Continuing along the theme of the boulder placements from yesterday's post, let's get into the right landscaping plants that not only accent and compliment the rock features, but let's recreate a Faux Desert Theme from Arizona, Anza Borrego or Baja California and transform that Temperate or Boreal forest environment into a Living Desert Oasis of sorts with it's illusion of warmth where such is uncommon.Rock Outcroppings and Desert Plants. One interesting side note here on Plants and Rock outcroppings in the wild. Focusing on all plant communities in the southwestern United States (this is also applicable worldwide) where there are clearly drier habitats whether low desert, high desert, chaparral or any other type of dryland plant community, one thing they all share in common are larger more successful plant groupings where boulders are present. Now why is that ? Consider rocks and boulders as the perfect mulch. Mulch ? Yes mulch. They clearly cover the ground perfectly and permanently. The Sun's rays are unable to sap any moisture from underneath them other than evapotranspiration through plant foliage which is desirable. They also tend to concentrate rainfall totals. In areas where there is typically low average rainfall, even light showers flowing off of boulders and other rock features concentrate water within cracks and crevices giving a sort of micro-climate uniqueness to the plant community within the geologic feature. As an example if rainfall total is an inch or two, it becomes concentrated within this region giving more measurable rain as if anywhere from 3 to five inches. Instead of a thundershower spitting rain on parched earth only to runoff and to quickly evaporate from a mere couple inches of ground soaking, a boulder outcropping region may soak in several feet depending on the soil and organic matter built up over centuries.
I remember noticing such classic vegetative contrasts between boulder strewn areas and open bare country on frequent drives from the San Jacinto Valley on Highway 79 north to Beaumont California. The route taken on Highway 79 is called Lamb's Canyon. Here's a map of the region referred to. Google Earth the map and see what I mean as far as the lower canyon with coastal and interior low sage scrub and contrasted with the boulder strewn upper hills of the canyon with large chaparral specimens like Hollyleaf Cherry, Sugarbush and other plants the size of small trees. Notice also that these large granite boulder plant habitats are on steep southern exposure which normally doesn't allow for large plant growth. Notice also the marked contrasts where such vegetation ceases where boulder borders end.
If you take the drive, you will notice the marked contrast in vegetation types north of the Lamb's Canyon Landfill turnoff which is exactly at the halfway point. The boulders are extremely large and of a white granite geological makeup. Once at the top of the Canyon on the Beaumont plateau, the vegetation changes as the boulders are absent once again. Still, the contrast is amazing and should educate those on such mechanical mechanism specifics when developing plans for the landscape and incorporating boulders and other smaller rocks.
So let's take a look at those folks less fortunate cold and rain soaked regions of earth but who want to have a desert theme in their region. Here's the first illustration of a real life Desert Plant community foundation plant example followed by it's Faux replacement.
Take a look first at this gallery of a native desert tree on and around rocky outcroppings. Notice every detail and pattern around the silhouette and within the trees interior. Notice is bark smoothness and colouration. This is going to come in handy when looking for non-desert plants with similar qualities and characteristics for you faux desert theme landscape.Elephant Tree ( Bursera microphylla )
|photo by David Allen |
Vizcaino Desert, Baja California, Mexico
|photo by Spencer Woodward|
Now pay close attention to the twisted picturesque interior of an average Elephant Tree. Seriously, pay attention now.
|Elephant Tree, Anza Borrego State Park|
Okay, shifting gears here now!!!
|Magnolia x soulangeana|
Closer inspection of the interior features of the Magnolia almost as a mirror image of Bursera microphylla or Elephant Tree. Isn't this a beautiful replacement ?
Beautiful example and notice to the right of this display and in the background there was another variety example of yet another Magnolia dwarf tree inserted within the red rock hardscape. Take note also of the dwarf variety of Yucca which may be found at almost any nursery. Perhaps in cooler climates even several varieties of New Zealand Flax may be substituted for the Yucca. Notice how well it fits into the rock outcropping landscape theme. Same contortion and twisted unique appearance. Now take a look at a couple of pictures of some larger examples in the park. Notice once again the bark colouration and the multitrunked twisted appearance.
Magnolia x soulangeana just outside of the retail Nursery of Göteborg Botanical Gardens. Again, notice the almost identical twisted multi-trunk form of the Desert southwest Elephant Tree.
|Interesting features of the multitrunked Magnolia|
The bottomline here is that in a Temperate Climate or Boreal Forested environment, you can substitute other plants with similar features of colour, bark, leaves, silhouette etc and create a Faux Desert Theme even though the plants are totally opposite and unrelated. Shifting some gears again now on an entirely different Subtropical Tree which has Temperate Forest cousins in the Northwest. Texas Madrone (Arbutus xalapensis) also can be found in similar rock outcroppings and of similar Sedona red rock like settings as examples in the Guadalupe Mountains of southern New Mexico.
|Texas Madrone (Arbutus xalapensis)|
Like Manzanita and Redshank or Ribbonwood, Texas Madrone also has a similar peeled bark appearance
|Acer griseum - China|
|Acer griseum Paperbark Maple|
|Example of Leaf shape and size|
|Same Tree but from different upper |
I enjoyed this view as they incorporated the same earth toned light red stone in a stacked staggered design and used ferns to fill in the gaps between the stones.This was certainly an educational experience and yet I had seen these very plants and thought about their uses over 6 years ago when I first visited these gardens. But until now never gave a thought as to writing about them. This quality of thinking and problem solving for solutions is admittedly related to my exposure and influence with hispanic culture who like other cultures less privileged in the material sense have had to rely on intuitiveness and McGuyver-like problem solving for survival which I wrote about here:
I'm grateful for the hispanic influence in my life. I've had a few businesses which required an incredible amount of creativity and intuitive problem solving and many of the products I used to accomplish various tasks were totally unrelated for the use I put them to. The same could be said for landscaping. Use your BRAIN and THINK, MEDITATE & PONDER about creative ways to accomplish mountain-like seemingly impossible landscaping tasks. Also remember the absolutely necessary reasons for replicating what you observe out in Nature and dump many of the old school conventional failed science-based technologies which have presently brought our natural world to it's knees over these past 100 years. Hopefully some are benefited here to create an amazing hideaway of sorts that they originally thought they could never have.
Remember also even if you have the ideal habitat and climate to use the real deals as far as desert landscape themes, train the plants to grow deeper roots by proper water methods which replicate the reality. Withholding water is something most conventional gardeners are not trained to do. Get that landscape off life support which is what most conventional gardening only accomplishes. While all plants enjoy and need a rainy season, they do not need nor necessarily want this option on a continuous basis. With many southwest native plants if you water excessively, that is beyond their normal requirement needs found in nature, though they may grow somewhat aggressively and vigorously, you may actually be shortening their lifespan by many years. And who really wants to start over again and again ?
Such innoculent is imperative especially with Manzanitas since unlike other plants do not have the same type of fine root hairs for absorption of water and nutrients. They are totally dependent on this symbiosis. Don't believe that ? Then watch your Manzanita project fail big time. So deep watering to establish and mycorrhizal fungi and beneficial bacteria are a must. Don't worry about hot summers after that. So what if they appear to not be growing fast enough. Part of the true landscape success is being patient which most humans have a great inability to accomplish, especially when instant landscape is desirable. As Prof Todd Dawson discovered, even streamside trees in a riparian zone habitat take their water not from the surface waters, but from deeper subsoil layers. Educate yourself and understand the basics of just how the natural world works and what it wants will almost guarantee you sure success.
See previous post on Boulders and Rocks