Friday, August 29, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Here come rock gardens

Garden designer Michael Petrie of Swarthmore is always up to something, and he's racked up more awards in this year's show, including my favorite - the Mayor's Trophy, which is actually a silver top hat, like the Monopoly version. His exhibit is called keahiakawelo or Garden of the Gods, based on the island of Lanai, a comma-shaped dot of land so small it has no traffic lights and only one city and school. It's unusual in other ways, too.

Here come rock gardens

Garden designer Michael Petrie of Swarthmore is always up to something, and he's racked up more awards in this year's show, including my favorite - the Mayor's Trophy, which is actually a silver top hat, like the Monopoly version. His exhibit is called keahiakawelo or Garden of the Gods, based on the island of Lanai, a comma-shaped dot of land so small it has no traffic lights and only one city and school. It's unusual in other ways, too.

It's sometimes called "Pineapple Island" because it was at one time a single pineapple plantation. (Talk about agribusiness!)  And its landscape isn't anything like what most people envision when they think Hawaii. No, Lanai is all about rocks.

Michael's exhibit is to the left as you walk in. And he isn't kidding - this is one rocky landscape. He calls the spiky rock towers "rock kebabs" and figures after the show, he'll use a lot of them in designs for clients. "Here come rock gardens," he said. (Clients, take note.)

He's used sedums, fire-stick grasses and gravel, too - maybe he'll make a driveway out of the extra gravel! (There's a lot left over.) He's got rocks that came from a slag pile in Wilkes Barre; they're called "clinkers" and you can see splotches of iron ore in them, and rocks from Colorado and California.

Michael said he expected people to stop by and say, huh? What's Hawaiian about this? No kidding. It looks positively lunar. Legends of Lonai have ancient gods creating this "garden" by dropping boulders from the sky or competing to see who could keep a fire burning longest. I think it might have been a draw all 'round.

Really, it's a fantasy garden, and if you peek inside the crevices of these rocks, you'll see tiny vignettes of rocks and plants. Spotlights help you see. This exhibit is quietly interesting.

Virginia A. Smith Inquirer Staff Writer
About this blog
Ginny Smith, a Philadelphia native, joined the Inquirer at 1985. After stints as both reporter and editor in the city and suburbs, she’s been happily writing – and learning - about gardening full time since 2006. She’s won two silver medals of achievement from the national Garden Writers Association and in 2011, Bartram’s Garden honored her with its Green Exemplar award for her stories about “the region’s deeply rooted horticultural history, cultural attractions and bountiful gardens.” She plays in her own – mostly - bountiful garden in East Falls. Reach Virginia A. at vsmith@phillynews.com .

Virginia A. Smith Inquirer Staff Writer
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