We are lucky to have articles in our January 2016 newsletter from two of our inaugural members. This one is from Frank Rhodes.
‘What’s Missing is Cows’
by Frank Rhodes
Middle aged rockeries (is 40 middle aged for a rockery?) are a source of delight, more so for the owner than the visitor. The visitor just sees the present, while the owner sees the past, and the future as well. Passing over the ephemeral plants which never really thrived, there are the ones which developed from small to mature plants, and then either died or were removed. I can still see the three dwarf conifers which I planted to create a framework for a new rockery bed, which quickly attained giant proportions, and had to be removed; and the Daphne cneorum which gave a wonderful show for many years and then faded away. Some plants are an ever present reminder of their ability to set seed – for example, the special muscari, which quickly reverted, and now threaten to overwhelm everything else with their exuberant leaves, winter and summer. That is an ongoing battle.
But the future is the most fun. The robust plants spreading over more delicate neighbours will have to be cut back, and cuttings taken. Some patches are overgrown while others are empty, with lots of opportunities for new plants – if only I could get them established. While most of the established plants flourish, it has become harder over the years to introduce new plants. Chemical fertilisers and top dressings with compost have not helped much. The soil is clearly tired after 40 years with no digging, though no one digs the alpine meadows or the rocky slopes. While sitting contemplating my mini alpine scene, I realised that one thing was missing – cows, and their droppings!
Cows, complete with bells, would do more harm than good on my small rockery, but bags of well-rotted farmyard manure are now readily available in garden centres. I started sprinkling a little onto the rockery in the autumn, and the results are already beginning to show, with the plants showing better colour and vigour. The manure looks rather odd sitting on top of the limestone chippings, but the winter rains will wash it in. I will have to be careful not to overdo it, and force the plants out of character; but better have them a bit too robust than sulking and dying. F.R