Rockery designs for small gardens

A rockery makes a great way to display small plants, or ones such as alpines in a natural type of setting for their species. As an added bonus, rockeries are relatively low maintenance!

Prepare the spot

Choose the area carefully

Once you build your rockery, you can’t easily clear the area, so avoid covering manhole covers, or water or power cables that may need work in future.

Start by preparing and clearing the area

Remove any plants, grass, garden furniture, tree stumps and roots. It’s a good idea to mark out the area for your rockery by defining the edges of the area with a spade. Now think about improving drainage.

Drainage issues?

If drainage is a problem in the area, try removing a spade’s depth of soil, digging the trench over and then filling it in with a material such as gravel that will drain well. Then restore the removed earth.

Weed issues?

If weeds are present, lay some weed resistant horticul tural fabric down, or several layers of cardboard. Both these materials will let water penetrate but weeds can’t grow through them.

Build the rockery

Choose rocks that will form the basis of the garden. A collection of both big and small rocks works well and looks natural.

Aim to use rocks of a similar colour and rock type as this also looks natural.

Make sure your rockery is very stable: you may need to support larger rocks in place by partially submerging them or using bricks, mortar and smaller stones to hold them in place. You can use an outer edge of rocks to define the edges of the rockery, but this won’t look quite as natural.

Also consider the textures and shades of colour in your rocks.

Visually, a rockery can work well if there is a single raised point slightly to one side of the structure. This could be a raised tall rock or a taller plant, such as a vertical alpine, acer (Japanese maple) or palm tree, or even a piece of driftwood.

Another tip is to ensure your rocks are at least partially buried—this gives a much more natural effect than laying them on the surface.

Once you’ve built the main structure and it’s structurally sound and safe, lay top soil over the entire rockery and let it fill all the cracks.

You may be surprised how much soil this takes. Drainage is important in a rockery so consider adding grit to the top soil for added drainage.

If you aren’t confident that the top soil is weed-free, use a weed killer before you plant up the rockery.

Give the structure a good soaking with a garden hose and leave it to settle for a few days if you have time.

Read more: Get the garden watered right

How to Grow a Specialty Garden

There are rock garden styles to suit every taste, but great care must be taken that the style chosen suits the site. For example, a huge mound of rocks rising out of nowhere will look very much out of place in a grassy lawn. Flat, craggy limestone, while attractive in its own right, will not suit a yard dominated by a fieldstone house. Remember, a rock garden is essentially a re-creation of a mountain slope. Picture this in your mind and try to create it on a scale that suits your growing space.
The easiest rock garden to plan is always a natural one. If your garden has a natural stone outcropping, you can easily bring out its beauty by cutting back invasive roots, removing a few shrubs and trees to increase sunlight, and possibly digging away some soil to better reveal the natural rock. Even a small rock outcropping can be used to advantage by adding similar rocks to repeat and accentuate the original pattern.
Slopes are ideally suited to rock gardens. Not only are they hard to maintain otherwise (just ask anyone who has tried to mow a hillside lawn) but it is also easy to integrate rocks into a slope and make it look as though they were put there by Mother Nature. Flat surfaces are not obvious choices for a rock garden, but don’t rule them out entirely.

©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
This rock garden looks nice on a slope.

Generally speaking, rock gardens should be placed in full sun; most plants you’ll use in a rock garden love sunlight. Although you can create an attractive rock garden in a shady spot, your plant choices will be more limited.
Perhaps no other step is as important in planning a rock garden as choosing the right rocks. All too often, a “rock garden” consists of a pile of rounded river stones of various sizes and colors randomly strewn on the ground: Nothing could look more artificial! Instead, use rocks that are uniform in color and texture; ideally, they should be angular in shape with distinct lines or strata. If these similar rocks are placed at roughly the same angle, it will look as though Mother Nature deposited them.
Rounded rocks, however, need not be banished from the rock garden, but they should be similar in color and texture. For a natural look, set the first ones quite deeply in the ground. As more rocks are added, make sure that about half of each rock is hidden from sight.
Make sure some of the rocks are very large ones: true boulders. These larger rocks are the keystones of the rock garden. One rule of thumb: If it can be moved by one person, it’s too small. Once the boulders are in place, medium-size rocks can be added. Smaller rocks will be needed to fill in any gaps.
Rock gardens are also ideal sites for waterfalls. Even a steady stream of water droplets landing in a tiny pond at the garden’s base will do. In fact, smaller waterfalls are often the best choice for the home rockery: large cascades of frothy, foaming water are for very massive rock gardens.

