Saturday, April 28, 2018

The Barrens Garden

Eighteen years ago, as the first act of creating a water garden, I dug a large hole near my front porch. Approximately 55 cubic yards of material was removed from the hole and placed in a pile here, near the east side of my barn.  First came slabs of sod a couple of inches thick that were placed in the upper left-hand corner the above photo. Next came the removal of a half foot of clay subsoil that found a permanent residence in the upper center of the photo. Following that, I chiseled through 2 feet of fractured limestone bedrock and added that to my spoil pile. Over the years the material has settled down to become a solid fixture in the landscape.

After several years, the gravel area began to closely resemble the gravelly barrens found tucked away in some of the steeper hillside prairies of Blue Jay Barrens. I then began considering the idea of introducing into this gravel pile seed from some of the rarer winter annuals found growing in the gravelly barrens. My last year’s crop of captive Leavenworthia uniflora and Draba cuneifolia produced such an abundance of seed that I had plenty to invest in this new project that I am calling the Barrens Garden.

In July 2017, I scattered seed over the entire spoil pile.  The results did not disappoint. Shown above are some of the hundreds of rare Draba cuneifolia that resulted from that seeding.

Drabas and Leavenworthia are both members of the mustard family and their flowers show the standard four petal arrangement. These plants are annuals and will not survive past Midsummer. All of the plant’s energy goes into the production of flowers and seeds. Seeds that fall to the ground in June will begin to germinate in October or November. Rosettes of basal leaves will form and grow through the winter. Flower stalks and blooms typically arrive in April.

Leavenworthia uniflora usually follows the same growth pattern of the Draba, although a greater proportion of the seeds tend to wait until February to germinate.

In other wildflower gardens I’ve created, my primary problem is the habit of plants developing much more robustly than they do in their natural setting. It appears that I’ve managed to provide conditions in this Barrens Garden that closely mimic the natural conditions. Above are three Leavenworthia uniflora bracketing a standard dime. The basal rosettes are hardly much larger than that ten cent piece.

Here’s that same dime beside two Leavenworthia uniflora growing in the natural barrens. The size of the plants is almost identical to that found in my Barrens Garden. I have high hopes that this project is going to prove to be a long term success.


  1. You created just the right environment through sheer luck! How fun.

    1. I'm a very lucky person. Sometimes it happens to be good luck.