Lee Valley Tools    Gardening Newsletter
   Vol. 7, Issue 5
   August 2012
   Starting a Scree Garden
  Scree garden in spring
  The author's scree garden in spring
The first garden I built in my urban backyard (Canadian hardiness zone 5a, American zone 4) was situated along a particularly troublesome, narrow strip of land on the south side of my home. I created a scree garden, sometimes called a rock, gravel or alpine garden. I prefer to call it my hour-a-year garden, as the time required to care for it is minimal, rock bottom really. A little raking and weeding each spring and fall is essentially all it takes. In return, it brings endless pleasure in a place where weeds were once rampant.

In mountainous regions, scree forms when eroded rocks gather below slopes or glaciers. Weather cycles gradually break down the rocks, and the result is a mixture of silt and stone. Tough, hardy, low-growing alpine plants thrive in these conditions. Gardeners attempt to reproduce these growing conditions artificially when they construct a scree garden. Initially, some grunt labor and a strong back (in my case, a husband who sometimes takes direction well) are required. A few costs are incurred too, such as replacing turf with stone and plants. The return, however, is well worth it.

Where to Begin
  Golden oregano
  Golden oregano grows amid the stones
Select a site, bearing in mind that it's best to avoid areas that receive little to no rainwater or that have poor drainage. Tough as alpine plants are, they will wither without water and drown in wet conditions. Avoid situating the garden on a steep slope where the plants could get washed away. A scree garden does best in sun or semi-shade and it needs to receive some rainfall throughout the gardening season to survive.

Getting started is easy. Use a garden hose (most are pretty flexible) to outline the exact shape you want. The hard part of the job is removing about 30cm (1') of existing sod and soil. Any buried stone can stay in place. Measurements need not be too precise, since these plants are hardy. Spread about 10cm (4") of soil or garden compost over the bottom of the site. Over this, spread an even amount of stone. Using screened 1/4" to 1/2" gravel or stone is best. Unscreened gravel, used in sidewalk and driveway construction, can impede drainage due to the fine material (clay, etc.) found in it in addition to larger rocks. Gravel from a local quarry will look more natural than expensive, imported stone. For my garden, I brought in small grey river rock.

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