This thing about rock

Well into starlight I sat on the hulking rock in that section of garden reserved for low plants. When my husband came to see why I was lingering, I had no real answer. I was basking. Waiting for moonrise. Drinking serenity in. Playing with the cat. Any number of distractions might have kept me there.

There is this thing about rock - durability, pattern, shape, and vitality. Despite its many facets, its challenging secrets, it is strangely comforting. Were I an artist I'd spend a lifetime trying to say Rock on canvas. This particular landmark has become the golden mean here - primarily because it was impossible to dislodge. It was a case of turning a debit to an asset - and made a dilettante into a stubborn Litchfield County gardener.

Sedum's brave pink and gold spreads, along with other succulents, highlight it. Moss phlox, alyssum, and Johnny-jump-ups thrive. These little plants creep and leap and scatter seeds in every soil pocket they can discover. Once I had a poetic vision of a scarlet rambler sprawling across my rock. But it is designed like an iceberg (three-quarters submerged), and only shallow-rooted plants are tolerated. The rose was a no-no.

One thing any New England garden has is rocks. Viewers standing on my bank may well say: ''How perfectly beautiful!'' Immediately they add: ''How perfectly incredible!'' seeing the slope and the stones. (Dedicated gardeners, of course, work alongside miracles every day.)

The bald fact is that any hill garden annually suffers most of its topsoil to be leached downhill. What strangers don't understand is that those rocks contain valuable minerals which are also leached to enrich the entire bank. So rocks are not my worst enemies, and we have a symbiotic relationship. Each time I dig a planting hole I fill it with compost and loam, then cover it with regular soil - a generous word to describe my dirt.

Yet the garden features a steady procession from snowdrops and crocus forward. After twenty years this parcel and I are intimates. Because of many trees the shade-dependents do well. We've pruned to give sun-lovers their hour, too. Trees can overpower, and their probing roots can make presumptuous demands. Order being heaven's first law, I, who have decreed it here, must maintain it.

Perhaps the high point is in June, when irises and poppies blast color and fragrance - and summering songbirds have established territories. There's veronica, lemon lilies shouting hallelujah, and sweet rocket shooting its sleeves in front of blue delphinium and foxglove spikes.

The taller flowers form a rear guard downhill. In and out among the stones, purple vinca stars its shiny greenery, and the fat jade of sedums and prayer carpets of moss phlox spread.

So I often sit on the big rock, recalling yesterday, staring into tomorrow, surveying today. Mentally rearranging - perennial means anything but static. More reds for hummingbirds, blues for bees, oranges for butterflies are plotted. Thus my husband found me (he said I was like a piece of unfinished sculpture on native rock) and tabled my reverie. Overhead a troupe of swallows executed the final maneuvers of their scissor-tailed ballet, and the fragrance of summer freighted the dew-drenched air.

The rough rock under my hand still held the day's warmth. We agreed that the original garden tended by Eve away back there in the beginning might have been like this. Kind of growing out from the rock.

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