When Life Gives You Rocks…Create a Rock Garden!

When Life Gives You Rocks…Create a Rock Garden!

Whether it's large-scale or just a small corner of the yard, on purpose or you are just dealing with what you've been dealt in the landscape lottery - a Rock Garden is a fantastic xeric garden design that adds interest to what would otherwise be an eyesore!

The size and shape do not matter, it's simply a few stones placed around an area, it doesn't even have to be a flat location. 

The Rock Garden!

Are you living in New England and have rocks that just appear everywhere or some leftover from a construction project? Or are you living in the Southeastern US where the landscape is a desert rock garden already? Rock gardens are easy to care for and require minimal upkeep for areas with low moisture environments!

Boulders and stones can be a bit expensive if you have to buy a lot of them, but if you have an ample supply naturally, then you are lucky! Neighbors may have a few to spare too. Plus there are concrete, hypertufa, and faux rocks you can purchase or make, without the cost (or the backache) involved in lifting genuine stones.

You can transform that area into a truly unique area with just a little imagination and ingenuity!

Types of Rock Gardens for You to Try!

Rock gardens usually recreate naturalized sites, mimic dried river beds, or faux mountain sides with rustic mounds of stones, soil, and xeric plants. The best design is a simple, small round raised bed area over a trouble site in your garden. 

Maybe you have a long, winding, and skinny expanse at the edge of your property that is always sunbaked or sunken. A gully that has carved itself down a slope, a misused and sunbaked refuse area you tossed rocky rubbish into, or maybe you just want something that needs minimal water and care to highlight the front of your home - all are perfect for this specialized style of garden!

Here are a few of the different styles that Rock Gardens can come in!

The Traditional Rock Garden

Tall rocks in the center, smaller and medium stones skirting the edge, and plants tucked in between. A rock garden doesn't need to be a dry, barren-looking area, it just has to have a few stones.

The usual plants rambling through a rock garden have also earned the name proving their worth - such as Rockcress and Stone Crop, but others include Creeping Thyme, Alyssum, Ice Plants, Lamb's Ears Like Helene Von Stein, Yuccas, Hens-n-Chicks, Candytufts, Ajuga, Creeping Phlox, Coreopsis. spring flowering bulbs like Reticulated Iris, Scotch Mosses, Wood Spurge, Snow-in-Summer, Rug Juniper, Ornamental Grasses, Spirea like Glow Girl and Speedwells. Try any of these with some of the following mixed in:

Traditional Rock Garden

Appreciating the extra drainage and spilling over stones, these plants thrive in sun and have lower moisture needs, making them well suited to the rock garden. 

Add a bistro set or a bench and maybe a bubbling water fountain or fire pit. Add an obelisk with a climbing vine, or perhaps a small windmill in the center - and you have a Rock Garden!

Asian/Zen Rock Gardens

You've seen those peaceful, mindfully designed, carefully feng-shui orientated rocks, sculptures, fountains and plants, where the prominent rocks look as if they are buried up to their waist. All with sand meditatively raked in patterns around them. Place the largest stones and bring in the soil to make it look like the weather exposed the rocks over time.

A bench set just so to look out and let the outside world melt away. Maybe a small pond with some Koi and small flowering plants that spill and tumble over the rocks and edges adding to the peaceful Zen around you.

Asian/Zen Rock Gardens

Include a water feature for a calming bubbling sound. Add smoothed rocks or uniquely stacked stones (you can cheat and use some glue to hold them together) and fill the area with fine sand that you can rake into swirls and other meditative patterns, focusing on raking the sand around the stones and plant features!

Dry River Bed Rock Garden

Long, winding and narrow stretches, with larger stones and rocks on either side, with a 'river' of fine pebbles or pea gravel down the center, or a stream of colored stones to simulate water. This can be flat and winding or rambling down a hard-to-mow slope or hillside. Include a bridge that crosses your shady dry stream. Add some lily pad-shaped stepping stones, turtles, and frog statues to carry on the theme!

Include groupings of spiky-looking plants and creeping plants that 'spill' into the central valley of the 'stream' you've created. If you are designing on a hill or slope, include flat stones that span the center of the river bed to look like perfect places for a waterfall, or use spiller and trailing plants to recreate the effect of the water! Fish sculptures 'swimming' through flowing grass is a great accent!

Dry River Bed Rock Garden

Cactus Garden

Most hardy cacti and desert/xeric plants are all the rage in areas like Colorado! Not just because of the dry soils and arid climate, but in the drought-stricken western US, it's easier to replace the lawn with native, water-wise, drought-tolerant plants!

Terra cotta-colored stones, sand, broken brick mulch, and pea gravel look great when combined with some desert-style stone or metal sculptures and statues. Include a rough mixture of big and medium stones mixed with sunbleached logs! Jagged shapes and raw rock keep the mood going!

