Randalls Island Park Alliance

A Rage for Rock Gardening

In Rock Garden on June 1, 2012 at 1:27 pm

By Phyllis Odessey

“Dwarfish and intense, Reginald Farrer (1880 – 1920) spent an isolated, privileged childhood climbing the limestone cliffs of his native Yorkshire, collecting the delicate alpine plants that grew there in profusion.  By age eight he knew their names and anatomy, and by thirteen had published his first  discoveries in the Journal of Botany.”  from Nicola Sherman’s  A Rage for Rock Gardening

From page 41 of A Rage for Rock Gardening, recounting Farrer’s efforts to garden on a cliff:
“Over the years he devised many methods of seeding it, including lowering men down the cliff on rope ladders and, so it is said, rowing a small boat out into the middle of the lake and shooting at the cliff-face from a rifle loaded with seed.  The results were gratifying the cliff broke into flower.

We did not have to fire a single shot to complete the expansion of the rock garden on Randall’s Island.  We just needed corporate volunteers from Blooomberg.  We have to do things in stages in the gardening world of Randall’s Island.  We build our gardens over time, each year adding a new section.  This is true of The Water’s Edge Garden, The Wildflower Meadow at Hell Gate, The Learning Garden and most recently, The Rock Garden at the Ferry Dock.

Volunteers planting the extension of The Rock Garden

There is a certain satisfaction in making a garden in stages.  You learn things along the way.  You find out what plants work in what soil and if there are any environmental conditions you hadn’t accounted for when you first made the garden.In the case, of the Rock Garden it’s beginning was on shaky ground.  The entire Rock Garden is built on asphalt with a slight slope.  We knew the slope would work in our favor, but we weren’t sure about the asphalt.

Julisa M. adding specially mixed soil

The success of the Rock Garden rests on its soil underpinnings.  And although this is not a glamorous subject and certainly not a dazzling way to begin a volunteer project, it’s probably the most important part of the project.  Volunteers bucketed over gravel for the base for the extension of the Rock Garden.  After this painstaking task was finished, volunteers mixed compost and sand to create a well-drained soil for The Rock Garden.  Simultaneously, other volunteers began planting 20 ft. trees at the  base of the Rock Garden, an equally strenuous task on a hot, humid day.  The teams worked simultaneously; creating the final “leg” of The Rock Garden.

I always remember A Rage for Rock Gardening when I think of the difficulties we  encounter in bringing our dreams to reality.  Reginald Farrer  had his helpers and we have ours.

The entire group of volunteers plus Randall’s Island Horticulture staff.

Our corporate volunteers  from Bloomberg did not need a rifle or a boat to make this garden; just good old-fashioned hard work.

Come see the extension of rock garden.  The new section will flower next year.

Dear, I know nothing of
Either, but when I try to imagine a faultless love
Or the life to come, what I hear is the murmur
Of underground streams, what I see is a                                 
  limestone landscape.
In Praise of Limestone, W.H.Auden


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