Building a Rock Garden
Once the rocks have been chosen, prepare the site by excavating to the proper depth. Make sure you remove any weeds or lawn grasses now: You don’t want them reappearing later between two heavy rocks where you can’t get to them.
Most alpine plants require perfect drainage. If your soil is naturally heavy, put down a drainage layer of six inches of gravel or crushed rock. Cover this layer with landscape fabric or two inches of sand so the soil you add later won’t percolate through. Unless the soil taken from the excavation already drains perfectly, mix it with an equal quantity of sand. If you don’t intend to grow alpine plants, simply add about one-quarter compost or peat moss to increase the soil’s organic content. If you intend to grow mostly alpine plants, check the soil’s pH and amend it with ground limestone if necessary; alpine plants tend to prefer neutral to alkaline soils. Only a few rock garden plants (heathers and dwarf rhododendrons are among them) need acid soil.

©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
The bellflower, a popular rock garden plant, doesn’t need acidic soil.

To “anchor” a rock garden to its landscape, consider adding a few minor rock outcrops in peripheral areas. Also, add to the base of the rock garden a flat area of gravel or crushed rock in the same shade as the dominate rock. This is known as a “scree garden.” This will help prevent lawn grasses from invading the garden, and the effect will appear quite natural, as if bits and pieces of broken rock had fallen off the rock outcropping over the years.

In regions where droughts are frequent, consider adding an irrigation system from the outset. The simplest method is burying a perforated garden hose just below the surface of the soil: It can then be attached to a supply hose whenever watering is necessary.

Maintaining a Rock Garden
Rock gardens are not hard to maintain. In fact, most work simply involves removing weeds on a regular basis. Even this task will diminish as the rockery plants establish themselves and fill in any gaps where weeds might grow. By covering any exposed soil with a layer of crushed rock, weed seeds will have a difficult time getting started. In a rock garden, weeds must be removed by hand, preferably as soon as they appear. Herbicides, even when carefully sprayed, tend to drip down rock surfaces and harm desirable plants.
Less hardy rock garden plants can be protected during the winter with spruce or pine branches or some other light mulch. Fallen leaves and other moisture-retentive debris should be removed as soon as it accumulates; most alpine plants rot when in contact with damp materials.
Prune as needed to control any plants that spread beyond their limits. Many low-growing, matting alpine plants can also be cut back hard after flowering to encourage the formation of new, healthy growth. Finally, don’t be afraid to move plants that appear unhappy.
Most of the information given above describes the preparing and planting of rock gardens for sunny sites. Although this is the most traditional form of rock garden, there is no reason you cannot produce a beautiful rock garden in shady conditions. Use a richer soil mix with plenty of organic matter since most shade-loving plants prefer a moisture-retentive mixture.
Learn how to plant a rose garden in the next section.

A rockery garden can be as big or small as you like so whether your garden is a cosy space or vast patch of land, this guide is suitable for all garden types.

As time goes by, rockeries continue to grow and change, looking more and more natural. Take a little time to perfect your rockery now to enjoy this unique garden feature year after year.

Build a rockery in 7 simple steps:

Find the perfect location:

Before you build a rockery, it’s important to find the perfect location for your plants to thrive. Alpine plants require maximum light exposure, so when placing your rockery, make sure it’s away from trees and shrubs which cast shadows throughout the day.