Formal Rock Garden 

You don't need natural rocks and stones to make a rock garden! Instead, you can use square pavers, bricks and man-made stones to create a formal landscape. Regularly spaced repeating plants, concentric circles and perfectly spaced rows all contribute to a formal feel. Incorporate fire glass and smooth river stones that match, plus a monochromatic color scheme to support the look! 

This type of garden looks amazing at night with the inclusion of lights and fire elements for evening enjoyment! 

Mountain Craig Rock Garden

Mountainous rocky, craggy soils in Alpine regions have very little soil, which makes a natural rock garden! Hillsides and steep slopes, and gullies are ideal for planting perennials and drought-tolerant grasses.

Use volcanic lava rock mulch between features and plants, and add flat stones or natural-looking logs as steps. Miniature mountainscapes look great with a weathered unique log, large branch, or exposed tree root as a curious focal point feature! Hide little lizard and insect statues among the crevices, or a little waterfall tumbling down the rocks like a mountain stream.

Crevice Gardens

The Denver Botanic Garden has started a new craze that many with a stone retaining wall already have been employing! The Crevice garden, retaining walls and fieldstone or rock walls make a lovely vertical garden! With plants tucked into the nooks and crannies, these terraced and tiered gardens have so much potential to be more than just a neatly organized pile of rocks!

Fieldstone, flagstone, and other flat stones are ideal. Leave spaces between rocks to carve out an area for plants, filling in the crevices with soil for them to creep and crawl into. Most plants in this category don't need much to gain a foothold among the stones.

Prairie Rock Garden

Naturalized prairies with banks of various grasses seem to go hand and hand with rock garden conditions! Very well-drained soil, sandy banks, sandhills, and gentle slopes create naturalized areas perfect for grassy plants and hardy natives! Spread a few wildflowers among the grasses for color and variety!

Rugged-looking rocks are great in these gardens, as are sand, terra cotta-colored stones, pottery and a section of an old split rail fence, a fake cow skull, a windmill, and a pump from an antique well are great accents.

Flowering Rock Garden

Rocks and flowers are a lovely contrast in textures and many xeric bloomers are quite happy to either tumble over a stone or grow among the pebbles. Add some extra height with containers and add a path down the middle or around the outside so you can stroll through your new destination location! Add some art and painted rocks for more visual interest! 

Butterflies adore this style of garden too! Decorate with a tipped-over ceramic pot with creeping plants 'spilling' out from it. Add a gazing ball or bee/butterfly drinking station. River rock and nicely rounded stones and smooth boulders add to the contrast.

  • April Showers™ Weeping Crabapple Tree

Seaside Rockery

Combatting sandy and rocky soil is one thing, then add saline conditions and sea spray- and you have a tricky situation. Many plants love rambling through dunes and along salty shores! Crushed or whole seashells and sand (of course) are great as mulch. Scatter whole shells, and driftwood around and add smooth weather-beaten stones, for a xeric, low-maintenance garden! Create 'dunes' with the sand to mimic the seaside environment!

Rock Garden Basics

The first thing you'll need when starting from scratch - are rocks - lots of rocks! Most of us have a few already, or buy some at local landscaping companies. The neighbors will be glad to get rid of any they have laying around too. If you don't have an existing bed or location that is already rock garden ready, then creating one is easy!

  • Choose a location with excellent drainage, or create a berm
  • If the area is mostly clay or sand, add compost to enrich the site
  • Create the first layer of sand and gravel to recreate a well-drained site
  • Rock Garden Basics
  • Ring or line edges with large and small rocks to create whatever shape you want
  • Add the largest boulders and stones, and specimen rocks
  • Fill in between with composted soil and topsoil that has good drainage, tamp down firmly
  • Water the area well to help the soil settle and hydrate the area
  • Add your plants and water them again
  • Cover the entire area with your mulch of choice - gravel, sand, seashells, pebbles, etc…
  • Add other accent rocks around the area and sculptures

Rock Garden Plants

In addition to all the suggestions above, selecting your plants and color scheme may be the toughest part! Just be sure they are xeric and have low moisture needs, or are drought-tolerant once they get established. Also, ensure your plants have the right sun needs. Pick plants with different textures, colors and heights that add interest! Spillers, thrillers and spiky forms oh my!

Don't forget a few specimen trees, weeping trees and other unique forms of focal points to add long-lived height. Add lighting to create some nighttime drama that you can enjoy year-round.

Make your own Rockery and enjoy the easy-care, low-maintenance nature of this type of landscape! Perfect xeriscaping and drought-tolerant niche gardens, the Rock Garden is also ideal for Fire-wise landscaping to create a defensible space around your home!

So turn that tricky landscape problem spot into a beautiful destination area! Hurry and order your Rock Garden plants today at NatureHills.com!

Happy Planting!

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