Saturday, May 26, 2012

My first rock planting

One of the vendors at the Carmichael Cactus & Succulent Society Show last weekend, Merlyn Lenear, was selling succulent dish gardens made of hollowed-out pumice rocks.

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Merlyn Lenear dish garden

This gave me the idea to try something similar in our own garden. We have several larger boulders that, if they were dense rock like granite or basalt, would be impossible to lift by a single person. However, since they’re pumice (sometimes also called “tuff”), they’re remarkably light; I can lift one of them without having to strain too much.

Here is the rock I picked for my first experiment. Also note the spider agave (Agave bracteosa ‘Calamar’) next to it.

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Using a hammer and small chisel, I created a hollow in the taller part of the rock. Pumice rock is very soft, and it took me less than an hour of leisurely tapping to make this hole. (It was actually an enjoyable, almost meditative, exercise.)

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I then drilled four holes using a spade bit to ensure flawless drainage.

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And finally I transplanted the spider agave from the shallow bowl it had been in for four years into the hollow in the rock. Since I had to trim some of the woody roots to fit the agave into the hole, I made sure to use dry succulent mix as backfill. I won’t water for at least a week so the broken roots can heal.

Since in their native habitat spider agaves grow on cliff faces, this is actually a somewhat naturalistic way of planting this particular species (except back home in Mexico, they would hang from the rocks). I had forgotten that Agave bracteosa leaves are very fragile, and I ended up breaking the tips of three of them. Too bad since this is such a slow growing plant.

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Surrounding the Agave bracteosa are an Agave attenuata ‘Ray of Light’ (top right) and an Aloe sinkatana (bottom right), which mirrors the long strappy leaves of the spider agave.

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I have another pumice rock that I want to turn into a community planter for sedums and sempervivums. Stay tuned for an update.

10 comments:

  1. How cool! It's nice when we can get inspiration from others and be able to adapt it to our gardens. You from Ms. Lenear and me from you.

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    1. I love being inspired by others, and I hope I can pass on some of my enthusiasm.

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  2. That's a cool idea Gerhard! Much better than using hypertufa containers. Pumice rock always reminds me of butterscotch toffee for some strange reason...

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    1. It does look more natural than hypertufa containers. But I still want to try my hand at making hypertufa troughs because you can make shapes that don't exist in nature.

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  3. A simple concept, that looks great! I never thought to just take a chisel to some of the stones in the back, not a bad way of creating some unique planters. So. Cool! Love that agave!

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    1. I was amazed at how soft this particular pumice was. I wonder why nobody is selling rocks with pre-made hollows and pre-drilled drainage holes?

      I had always thought my Agave bracteosa looked out of place in that shallow bowl, and I'm much happier with it now.

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  4. Cool project! My only concern is that those hollows are not deep or large enough to give a plant enough root space. I wonder if roots will eventually clog the drainage holes?

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    1. I did worry about that. The hollow has the approx. volume of a 6" nursery pot, which is not much. That's why I picked a plant that is super slow growing. I don't think this particular Agave bracteosa has grown more than a couple of inches in the years I've had it. Its root system was surprisingly small, so I think it'll be OK in that rock for many years. Agaves are very adaptable.

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  5. That looks really good. I did one out of feather rock with an electric drill and a hole saw (and a respirator and goggles for the dust) but pumice would be better.

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  6. Very good and how inspirational! Looks like your work was worth it. I really like it! Where do you get the pumuce rock of that size?

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