Choose suitable rocks:

Local rocks are the best bet for your rockery as they will look the most natural. They can often be sourced from a reclamation yard so look online to find one that’s local to you.

If you’re not so concerned with aesthetic then rockeries can be a great way to disguise old broken bricks, tiles and paving slabs.

Time it well:

Late winter’s the best time to build a rockery because the ground is often damp and soft, making it easier to shift the soil and place the rocks. It also gives the soil time to settle before adding the plants in spring.

You can, however, build a rockery at any time of year: aim for a few days after some heavy rainfall so the soil is easier to manipulate.

Prepare the site:

Before you build a rockery, it’s important to remove any existing weeds from the site because they can destabilise the structure as time goes by. Read our top tips for removing and controlling garden weeds here.

Once the ground is clear, lay a stabilising layer of rubble which will improve drainage and support the rocks. Next, cover it with landscape fabric to prevent future weeds from growing through and to keep soil in place.

Place the rocks:

Begin with the largest rocks and place them so that they build to a peak, like a mountain. Face the rocks in a variety of directions to achieve a variety of microclimates.

The large rocks can be stabilised with smaller rocks, set by adding a layer of weed-free topsoil. While you can sieve you own soil for this purpose, remember that small weed seeds won’t be removed. If weed control is a pet peeve of yours, then bagged topsoil is the best solution.

Once you’ve placed all the larger rocks it’s time to build up the shape. Use small rocks and continue to layer with topsoil as you go. Then, arrange the smallest rocks in a horseshoe shape. This creates planting pockets which will later contain compost for encouraging plant growth.

Make compost:

The perfect alpine compost should consist of equal quantities weed-free topsoil, leaf mould and horticultural grit. Use it to fill the planting pockets to create a bed for your desired plants. You can substitute leaf mould with shop-bought coir.

Add plants:

Spring’s the perfect time to fill your rockery with plants that have an entire season to settle in before winter. Where you place the plants depends on their specific needs but, generally speaking, for English gardens, those which thrive in cooler conditions should face north. Sun-loving plants are better off facing south.

Once you’ve worked out the placement, gently tease out roots and place them in the planting pockets. Take care to firm the compost mixture over the roots and finish with a handful of grit or gravel to improve the drainage and ward off future weed attacks.

Find some quick tips on how to encourage more wildlife to your garden here.

Don’t forget to sign up for our monthly The English Gardener newsletter, bringing you all the grow your own advice you need throughout the year. Sign up on the right of this article.

A rockery is a great way to add diversity to your garden – the difference in landscape and plants will bring a totally different element to your garden, giving it a new lease of life and a point of interest.

On the other hand, if you need to get rid of a load of rubble and hardcore but don’t want to pay for landfill, then building a rockery in your garden may be the perfect solution!

Where to Locate Your Rockery

By building a rockery you’re basically imitating an alpine mountainside, so a sunny site that’s free-draining and on a slope is ideal. You might need to build up the slope yourself, but try to make sure the site you choose is in the sun for most of the day, and that it drains freely.

Rockeries tend to blend in better if situated somewhere on the perimeter of the garden, against a wall perhaps. Rock gardens also work well alongside water, so if you have a pond you might consider working in a gentle cascade through the rockery.

Avoid building your rockery underneath a tree, as not only will it provide too much shade for the sun-loving alpine plants, but the leaves that fall on the delicate little plants in autumn could smother and even kill them off.

What You’ll Need

Firstly, a piece of paper and a pencil – you don’t want to be moving lumps of rock around the garden more than once, so make sure you get it right first time! Plan your rockery on paper, making a sketch of the garden and experimenting with the size, shape and location until you’re happy with it.

If you want to build up the height of your rockery by much, or if you need to improve the drainage of the area, you’ll need a quantity of hardcore or rubble.

Rocks are pretty essential of course, and you’ll need more than you think. An area of 12 square feet can easily use two to three tons of rock in order to create a decent rockery. You’re not just making a flower bed with a few rocks stuck in it for show – the rocks are the whole point of the feature, and are essential to the habitat you are creating.

