Last weekend my friend Kathy of Cold Climate Gardening talked me into a plant sale. No offense to her salesmanship, but it wasn’t the toughest sell considering I’ve been itching to get back to town ever since my first ‘Ithaca Spring Garden Fair and Plant Sale’ two years ago. Covid you know… so I’ve been saying pass, but then Kathy told me about the spring plant sale of the Adirondack Chapter of the North American Rock Garden Society. It’s a members only thing, just a few people donating, buying and selling, but it sounded perfect. Big deal that I wasn’t a member(yet) and it’s an over two hour drive, plus it’s a whole Saturday away from a garden which I should be weeding… and I already had plenty of unplanted things… but you know as well as I do that once the gardening gauntlet is thrown down it must be accepted, so of course I said yes.
It was a beautiful morning and the drive was a perfect trip up the Susquehanna river valley and then across the rolling dairy hills East of Cayuga lake to the plant sale. The sale was fun. Members (which now included me) were given numbers and each person had a chance to visit the sale tables and pick up a favorite. After a couple rounds of this the tables were opened to everyone, and one by one they emptied. There was more of course. While this was going on plant talk was every where, an auction was lined up, a free table was filled and cleaned out… members introduced their favorite plants which they thought ought to be selling better, and at one point someone just stood on a bench and invited everyone over to visit their garden afterwards 🙂 I like these people, and this also brings me to one of the big selling points for me doing the drive and joining the chapter. Garden visits. I had heard that a local rock gardener had offered to open their garden after the sale, for members to visit. It’s a garden I had read about and seen pictures of, and I knew it was a must-see garden. Wow, was that the truth!
Some of the epic rock gardens of Europe are heaps of stone built up to create mini-Matterhorns out of flat cow pasture. This garden is not that. Here a pair of inspired gardeners found a plot of land where they knew they could carve the earth down to bedrock, and then build a rock garden up that follows the natural cut of the ravine. It’s actually quite a crazy idea, but awesome to see.
Of course these pictures don’t do the scale of the garden justice. Massive boulders were being moved and placed in a way which looked as if the glaciers did all the heavy lifting thousands of years back. Unearthing the bedrock sounds easier with the help of heavy machinery, but then consider the care which has to be taken to not gouge the naturally weathered walls and boulders as they’re being uncovered. All the fine uncovering had to be done with hand… and then moved by hand…
One of the chapter members mentioned that the owners were back and forth about opening the garden. ‘It’s not a garden, it’s a construction site’ is more or less what I got as the reasoning, but only half of that is true. It’s an awesome construction site, but it’s also an amazing garden, and I think it’s even more amazing when you can see what went in to all the plantings.
This is the first real rock garden I’ve ever visited so I can’t say much about the plants other than they looked perfectly happy.
As I worked my way down the paths through the rock gardens, and headed closer to the house, I reached the patio area. Here the garden hosts had set up a dining area with snacks and beverages and plenty of wine. From what I hear this generosity was all part of a master plan to “loosen lips” and get the honest impressions of their visitors with an eye towards improvements and new ideas. Sadly, I believe the wine was just wasted on me 🙂
The trough gardens were particularly interesting, and not just because of the mini landscapes planted in them. In the past these gardeners have hosted trough making workshops in the garden as well as publishing articles on the process, and I was excited to see that the troughs look excellent in person. Excellent enough that I think I’ll give one a go this summer and see how it turns out!
Wine and snacks have a way of gathering people, so at the patio I stopped and took in a few of the conversations. Someone asked me how I liked the top part of the gardens and I said ‘Top? There’s also a bottom?’ …and yes, there’s a whole other part to the garden.
As you come around a few more boulders you find yourself at the bottom of the ravine, where a mass of Primula japonica fill the low spots. They were just starting their peak bloom, it was excellent.
There were more woodland plants, azaleas, rhododendrons, and tree peonies but of course I can’t show everything, so I’ll leave off with one last overview of the upper garden as viewed from the house. As you can see ‘dwarf’ conifers are also an interest.
So this garden was amazing, but who would I be if I turned down another garden tour invite? I headed a few miles further to the impromptu open garden which had been announced at the sale, and here I was able to enjoy huge beds filled with lush perennials all grown to perfection. I’m afraid I derailed plenty of my host’s Saturday afternoon gardening plans since it was already kind of late, but she still gave me the full tour!
There were cool plants everywhere, and they were all so well grown that I tried to avoid all honesty about my own garden when asked. My big regret though is that I didn’t take more pictures. It’s almost criminal that there are no photos of the red horse chestnut (Aesculus x carnea ‘Ft. McNair’) which was in full flower over one of the back beds.
So I’m also not even mentioning the shade gardens, the small arboretum of special trees, the field of dahlia tubers I was preventing her from planting… It was another fascinating garden and I have to say that the best thing about this day was meeting person after person who were so crazy about plants that it made me feel entirely sane. What a group!
I rushed out of this stop with a new friend (and even more plants in my hands) and headed for my last stop. It was already about dinnertime when I rolled into my friend Leon’s driveway but he didn’t seem too annoyed with me. He knew I’d be late and still led me around the grounds of Der Rosenmeister Nursery and tolerated question after question. I didn’t have time for a single picture. I bought three roses. I’m going back in a few weeks to see the hundreds of roses in full bloom, and it is guaranteed to be another great trip and I’m sure you’ll hear all about it 🙂
Hope you enjoyed this adventure !