March Wins "Cruelest Month 2012"

NARGS Annual/Western Study Meeting March 9-11 2012

On the road to the Bellevue Botanic Alpine Rock Garden
We arrived early for the NARGS Study Weekend entitled "Stop the Car", full of hope for mild spring weather on the tour of the pre-conference garden visits. First stop was Bellevue Botanic Garden. Clouds surrounded us but I thought the weather might be called hopeful. Granted, it did not take much to inspire me since home was covered with several inches of ice and snow as I left. And storm coats were shed!
Bellevue Botanic Alpine Garden
Alpine Rock Garden sign
My friend Anne had been following the progress of this Alpine Garden with great interest for many years. I remembered seeing the original plans back in the '90ies, but had not heard much about it recently. NARGS member Micheal Moshier had drawn up the plans and supervised the installation. (Remember Roy Davidson's splendid little book Lewisias ? Micheal was the illustrator.)

The Rock Garden -what a grand place! Though we beheld it a few weeks before the spring flush of growth, the winter bones were enough. We were thrilled. Things were opening...

Down the garden path
As I recall, the garden began as a rock outcropping, focusing on rare plants. It was quite unconventional for the rock gardening world. Sometime later, vertical additions were made, resembling more of a Kew like standard. Now it is a settled garden: shrubs and trees classically framed a half circle of paths meandering through reclining rocks. There are many vertical features.

Winter garden bones flanked by narcissus
There was plenty of color, albeit for the most part earth tones. Erica was everywhere, providing sustenance for the few bugs that were out. Bulbs were just up, dotting the landscape.
Buns softening the rock garden
By this stage in the garden's life, plantings are large enough to drape and flow. There were the usual suspects, mostly common ones to take the thrashing of the crowds. While it is very difficult to keep extra choice species in a public garden, the gardeners made up for it by superbly growing the what they had.

A variety of daphnes at the base
Lucky for Bellevue to have Rick Lupp (Mt Tahoma Nursery, who does amazing things propagating daphne) live so nearby. As one might expect, there were many, very nice daphne sprinkled about. We encountered the curator trimming them back as we progressed down the path.
Exit to the Perennial Garden
Bellevue WA has its own share of weather woes, as do we all. Many of the rhodies were out when they had killing temperatures. And it was funny to think of the season not to be late enough for the rock garden, but just right for the perennial garden show. But we took the curator's word and made an exit stage right. And yes, what I would have called a woodland garden was in progress. But more on that at another time.

Hard Freeze Tonight

Hepatica x transylvanica opened soon after my return, but did not last long in the heat
 Tonight, two weeks later back at home, we are about at the point of the Bellevue Garden. And we are expecting our first hard freeze in almost a month. After I flew back, I did not bother to unearth my storm coat - until today. My first job upon return was to cover the greenhouse with shade cloth - in March! All last week it was short sleeve weather. Rod started putting in the patio stone to finish off the crevice gardens and got a sunburn for his efforts.
Helleborus thibetanus opened later in the week
Everything sprouted simultaneously, from Corydalis solida to Helleborus thibetanus to the sax bed. And tonight they issued warnings for a hard freeze. At dinner it was already freezing outside. I guess this is what the Bellevue Garden lived through. Keep your fingers crossed!
Jeffersonia dubia seems prepared while J. diphylla 's head is not even out of bed
Saxes add some color to the gray days of March
Saxifraga oppositifolia - will it frost kill?


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