When it comes to choosing your rock, go for whatever can be found locally if possible. Why not try contacting your local quarry? Otherwise, garden centres or builders merchants are probably your best bet. Whatever you go for, be careful – make sure when you order it that you’re not going to be left with a driveway full of huge stones and no way to lift them.

You’ll need some shale or gravel to fill in between the larger stones, and some gritty soil (compost or topsoil mixed with sharp sand or grit) to create planting areas.

When it comes to tools, a wheelbarrow and shovel will be useful, and maybe even a crowbar. Old clothing, steel-toed boots and protective gloves are all a good idea, but the most important thing by far is a friend or two to help with all the heavy lifting!

Get Building

Start at the lowest point of the rockery, and work your way up the slope. Loosen the earth underneath where the rockery is going to be, and add in some hardcore or rubble to improve drainage. If you are filling in your own slope using hardcore, you might want to add in a bit of soil here and there just to stop the rocks from shifting too drastically. Unless you compact it, your pile will gradually sink down a little with time.

Select some good rocks to make the front edge of your rockery, kind of a retaining wall. Try to make sure the shape isn’t too uniform, and embed the rocks securely. If the rocks have any strata, or lines, in them, make sure they all lie horizontally to look more natural.

Create a base using the largest rocks, bedding them in at least half way, then fill in gaps with smaller rocks and shale. Pack gritty soil into pockets here and there to plant your alpines.

See our project Introduction to Rockery Plants for help on deciding what to plant.

All project content written and produced by Mike Edwards, founder of DIY Doctor and industry expert in building technology.

How to Build a Garden Alpine Rockery (Tutorial)

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It is often said that beauty lies in simplicity. Rock gardens are the very embodiment of that saying. With a bit of thoughtful planning, what initially may seem like a bland mixture of rocks and plants can, in skilled hands, quickly turn into the peaceful retreat that any home needs.

If you’ve been playing with the idea of building your very own rockery for a while, you’re in luck. Below, we will walk you through the whole process of how to build one, as well as share some maintenance tips that you can use to sustain it’s appeal for the months and years to come.

Table of Contents

Why should you consider building a rockery?

Rock gardens are a relatively low-maintenance solution that you can take advantage of regardless of how much free space you have at your disposal.

But don’t be fooled by their initially plain looks – depending on how each rock is positioned, rockeries can provide a suitable habitat for an astonishingly wide range of plant species.

For example, a rock’s south-facing side can be perfect for growing sun-loving plants, while shade-tolerant species will feel right at home protected by the shadow of its north-facing side, as James Allan at Puma Landscaping Edinburgh point out.

“Some rockery plants that simply love the sun are Dianthus, Sisyrinchium and Verbascum. Alpine campanulas are particularly recommended, they have a carpeting habit and produce lots of blue, white and purple bell-shaped flowers,” says James Allan. “For the shadier side of a rockery, there are plenty of options too. Aquilegia, Brunnera, Campanula, Cyclamen, Lysimachia, Omphalodes, Pulmonaria, Tellima, Tiarella, Vinca and hardy ferns are just some of the shade tolerant plants that will thrive on the north side.”

When is the best time to make a rock garden?

While every season is suitable for making a rockery, the best time you can cultivate your garden in is spring. This way, you will not only enjoy a rich choice of plants, but will also give the vegetation enough time to grow healthy root systems and prepare for the damp English winter. Of course, you can also prepare the foundation during the winter and add the plants later on.

How to determine the best spot for your creation

Before doing anything, consider researching your microclimate. In case you are wondering, a microclimate is essentially the tiny differences in the “general climate” that are unique to your specific area. These idiosyncrasies, no matter how tiny, can often make or break a garden, so studying them closely will ensure that your rockery will look ever healthy and captivating.

