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Slide show to feature rock gardens

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For those with an interest in rock gardening, alpine plants or trough gardening, a rare opportunity is coming to Salt Lake City.

Harold McBride, who gardens in Northern Ireland, will be making a presentation to the Wasatch Rock Gardens Society. His presentation includes a popular slide show that features his garden and rock gardens from other parts of the world. Salt Lake City is just one of the stops on a nationwide tour including the National Association of Rock Garden Societies meeting in Eugene, Ore.McBride is one of the world's leading growers of New Zealand alpines. He gardens just south of Belfast and lives in what he considers to be an ideal climate with an annual rainfall of about 36 inches. Rain usually falls there 270 days out of the year. Temperatures are moderate and the humidity high.

When asked why he has chosen New Zealand plants, he maintains that they are easier to grow in gardens of Northern Ireland and Scotland than they are in New Zealand. In New Zealand, they grow better in mountainous areas that are unsuitable for human habitation. In his country they grow very well where people live.

Although his garden is small and measures only about a quarter acre, it is a wonderful testing ground for his planting styles. With a degree in horticulture and as a retired agricultural researcher, he spends a great deal of time traveling the world and collecting plants to grow in this garden. And although the garden is small, he has about 3,000 different kinds, yet they are not crowded or forced and look very natural.

McBride's contention is that the real secret to growing these alpine plants is drainage. His soil is free-draining loam, so he chooses the plants carefully. Those that require the most drainage are planted in areas with rocks and gravel. Although he specializes in plants from New Zealand, his worldwide trips have yielded plants from other countries.

Since many of these plants have very exacting growing conditions, he has developed some rather unusual ways to help them survive. Among the ways to grow these plants are specialized areas including raised beds, peat moss beads and alpine houses. The houses are used to shelter tender plants during cold weather.

These specialized growing structures also help the plants survive in desert environments like Utah. The troughs provide perfect drainage; the alpine houses protect the plants from winter cold and from summer heat and drought; and the peat bogs amend the soil so that even acid-loving plants can survive.

Spend an evening with this garden master and enjoy learning how to grow these plants in your own garden.