Ian Young with Mutisia sp.
Any readers who are serious flower-bulb enthusiasts know Ian already from his weekly, long-running (about 15 years), internationally followed, Bulb Log, hosted by the Scottish Rock Garden Society Website. He particularly specializes in Erythroniums, (dogtooth violets/glacier lilies) like this one:
Erythronium grandiflorum I saw a few weeks ago in the Maroon Bells back home in Colorado.
He's written a very thorough e-book on them, too, which you are probably aware of if you love those plants. (Downloadable from the SRGC homepage in the righthand column. What a deal!)
Ian's other half is Maggi (Queen of the SRGC in my mind- she has singlehandedly promoted rock gardening so widely on the web; she's responsible for connecting hundreds of rock gardeners through any method she can). There was unanimous agreement in Prague this spring that the Czech conference was very internationally attended thanks to her efforts promoting it online.
She edits and organizes a periodical which is very much the future of rock garden digests: all-free, all-international, and all-online: the IRG or International Rock Gardener.
But for years and years, many will know her from the SRGC's online forum, where some of the deepest knowledge of rock gardening is shared and stored for the world to see.
It was a total treat to spend so much time with Maggi and Ian Young. Ian took us out to Stonehaven, where I got to learn about his philosophy of gardening and source of inspiration for both gardening and art-making (he is a painter/collage/sculptor)
The Young's Garden, Aberdeen.
Aesthetically, the Youngs are inspired by all the places they have been and read about, but nearby nature always takes a top seat in informing the look of the garden.
He took us to ancient sandstone layers, which are actually tilted to 90 degrees the way the czech style does crevices. This was the first time I'd seen natural, perfect, 90-degree orientation. Were they in the mountians? The Alpine? No. The beach.
Ian looks at Gardening as "habitat manipulaiton." Build it and they will grow. What you build to accommodate the plant is everything. Understanding what to build and how to do it is key.
Each of the troughs in the garden (which are styrofoam veneered in concrete, looking very, very, convincingly of stone! One gardener credits him with inventing this now well-known technique) is an experiement in habitat. A different soil, and different rock, and some seeds sprinkled. The plants grow, or don't, and move, or don't, and inform the gardener of what is really going on.
Another great Ian-ism, which he employs by growing Erythronium form seed is "Climate shifting," in successive generations of seed-grown plants are grown in the garden, and each time they get easier to cultivate as the genetics conform to the environment, and tend to move away from the specific wild needs they have and adapt to the garden habitat. This stresses the need for home gardeners to grow their own plants from seed, to share seed, and collect seed. It's a habit built into rock gardening culture, and it has made many kinds of previously impossible plants more growable for more people. It's accidental breeding if you want to look at it that way.
America's own John Stireman has been doing this with African mesembs, and I have experienced first hand the toughness and survival of his many-generations-in-utah Aloinopsis spathulata compared to plants grown in a nursery from wild or greenhouse seed, especially at APEX, where a nasty winter killed of literally all the commercial plants and spared his.
All over Scotland, we see fireweed, of "Willow-herb" here, or Epilobium angustifolium, which is an american plant which is an invasive weed here. Ever feel that we've been done wrong by foreign plants like mediterranean goat'shead, or Siberian Elm? Well, it works both (every) ways.
Back to Rock Gardening. How about the natural rock outcrops in the moors of the Highlands? Positively blanketed in purple heather (Erica carnea) these places are obvious sources of inspiration for Scottish rock gardeners, but there may be more alpine plants and more inspiration in walks along the ocean.
We have Armeria maritima in Colorado's Mountains, but here is where it got its name, from the cliffs to just above the tide-pools of Europe.
"I go more and more native all the time... I'm more informed by this (wild rock features and plants) than any garden." - Ian Young.