When it comes to building a rockery, there are a few rules of thumb to keep in mind as well:

  • Try to find an area that isn’t surrounded by overhanging trees or tree roots. This will ensure that your plants will receive a healthy dose of sunlight throughout the day.
  • Find a spot that already has great drainage. Otherwise, you may need to invest in raised beds in order to create suitable conditions for your alpine inhabitants.
  • Beware of frost pockets. If you live near hills or the terrain is marked by many dips, hollows, or dells, you may have to take extra measures to protect your garden. During chilly evenings, such locations can “trap” cold air, which will then sink to the ground and accumulate in low points of your garden, subjecting your plants to dangerous frosts.

Types of plants that will go well with your rockery

Rock gardens mimic the perfect conditions for alpine plant species, since they live in areas where rocky mountain slopes, good drainage, and plenty of sunlight are easy to come by. However, this doesn’t mean that your options are limited to just evergreens.

Here are some of the more attractive plants you can grow based on seasonality:

  • Spring flowering (evergreens): Euphorbia myrsinites; Gentiana acaulis;
  • Spring flowering (deciduous): Arabis ferdinandi-coburgi; Primula rosea;
  • Summer flowering (evergreens): Dianthus alpinus; Phlox douglasii;
  • Summer flowering (deciduous): Asperula lilaciflora; Erigeron aurantiacus;
  • Autumn flowering (evergreens): Sternbergia lutea; Zauschneria californica;
  • Winter flowering: Crocus laevigatus, Aquilegia laramiensis; Moltkia petraea.

Check out more of the most popular rockery plants here.

How to build a rockery from scratch

Prepare for the task ahead

Sketching a quick plan of the area you want to transform into a majestic rockery is just the start.

You will also need to take into account several other factors, such as whether the terrain is level (if it is, you will need to improvise a slope or a mound for proper drainage), if there is any underground pipework you need to worry about, how much sunlight and shade your rockery is going to receive at all times and, of course, what’s the most “scenic” angle you can view it from.

Of course, you also need to keep in mind the size of your project. If you’re planning on building a large-scale rockery, you will most likely need to hire excavators and other professional equipment in order to create the optimal drainage conditions for your leafy inhabitants.

Smaller projects can be usually done with regular gardening tools, although it might be wise to pack a crowbar as well since it will be of immeasurable help to you when moving bulky rocks.

Gather the required materials

Here is what you will typically need to build a small to medium-sized garden rockery.

  • A crowbar for moving the biggest (keystone) rocks around;
  • Shovel for moving soil, rake for spreading compost and a trowel for planting;
  • A selection of alpine or other suitable plant species;
  • A mix of weed-free topsoil, horticultural grit and leaf mould;
  • Permeable landscape fabric/polythene sheet or inverted turves;
  • Broken pots, small stones, old bricks, and other hardcore materials;
  • Rocks of varied sizes (preferably locally sourced, such as slate, granite, or sandstone).

Bring your rockery to life

  • Mark the boundaries. Use pegs and a string to define the area where your rockery is going to be raised. You can also get a marker spray from your local hardware store.
  • Do away with weeds. These parasitic plants simply have to go. Start by hand weeding them and use a herbicide to kill more resilient weeds, such as bindweed or ground elder.
  • Add a 15-cm-deep base. Set the stage for your rockery with broken bricks/pots, gravel or pea shingle. The base will improve drainage and will also act as support for the rocks.
  • Separate the base layer from the compost. You can do this with a layer of permeable landscape fabric. This will also discourage weeds from growing in between the hardcore. Alternatively, you can also use a polythene sheet with small holes made at 10 cm intervals or inverted turves (matted earth formed by mixing grass with plant roots).
  • Place the biggest rocks first. Use your spade to dig out small hollows for each stone, then take the crowbar and move your keystones into position. Figure out which direction your garden is facing (north, south, west, or east) to place your rocks at just the right angles and create the perfect microclimate for your plants.
  • Mix your compost and add it around the rocks. Use the mixture to fill in the areas underneath and the gaps in between each rock to keep them firmly in place.
  • Grab a rake and spread the compost. Spread out the mix evenly across the entire rockery space, making sure not to compact the mix in the process.
  • Add the living components to your garden. Start by placing your potted plants at the desired spots in your garden. Once you’re happy with the arrangement, gently transfer each plant from its pot to the compost mix, and top-dress them with some gravel or grit.
  • Add a mulch layer of small stones on top. Cover the area with a layer of tiny stones. This will hold the compost in place and give your space that distinct rockery garden look.

