Rock On: Plan a rock garden for your landscape

Published 12:33 pm Tuesday, August 29, 2023

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A rockery, also known as a rock garden, can be a natural mountain escarpment with large boulders, smaller rocks and plants growing among the various stones. And it can just as well be man-made to look natural. Smaller rock gardens can fit in a container or flower pot, and feature cacti or other succulent. This is a fairly popular feature, especially in urban settings. Might it be a feature for your yard? Should you want a rock garden?

Dreaming, designing, planning. Those are important before you get to work.

Find a good location for your rock project. For a large property, this could mean more than one such rockery project. It should appear natural and scaled to the property size. Although, a fence or hedge can make for a small rock garden being just a part of that limited ‘outdoor room’.

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Do you need to dig or prepare the site? The answer to this question can depend on many variables. The slope or lack thereof, the trees and vines that exist, the kinds of plant species you plan to plant in your new creative rockery, drainage concerns and objectives you hope to accomplish are worth considering. Digging may not be necessary if you’re relying on bringing everything in and building with rocks, gravel, or dirt as a raised area on top of the existing terrain.

Once you have a location and a plan, you are ready to plot out the placement of the largest stones and where you want your bed to begin and end. Big rocks should be planned first, but you can get started on one side if you don’t yet have any available big stones—just remember to keep in mind where the bigger rocks will go once you obtain them. Ideally, you’d place smaller rocks and sand around them. 

Allow for good planting spots using soil that fits the plants you’re planning to use. Any yard can have a beautiful rockery if it’s designed thoughtfully and in coordination with its surroundings.

Do you want to grow herbs? Perennials? Shrubs? Clumps of grasses? Perhaps a tree that likes dry conditions? Raised beds enable lots of options.

Rockeries can flank a water feature or be located beside a rustic outdoor seating or grilling location to great effect. They can be large enough in scale to give privacy if you desire more private spots in your yard. 

Rock gardens can be placed to hide troubling spots or places where nothing will grow. They also can connect gestures, such as the lawn to a wooded area. A well-placed rockery can divide the home and a detached garage or simply be the main focal point of the entire landscape if their scale is sufficiently large. Or, they can be so small as to fit in some large pots or containers on the patio.

There’s an annual magazine called “The Rock Garden” in Scotland. There are lots of books and magazines on landscaping and gardening—and some of these contain articles or chapters on rock gardening. North American Rock Garden Society publishes a quarterly, and they do have a ‘local’ chapter in North Carolina for the serious rock gardener.

Is there a rock garden in your future?

The author is a landscaper. He can be contacted at (606) 416-3911 or