The Rock Garden

The first step in creating a good rock garden is choosing a location.

Steps to Creating a Rock Garden

The first step in creating a good rock garden is choosing a location.  A slope or area of uneven terrain is ideal for a rock garden.  If you plan to import rocks for your rock garden, decide on a location that is close to where the rocks could be dumped.  A rock garden should be in full sun, or perhaps in the partial shade of a dwarf shrub. A good rock garden has a natural looking rock layout in addition to a good location.  Get ideas about how to arrange your stones from natural rocky areas in parks or from professionally designed rock gardens.  In most cases it is best to clump rocks in masses, leaving areas that can be filled with a soil/sand mixture for the rock plants. On a slope, the larger stones should be at the bottom, with the smaller stones on top or jutting out of the hillside.  After creating a layout, bury stones so that at least one third of each stone is under the soil.  Angle the stones so that rainwater is directed toward the plants.

Try to use just one kind of rock; native rocks will look most natural.  Place the rocks so that their grains are all going in the same direction.  To achieve a weathered look, you can paint rocks with yogurt.  This will attract lichens. Now that you have designed your garden, you are ready to plant.  Select dwarf, slow growing and slow spreading perennials.  Make sure that your plants are hardy for your winter conditions, and will be able to withstand the heat or dryness of the summer.  Dwarf trees and shrubs can also be planted in a rock garden. Many genera have species that are suitable for rock gardening.  Try small varieties of Hosta, Veronica, Helianthemum, or Dianthus.  Grasses, such as petite varieties of Carex and Festuca, can add an architectural accent to the garden.

Maintenance of a Rock Garden

The main maintenance task in a rock garden is weeding.  If your rock garden will be large, place some flat, well-anchored rocks that can serve as stepping-stones for weeding the center of the garden.  Dividing the rock garden from the lawn with a high edge will reduce the number of grassy weeds that invade your rock garden.  Also, a mulch of stone chips or gravel will exclude many weeds while maintaining the garden‚Äôs natural appearance.

Why Plant a Rock Garden?

A rock garden is ideal for sloping or rocky conditions since these are the areas where rock gardens naturally occur.  If your property has steep slopes or rocky areas, consider planting a rock garden rather than terracing the area or attempting to remove the rocks. Planting a rock garden on a steep bank will stop erosion. However, even if you do not have a slope or naturally rocky ground, you can import stones to create a rock garden.  A rock garden anywhere will beautify the landscape. Rock gardens are also well suited for miniature or trough gardens.  A large variety of rock plants can be planted in a limited space due to the small size of the plants.  Elderly or disabled people can easily maintain trough or miniature gardens.  A rock garden, done properly, can be wild and natural in appearance or can be formal and symmetrical.  A rock garden is a permanent asset.  Space-efficient rock gardens are perfect for properties where little room is available for gardens.

Common Pitfalls in Rock Gardening

One common problem in rock gardening is choosing plants that spread quickly and invade the garden.  Certain types of stonecrop and thyme are especially prone to this problem.  When purchasing a plant, look for a clumping or cushion-forming growth habit.  Another common pitfall in rock gardening is creating pockets of soil that are too small or do not drain well enough. Eighteen inches of developed soil is required for the long roots of rock plants, and more is required for dwarf shrubs and trees.  Rock plants require soil that drains very well, which can be achieved by adding sand to soil.  Also, be sure to include adequate organic matter.

Our rock garden is located beneath the large sign that says Learning Gardens, next to the water garden.  It was first created to beautify a pile of rocks that were unearthed when the pond was dug. The plants in the rock garden are terrestrial (low elevation) rock plants that are commonly available, rather than hard to find alpine plants.  Rock plants are dwarf plants, most commonly perennials with clumping habits.  Alpine plants are rock plants native to the harsh climate of mountaintops.  Alpine plants can be difficult to grow at low elevations. Some of the plants in the rock garden are Sedum (Stonecrop), Armeria, and Sempervivum (Hens and Chicks).