Some alpine rockery words of maintenance wisdom

With your rockery complete, it’s time to learn how to preserve its majestic appeal in the long term. For starters, you need to know that just because your garden is mostly made of rocks doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s immune to pests.

Some of the troublemakers you should keep an eye for include ants, birds, slugs and, the worst offenders of them all – aphids and vine weevils. If the latter two are giving you a major headache, check out our guide on how to combat these pesky insects using natural methods.

To maintain your garden healthy, you also need to:

  • Promptly remove any fallen leaves and cut back any overgrown plants come autumn;
  • Identify, label, and cover any plants that are not likely to survive the winter on their own;
  • Enforce weed control measures every chance you get, regardless of the season;
  • Be careful with your watering regime to avoid root rot issues down the line.


Just like any garden, even the unconventional rockery landscape will very much rely on your undivided love and attention for its survival.

From picking the right tools and plants to preparing the area for your to-be-garden, you need to be dedicated from start to finish if you hope to end up with something truly special.

So, take a deep breath, make a checklist of all the things we’ve mentioned thus far and you should be looking at a “Rock Garden of the Year” nominee in no time.

Did we miss anything? How about you – do you have any rockery building tips of your own? Let your voice be heard by writing us in the comment section below and make sure to follow us on social media so you don’t miss out any future bits of gardening wisdom.

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What Is A Rockery – Information On Garden Rockery Construction

By Mary Dyer, Master Naturalist and Master Gardener

What is a rockery? In simple terms, a rockery is an arrangement of rocks and alpine plants. Rockeries are focal points in the landscape, often created to take advantage of a naturally sloped or terraced area. Read on for more info on how to make a rockery of your own.

Rockery Garden Design

Many gardeners prefer to construct a rockery in autumn, and then plant it in spring so the roots have time to establish before hot weather.

You need several large rocks to serve as anchors for your rockery. Collect the rocks yourself, or purchase them from a rock dealer, quarry, or landscape company. If possible, use interestingly shaped rocks that are native to your area. Rocks with lichens or moss add texture, color, and a feeling of permanence.

Once you have your large rocks, you can plan your rockery. Rockery garden design can be tricky, but the job is easier if you outline a plan on paper first. Be sure to take rock size into consideration, and then draw plants proportionately. A rockery should look like a natural, organic part of the landscape.

When you’ve designed a basic garden plan, purchase plants from a greenhouse or from a nursery that specializes in Alpine plants.

Garden Rockery Plants

Alpine plants are perennials that grow in high, rocky areas. The choice of suitable plants is huge. For example, many spring-blooming bulbs do well in rockeries. The following garden rockery plants will help get you started:

  • Sedum
  • Yarrow
  • Alyssum
  • Primrose
  • Oxalis
  • Dianthus
  • Heuchera
  • Saxifrage
  • Crocus
  • Tulips
  • Allium
  • Snowdrops
  • Daffodils

You can also plant a few dwarf conifers, such as juniper or pine, which add year-round color to your rockery. For spring and summer color, consider blooming, mounding shrubs such as azalea.

Although rockeries are often located in full sunlight, you can build your rockery in partial shade. Select plants accordingly and consider the growing needs for each plant. For example, if your plants require afternoon shade, don’t plant them in full sunlight. Don’t plant water-loving plants alongside drought-tolerant plants.

Garden Rockery Construction

Consider the soil in the area before constructing your rock garden. Alpine plants require loose, well-drained soil, so if your soil is poor or compacted, dig in several inches of bark or compost to improve soil quality and drainage.

