Right rock, right place


I’ll never consider attempting a rock garden again. Not after visiting the superb spaces of Denver, Fort Collins, and Boulder, all part of a recent garden bloggers’ trip that some of you may have attended—or at least knew about. It’s no wonder Denver does rocks well. The Rocky Mountains were visible from almost every garden we saw.

New to me were the crevice plantings, seen at a private garden in Fort Collins (above). The thinner slabs are set vertically on end with flowering perennials, dwarf conifers, mosses, and other plants springing from the spaces between them. Apparently, this technique comes from the Czech Republic (according to High Country Gardens). It channels water away from plant crowns and limits soil around the roots; bare root plants are recommended for it. You need a berm, the rocks, and the plants. I won’t be trying it.

Before that, we had visited the Gardens of Spring Creek, which have an expansive rock garden area. And when I say rocks, I mean gigantic boulders a third as high as many of the shorter trees in these plantings. We were struck by all the columbines in these plantings, as well as by a stunning display of eriogonum umbellatum (below).

Finally, the Denver Botanical Gardens has alpine and steppe gardens; both had big rocks, so I am not quite sure which I photographed, probably both. The image at the top of this post is typical of these dramatic plantings, contrasting arid stone expanses with vivid, sometimes florescent plantings. Try this at home? No way! That’s why we see it on trips.

I have attempted to use rocks in my mostly shady spaces. If they don’t sink gently into the ground, never to be seen again—until I’m trying to plant something and my shovel hits one—they just look like I couldn’t get anything to grow in a certain space. I do have two large boulders in the front, placed there by a service, which are happily supported by the almost-rock-hard network of maple roots below them (one shown above, in spring).

I also saw an attempt at a crevice garden writ small where the slabs and plants were placed in a  big pot. Nice enough.

Actually, after seeing all this, I don’t even feel like I need a rock garden any more. I know where I can find them.

Previous articleNature and Free Play for All Children
Next article3 Great Plant-Peep Parties in One Weekend!

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at yahoo.com


  1. I agree, certain specialty gardens are location-specific! There is just no way you can produce such a garden in the hot, humid summers of the lowlands! Embrace your niche and design/plant your garden accordingly. Your garden should express and enhance your local ecosystem. Don’t try to bend nature to your will–it doesn’t work, and it annoys Mother Nature.

  2. Hi, my name is Lisa Bartlett and I am the Garden Manager at Smith Gilbert Gardens. We are located just North of Atlanta in GA. We installed a crevice garden 2 years ago. Tony Avent’s crevice was my inspiration (that sounded awkward). We used concrete as well. In the South, it’s not the cold that kills most plants, it’s the wet. With our new cg we have been able to grow plants that in the past I could only dream about. Loved your article. That Denver garden is spectacular.

  3. Thanks Elizabeth for a lovely post and “review” of our wonderful Front Range.

    I hope you all got to see some other sights like our superb Denver Art Museum, the striking Clyfford Still Museum, many restored old Victorian homes and the booming LoDo (Lower Downtown). Among 100s of other attractions.

    If not, hope at least some of you will come back out. Did you make it down to the DBG’s exurban Chatfield Farms? It has really developed beautifully in the past few years.

    We do have a LOT more than rock & crevice Gardens here, btw.

    Thanks for an interesting read from an outsider’s viewpoint.

    • Diane, these are gardencentric trips, so, unless you skip some gardens, that’s what you see. I have visited Denver before however, and saw the art museum and a few other things then. We did visit Chatfield and had dinner there the last night. It is lovely.

  4. I loved these gardens so much, and many techniques and plants I can use at home in Texas. But, indeed, it’s wonderful to discover how others captivate habitat gardens in their own environments, and that is so significant!


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here