Made the rock garden, now what should I grow?

Submitted by Open on Thu, 11/24/2011 - 11:05

Hi, this is my first post, so hope it doesn't sound too naff.
I have just 'finished' construction of my first rock garden. I've been growing plants for years with only moderate success, but now I have come to live in central-western France (Poitou-Charentes) from wet and cold Belfast. Here I have a large but fairly flat garden. It is atop a limestone hill and my rock garden is about 20ft by 6 ft with a drop of about 18".
The climate here is ... well about zone 8. Dry and sunny, and sometimes very hot, summers. Winters also fairly dry during the coldest months. Min winter temperature between -10oC & -15oC but I guess it could be colder in a bad winter. Late autumns (falls) and springs can be quite wet.
The soil is chalky, but not dreadfully alkaline - I guess about pH 7.5 - 7.8. The soil mix to the rock garden is ~ 40% grit, and smaller quantities of compost, topsoil and sand.
As a gardener, I am not all that clever, but I have learned how to germinate a wide variety of types of plants, and, now I have got used to the strength of the sun here, I should be able to get more of them to survive.
My question is simply could members kindly suggest plants that are not too challenging (but not too 'bog-standard') that I might be well advised to try growing. I only really like growing plants from seed as a) then I can think of them as 'all my own work' and b) French garden centres and nurseries are truly pathetic in the range of plants that they offer... at dazzlingly inflated prices - unless they are petunias or pelargoniums!
I already intend to try to grow some of the following well-known genera.. primula, pulsatilla, gentiana, allium, lewisia, campanula, dodecatheon, but would much appreciate hearing of your own favorites that might be within reach of my skills.
I intend to cover rain-shy plants with glass sheets, though I might try constructing a series of plastic tents to keep out winter wet if that seems feasible.
So... over to you...


Submitted by Weiser on Thu, 11/24/2011 - 12:27

I wish I could offer you the advice, you are looking for, but I grow mostly Desert plants. I'm sure you will receive good advice from other gardeners.(there are a lot of great ones in this group) Feel free to join in on the discussions.

Submitted by Mark McD on Thu, 11/24/2011 - 12:42

Mike, welcome to the NARGS Forum!  From your introduction, the list of plant groups you're interested in sound just right for rock gardening, and there are many other plant genera to temp one's senses, such as Draba, Phlox, Penstemon, Erigeron, small bulbs, etc. Your climate in France will probably prove most amenable to growing a wide variety of plants.

Of course, for me you struck a nerve with Allium, a personal life-long pursuit, but plants are too wonderfully varied to stay stuck just on one genus, and i tend to like everything, oh brother! ;)

Looking forward to hearing more about your garden interests in your new climate. :)

Submitted by Tim Ingram on Thu, 11/24/2011 - 15:00

Mike - I am very keen on sand beds (but you sound to have really well drained soil already) and have written quite a bit about what I grow on the AGS website. I cover plants with glass lights over winter and this gives the chance to grow a much greater range of plants! A long way from you but well worth a visit if you are able is the Jardin d'en Face at La Ville aux Monniers (hope I've got that right) near St. Malo (and Pleurtuit). This nursery does grow a great range of plants (especially for dryish climates), but more to the point Jean-Pierre Jolivot has superb contacts with some of the best specialist nurseries across France, and in the past has organised some wonderful plant shows (I have to say this since I used to go to them!). One of his nursery friends was a old gentleman, Jean Poligne, a veteran of the Algerian campaigns, who was captivated by the alpine plants of North Africa and ran probably one of the very few alpine nurseries in France. However, he was quite elderly when I met him so I am unsure if the nursery is still going. Bonne chance with your garden!

Submitted by IMYoung on Fri, 11/25/2011 - 06:36

Hi Mike, sounds like you've made a climatically sensible move...... warm France is a tempting prospect from these islands ( I'm in N.E. Scotland!)  8)

The Scottish Rock Garden Club has a goodly number of members living in France so there may be some help for you to be found in the SRGC forum, too:
Some are even nursery folks.... growing much more interesting things than petunias!! ;)

There is also... if you feel that  your new country is really something you want to embrace, the French Plant Passion forum    which has areas dedicated to all sorts of plants.

All sorts of sources of friendly help and advice.... you've made a great start by posting here...... I'll be watching the advice given very carefully... the sun is out here at the moment.... but if the season continues in the dark damp way it has been lately... I may be packing my bags and heading south!

Maggi Young

Submitted by RickR on Fri, 11/25/2011 - 19:23

Hello Mike!  
Among the many possibilities, there are many members of the Iris family that ought to do well for you.  I am not knowledgeable about your zone, as I live in a much colder zone 4, but besides your French native, Iris lutescens, you might try these:
Iris suaveolens
Iris attica

Onco iris
Regelia iris
Gladiolus species

While I have read that the aril irises (Onco and Regalia) can be difficult to germinate, Iris suaveolens and I. lutescens has been quite easy for me, but I find more seeds emerge in the second season than the first.

Some gladiolus seeds germinate easily for me, like G. flannaganii and G. atroviolaceus, while others more difficult.

Submitted by Open on Mon, 12/12/2011 - 06:32

Thank you all for your contributions and support. Have been offline for a while due to non-life-threatening disaster which led to my car being stranded 120 miles away in Bordeaux.

@ RickR - yes Iris would be nice. I collected seed of Iris lutescens in L'Aude but no germination as yet.  :(  I have seedlings of I milesii and I sibirica.

@ IMYoung - I came from living in Belfast... one of the most dismal climates in the UK. I went once or twice on My French isn't bad, but more techincal things often give me problems.

@Tim Ingram - I want to stick to growing from seed for a while - especially as to go to garden centres in the further places is incredibly expensive as France is an enormous country.

@ McDonagh - That's a nice list - have started germinating a mixed bag of Penstemon seeds... and have seedlings of P smallii & P palmeri. Am thinking of having a Penstemon raised bed separate from the current construction. Same for Aquilegia which will be growing in a shady part of the garden.  Have some Townsendia seedlings as well.

Will come back to this when there are any developments...

Thanks again to all responders.

Submitted by cohan on Tue, 01/10/2012 - 11:35

A late hello and welcome, Mike! It sounds like you've started in a better direction than me- building first, then collecting seed/plants! I've been getting plants and seed for a couple of years since I moved back home here to central Alberta, but am lagging behind on getting beds built!
It sounds like you have a good list of rock garden genera to start-- I'd just add a couple of thoughts which you may well have had already: when looking at seed lists etc, besides just thinking 'Cool plant, want that!' it could be good to also think - 'I already have a bunch with white flowers, maybe I should look for some yellow' or 'These are all cushion plants, I need something grassy, or twiggy' plus varying flowering times, and things that look good over winter, eg Sempervivum, Sedum, etc etc...
Have fun, looking forward to updates :)