Bury your large rocks according to your diagram. Be sure each rock is buried to a soil depth of at least one-third to keep the rock securely in place.

Once the large rocks are in place, arrange plants and smaller rocks. Set the plant pots and rocks, and then stand back and take a look. Experiment and rearrange until you like the looks of the rockery, then secure the rocks and plant your Alpine plants. Finish by surrounding the plants and rocks with a layer of gravel or pebbles.

Give your rockery regular attention to keep it in tip-top shape. Water regularly and weed once every week. Trim overgrown plants and divide perennials as needed – usually once every three to four years.

A rock garden is a great low-maintenance solution for sunny slopes or awkward corners.

A rockery is the perfect way to show off delicate, alpine plants. They are happy in shallow soil and don’t mind the cold, but really need good drainage. So, one important key to success is to make sure that rainwater doesn’t hang around the planting.

Dig Down

To make sure there are no weeds and to get a really good, firm foundation for the stones, dig out the top 5-10cm of soil. If there is still a lot of grass or weeds in the soil after you’ve removed the top layer you may need to spray with a herbicide.

Add Big Boulders

Get boulders as big as your budget and size of plot will allow. They’re available from bigger garden centres and online, but be aware that delivery can bump up the cost considerably. Work out exactly where you want to put them, so that you can keep any heavy lifting and moving to a minimum. And, bear in mind that they’ll need to be dug into the ground, so they don’t move. One good design option is to make a flowing ‘stream’ of rocks going across the area.

Ron EvansGetty Images

Drainage Layer

To make sure the drainage is really good put in a layer, 5-10cm deep, of course rubble, broken bricks and stone throughout the site. To keep this from mixing with the new layer of compost, lay sheets of semi-permeable plastic, available from garden centres, over the top. When you’re putting this down cut the plastic around the big boulders.

Smaller Stones and Compost

On top of this sheeting goes the medium sized boulders and smaller stones. Make different sized hollows in amongst the stones for compost where you will put either individual plants or groups of plants.

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At this stage leave the project for week or so before planting and if it hasn’t rained, hose it all down to see what shifts. It’s likely the compost will move as it settles in and some of the medium and small stones may need to be tweaked. Then it’s time to plant up. There are hundreds of different alpines but a good place to start is with the easy ones. These all form low growing evergreen mounds with bright flowers in late spring and summer:

  • Phlox subulata ‘McDaniel’s Cushion’
  • Armeria maritime
  • Saxifraga ‘Winifred Bevington’
  • Veronica prostrata
  • Lithodora diffusa ‘Heavenly Blue’

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What is a rock garden?

Contrary to what you might think, a rock garden isn’t simply a garden filled with rocks, unless of course you are Japanese. Generally, a rock garden has plants too. The Japanese have for centuries used specially designed Zen rock gardens as a way to try to reach enlightenment. However, for those of us who are not into meditation and Zen, rock gardens with plants can still offer a relaxing and beautiful space in the yard. By carefully selecting the right rocks – and the best plants to put in between them — you can create a low-maintenance area that will be a pleasure to look at. A rock garden can also turn an otherwise awkward spot, like a hard-to-mow slope, into a showcase for your more delicate plants.

The set-up of a rock garden entails quite a bit of work so make sure you’ve thought it through properly and designed your rock garden before you start moving rocks around. After all, you don’t want to keep changing your mind while you’re working with heavy rocks, especially by yourself. (It’s probably a good idea to have a friend on hand to help.) It’s important to make sure that your design has the right amount of drainage and soil. You also need to be prepared to wait until the rocks have settled before planting in case you need to top up the soil. Once you’ve chosen plants that will grow well in your soil, the resulting rock garden will need very little attention; just the occasional weeding and watering.


By using the using the same type of rock in a variety of shapes and sizes you can create a wonderful contrast between the rocks and the flowers. After all the hard work is done, just sit back and enjoy your rock garden as it blends into the landscape.

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