When my wife and I moved to our farm in the hills a few years ago, we found a great rock on the lawn near the old stone farmhouse, over 51′ feet around and some 4′ feet high.
It must have become “rooted” there during the ice age.
Someone in the old days had planted it with old-fashioned ramblers, the small red sort, like undersized Blaze, mixed with an old-time pink.
With these climbers, obviously, in an attempt to hide the bulk of the rock, wisteria had been introduced. The passing years had done the rest.
Roses grew, wisteria grew, and even great clumps of daisies and fleabane found a foothold as rotted leaves and humus collected here and there in hollows on the top.
Upon our arrival, the boulder itself had disappeared completely, the roses were well nigh smothered, and the wisteria, too rampant for much blossoming, seemed bent on strangling all the rest.
Dock, chickweed, and masses of sorrel had masked the base of the boulder. Rarely had we faced such a radical pruning task.
Yet, prune we did with a vengeance, determined to save the roses, get rid of the weeds, and catch at least a glimpse of the lovely weathered contours beneath.
Wisteria can be devilish. We’d learned that long ago. These old vines had taproots like trees and wrapped and re-wrapped about every available rose cane.
Shears, clippers, spades, brush hooks, and even axes came into play before we saw the surface of the rock, but in the end, we had cut back, torn out, and grubbed out all we could find of wisteria.
Of course, some deeply sunk roots escaped us, so we’re still prying up enterprising shoots now and then.
One surprise was a great iron pipe trellis we found over the rock. There had been no hint of it in winter when leaves were down, so deep was the rose tangle over it.
Once we had the vines ripped clear, the roots up—some of them at least—and the weeds are gone, we pruned the disheveled roses savagely.
The word “dishevel” originally meant ” letting one’s hair down.”
Those bedraggled roses looked exactly like that. To still sadden the picture, each poor remaining rose cane seemed bent on lying disconsolately upside down.
Rose leaves, upturned, surely can look wan and sickly.
While we were at it, we exposed about two-thirds of the rock’s side, all around, knowing how quickly the ramblers would cover it after pruning.
We wanted to see the rock with its lovely contours and thrust. The roses would be against such a background but not masking it. And that is how it has worked out.
In place of the weeds around the base, we have in the spring scattered clumps of snow crocus (Crocus sieberi), snowdrops (Galanthus), snowflakes (Leucojum vernum, and lots of blue squills (Scilla siberica) that bloom a little later.
All of these are spreading nicely.
Snowdrops – February Fair Maids
In the old days, snowdrops were called February fair maids or Candlemas bells, so early did they bloom. Snowflakes were called Loddon-lilies.
Near them now are a few clumps of English daisies (Bellis perennis) growing in the grass low and naturally, as they should.
Next year, we shall add some dog-tooth violets (erythronium)—trout-lily seems an appropriate name for their glossy, brown-mottled leaves.
They are also often called fawn-lilies. Perhaps a clump or so of glory-of-the-snow (chionodoxa) and grape hyacinth (muscari) may go in, but only a few.
We’re not sure yet about chionodoxa. Yet surely a corner of that great rock calls for winter aconite (Eranthis), the earliest bloomer of them all, save for a few hardy snow crocus. We’re sure of the aconite.
To care for later spring and most of the summer, we have masses of Johnny Jump-ups (Viola Kitaibeliana Rafinesquii) growing more or less at will where the earlier corms and bulbs are sleeping.
When the lawn mower nips off a generous bite of the leggy jump-ups, they come back more bushy and spry than ever, their cheery little blossoms lasting from the last spring frost to late fall. Small wonder they are called heartsease, where the old names still hold.
Purposely we have planted but a handful of daffodils and not a single tulip about our rock. The daintier drifts of snowdrops, snowflakes, and squills seem more suited to the rock’s rough old face.
Its widespread base gives us all the room we need for the natural clumping of plants with nothing to shoulder its neighbors out of place.
Nearby, but not too near, we had planted a dogwood (Cornus kousa), in contrast to a white birch already well grown when we came.
The dogwood blooms late, prolonging the sweetness of spring. We’re expecting great things from it when it gets a bit older.
The dogwood and birch frame the rock to the west against the sunset.
Eastward we have a silver bell (Halesia carolina), one of the loveliest and most delicately fragrant trees we know.
Between the boulder and the old farmhouse, there are redbud (Cercis canadensis) and jet bead (Rhodotypos scandens).
A great clump of lemon-lilies (hemerocallis) based on the green and white leaves of plantain-lilies (hosta) serves as a foil for the rock in the summer.
You can see that we are old-fashioned and have left many of the farmhouse clumps as they were.
Flanking The Dogwood
Flanking the dogwood to the south is an immense old lilac bush—a tree, beneath which we are slowly establishing a wild-flower plot of considerable size, colorful in spring with hepaticas, wake robins, foam flowers, wild violets.
Virginia cowslips, anemones, bishops-caps, and the rest; cool in summer with the varied green of ferns, maidenhair, Christmas- and wood ferns especially.
A few touches of Deptford pinks, beard-tongue, and money-wort carry the color to fall. By then, the glory of the leaves takes over.
For autumn by the rock, we shall try this year a scattering of the saffron crocus (Crocus Sativex) and so lessen winter’s gap till the first snow crocuses come again in February or March. The gap will not be long.
All these trees, shrubs, and flowers draw meaning from their relationship to and spacing from the rock, just as the rock gains in character from its low fringe of Johnny-jump-ups, as brave and gay even in the heats and droughts of summer as in November’s chill. Under a handful of leaves, they’ll bloom here and there through December.
We are blessed to have this old rock, so steadfast and reassuring as if it knew very well how it had lain here eons before the Lenape came or the Welsh or the English, too big for dragging clear with ox span and chain, too tough for bulldozer.
Only blasting could stir it. And why?
Content enough and to spare, it seems, under its roses, sharing with us each welcome shower, the heartsease, and the sun.
44659 by Na