What brought us out to Stonecrop Gardens on Saturday morning? It was the garden's annual spring sale of all things alpine: charming and diminutive plants, hypertufa troughs, and tufa rock for sale. And of course, all this was decorated by the obsessive niche group who love this kind of gardening.
Kim, John and his friend Neil met me at the Foundry for breakfast in the little riverfront town of Cold Spring before heading out on route 301 to the garden. You'd pass the entrance unless you were intent on finding it.
Stonecrop is garden/home of Frank Cabot, founder of the Garden Conservancy. To grossly understate Cabot's many contributions to horticulture, he his perhaps most known for his work to protect America's stellar private gardens. Stonecrop Gardens is the model for what the Conservancy's goal is. Through the Conservancy, special gardens have been made accessible to the public through the Open Days program. Wherever you live in the United States, thanks to Frank, there is a private garden open near you.
Well, thankfully, Stonecrop is near me. I've been to the garden one and a half times before (do your self a favor and call ahead to check garden hours!), but never to attend the alpine plant sale they host there annually. Since being introduced to the underworld of alpines and their devotees (the Pinnacle Posse?), this was the first time I've seen so many of these little plants in person. My eyes were as big as the biggest Gentian I saw, but nowhere near as blue.
I was so overwhelmed by the names! So many genus I'd never heard of before, or had any clue what they would do once I planted them in my troughs. All I could do was allow my curiosity and reactions to guide my choices. How was I supposed to know which ones would naturally grow beside one another? In what kind of location? Crevasse? Scree? Do I treat a trough like a garden and attempt to achieve a long season of bloom, or stick to the spring explosion? Oy. You can see what was running through my head. John has been into this for some time now, and is much more knowledgeable than me; he encouraged me to just choose what I am attracted to. Great advice. I am psyched with what I chose, and I can't wait to get them situated! Kim got some plants that looked really nice together; can't wait to see how she arranges them. I am really excited to dig into these exciting new plants!
The troughs were amazing. Check it out:
This is a really interesting twist on planting rockery plants: plant them in rocks!
What about the textures that the Stonecrop trough builders were able to achieve?
This was my favorite; I just don't know how they did it! Doesn't it look like coral?
Tufa rock, already planted. This can be placed right into your trough as is. Insta-garden!
A little planting vignette:
These pieces of tufa are very porous and are basically more air than rock. Alpine plants grow exceptionally well in this media as their specialized roots find their way into these air pockets and adhere. How else is a teeny plant supposed to stay put on a windswept slope towering high above sea levels?
So after I put my little ones in the car, I went back out into the garden. The last time I was here it was late summer and raining. Today it was 80˚F, pure blue skies, and I'm armed with a bottle of water and my camera on this sunny spring day . . .
I walked up to a trough-making demo, and stopped to ask some questions. Steve, the superintendent of the garden, was packing Stonecrop's hypertufa mix into molds. He let me in on some of his experiences making troughs over the past 20 years.
Steve dyes his mix because the sun bleaches the troughs so quickly, that they end up looking like what they are: cement.
He uses a foam core to pack the mix around. His method is easier than what I've done, but is best suited for smaller troughs. The stick he uses to pack the mix eliminates any air pockets that may lead to cracking.
I love speaking with fellow gardeners: there are so many ways to do the same thing, each method more ingenious than the next. Thanks for taking the time, Steve!
Steve suggested I follow the path to the ledge garden by the pond. This was good advice.
Consider this good advice for anyone who is in and around the Hudson Valley. Go visit this garden gem! Not just a garden for alpines, Stonecrop encompasses a conservatory, alpine houses, perennial garden, woodland garden, and many charming elements are there to be experienced! Cheers!