The development of a Dry Garden

general plan dry garden

general plan dry garden

Six years ago the idea for a Dry Garden was launched for a piece of bare land with a surface of approx. 1500 square metres. It was the most brackish part of our 10 hectare (25 acres) property and soil analysis in The Netherlands showed a pH of 8.3 and an organic content of 3 percent next to numerous deficits of nitrogen, phosphorous and diverse trace elements. We choose for the organic and slow way in improving the soil by deminishing the brack and bringing the pH down to 6.8 by adding coarse river sand and plenty of compost in the top 50 cm of the existing (too clayish) soil. After that we soaked everything a few times to get the brack level down (<40ppm; was 200 ppm). And than again mixing compost and gritsand through the top 30 cm of the soil. Considering that it takes approx. 3 years before the new soil (micro-organisms, etc.) is established we waited that long before we made the first trials with some cacti, other succulents and some acacia species including acacia hybrids.

preparation works

preparation works

This year we made the final decision and two students (Pauline Gillet and Sybille de Cussy) from the landscape university in Blois, France (ENSNP) have been fully engaged in designing the garden and implementing their design in practice.

De Cussy and Gillet knew literally nothing about succulent plants and lack of knowledge often results in an unusual surprising approach.

artist impression of aloe bush

artist impression of aloe bush

They created a dry garden with 7 spheres (totalling 78 different species, subspecies, etc.); creeping plants, shrubs/trees, rocks, cactus and euphorbia bushes, aloe bush, mixed border, agaves.

rock art in the dry garden

rock art in the dry garden

Students of the McGregor Waldorf School were engaged in rock art  drawings throughout the garden as part of Land Art Project in South Africa that is initiated by Soekershof.

detail of aloe bush

detail of aloe bush

A PDF-file with plan and plantlist is -free of charge- available for interested landscapers and other interested parties with simular soil ‘problems’. Request e-mail to info -at- soekershof.co.za

Advertisements

Basic Soil preparation

This post is “Under continious Construction”.

In the past we have mentioned a few times ‘soil’ and ‘soil preparation’. See here, there and there.

Every nursery has its own recipes and one may assume that these all work.

In addition to the info provided via the links above:

Succulent plants thrive in a wide range of soils each with their own characteristics. An Aloe plicatillus originate from acid soil (pH <6) near Franschoek in South Africa and and the Gunniopsis glabra originate from a saline flood plain (pH >7.5) in Western Australia.

These differences don’t necessarily mean that these plants don’t grown in different environments.

A good (general) pH of the soil is just below neutral (=pH 7); pH  6.8 is recommended. Soil analysis in the Western Cape is done by Bemlab in Somerset West Do It Yourself pH-meters are not always accurate.

An interesting article about pH is this one. With thanks to Ralph Martin of the south Wales branche of the British Cacti ad succulent Society.

The most important characteristic of the soil is drainage. Especially the top soil must drain freely an excess of water to avoid ‘neck rot’ and also (high temperatures after rainfall) mealy bugs. Ideal is a free draining top layer (10-20cm) of coarse sand or gravel rich soil and a sublayer (10-20 cm) which can accumulate a little bit of water. The characteristics of the sub soil (>30 cm) should be more or less simular to that of the sublayer of the topsoil and is important for deep rooting plants like collumnar cacti. Soil (top- and subsoil alike) may never be waterlogged.

Preferable poor soil (low organic content) but some compost (preferable of horse manure or composted mushroom medium) in sublayer and subsoil is recommended. In some part of South Africa (for example those with brackish/saline soil) an small dose of bonemeal can improve the soil.  Fertilisers (even dried chicken manure or ‘bounce back’)  improve plant growth but also make the plants extra vunerable for pests and diseases.

No-till

In large scale agricultural operations there is an increasing amount of farmers that implements ‘no-till’ in the cultivation of their crops thus as less as possible disturbing the soil.

Quote from WikipediaIn no-till farming the soil is left intact and crop residue is left on the field. Therefore, soil layers, and in turn soil biota, are conserved in their natural state. No-tilled fields often have more beneficial insects and annelids[12], a higher microbial content, and a greater amount of soil organic material. Since there is no plowing there is less airborne dust.

No-till increases the amount and variety of wildlife.  This is the result of the improved cover because of surface residue and because the field is disturbed less often than conventional fields.

If you know that your soil is suitable don’t dig. drygardenpreparationworks1Preparation limits itself than only to weeding, cleaning and planting unless you planned to make (small) rockery heeps, etc.  (see picture).

A simple, easy to maintain, succulent garden

Just an example (we use it for our nursery customers) of a simple, easy to maintain succulent garden. We made it within 4 hours (3 staff) including the sculpture. Plants used are diverse Echiveria species and Aloe barbadensis (Aloe vera).

It’s ideal for people who want to have a different garden but don’t have the time for extensive maintenance.

At Soekershof, Private Mazes & Botanical Garden in South Africa, we are continuously busy creating new gardens. Some are simple to make (see picture); others can take a few years before they are ready. For the rockery at the entrace we count that we still need two more years to finish it. Partly because we are still growing plants which are still too young and partly because it’s very labour extensive to arrange rocks (different sizes and colours etc.) and gravel between it. The rockery (below an artist impression of how a part of it looks now) covers a surface of around 2000 sqm (almost 1 acre) and is divided in a caudiciform garden; Australian/Asian succulent garden; American succulent garden and an All Africa Succulent Garden. Yes; we are ‘Rocking the World’.

Another (global) garden forum

Previously we wrote something about the South African Garden Forum. Not that we are ‘going strong’ in only that forum; there is another Garden Forum with members from all over the globe. Yesterday we published a few photos and look to the comments!!!

OK, we are proud of our garden but the real reason we provide the readers of this blog (all succulent plant lovers we assume) to these forums is that these consist of submissions of people who are all dedicated and passionate about their plants and they exchange knowledge freely. Worthwhile to bookmark the home pages of these forums.