, pay attention to key words, like “deadheading,” “heat tolerant,” “mulch in winter,” “deer resistant,” “self seeds” and “spreads easily.” But watch out for “can be invasive”! I love my anemones but I have to keep an eye on them or I would have only one plant in my garden.

In these photos, how old is the garden?

Because Jay and I did not move here permanently until 2016, it took
us about five years to feel we had reached a milestone. Of course, a garden is never really finished. I believe the garden is about six to seven years old.

What are the maintenance requirements for a rock garden?

For me, the garden is fairly easy to maintain. Select what you like, be fearless. Know your plants and set a routine as you go along for feeding, watering and checking for any disease or pests.

Your garden is gorgeous. How do you spend your time enjoying its beauty?

The one-word answer I am thinking is “weeding” but, truly, it is tending to it. We enjoy sitting on the deck or in the chairs in front of the cottage, with some liquid refreshment, on a cool Maine evening reflecting on how tickled we are when someone thinks it is worthy of a compliment.

. . .

Favorite ...
Comfort food and time of day or night you most enjoy eating it?
Since I am eating it right now, it is Campbell’s Tomato Bisque soup
and it's about 7:30 p.m. 

Previous StoryNext Story