Rock Gardens: The Solution for Troublesome Landscapes

Does your landscape contain a steep embankment? Does it have non-grassy or rocky areas? These troublesome sites need not be nuisances; in fact, these are ideal locations for creating rock gardens. These types of gardens can provide endless beauty throughout the seasons as well as individuality. Since design techniques and climates vary, so will the rock garden.

Many types of plants thrive in a rocky environment; the key factors for success involve good drainage, proper soil amendment and rock selection. Choose plants suitable to your particular landscape. Incorporate native wildflowers, small garden plants and dwarf varieties of other plants. To create visual interest throughout the seasons, add bulbs and other spring-blooming plants followed by summer and fall bloomers. For winter interest, dwarf grasses and conifers along with other evergreen plants can be added. Succulents are quite natural in a rock garden, especially mixed together with various daisies. A variety of succulents will thrive within a flat rock garden as well. A few of these favorites include sedums, jade plants, and sempervivums; all of which look quite charming nestled amidst an assortment of mulching materials.

The uneven, rough outlines of rocks also make a wonderful setting for growing a variety of cacti. Bulbs which can be planted in between rocks include crocus, hyacinth, snowdrops, scilla, dwarf iris and daffodil varieties. Numerous annuals and perennials work well within rock gardens and may include wooly yarrow, thyme, campanula, phlox, geranium, anemone, columbine, dianthus, violet, allium, lady’s mantle, ajuga, foam flower, coral bells, thrift, ice plant, Artemisia, cushion spurge, lamb’s ears, periwinkle, ageratum, sweet alyssum, hens and chicks, silver mound, sweet woodruff, aster, dwarf marigold, moss rose, sweet William, baby’s breath, and lavender. Compact varieties of shrubs such as barberry, juniper, spirea, and rugosa rose can be implemented as well.

Choose a location that is large enough not only to accommodate plants but rocks as well. Decide if you would like a sunny rock garden or a shady one. Sloping landscapes generally work best; however, if this is not an option and you would like to put a rock garden in a level area, simply add some dirt and create mounds for a more natural-looking appearance. To ensure healthy plant growth, prepare the soil by adding sand, peat moss or compost to the existing soil. The type of rocks you choose can impact your garden. If you must choose your own rocks, stick with the same type of rocks which are natural to your area. For instance, rocks and boulders taken from your property are preferable. Choose rocks of various sizes to give the garden depth. For rock gardens containing alpine plants, you should consider choosing porous rocks such as sandstone, limestone, and shale. These rocks absorb water, which will ultimately keep plant roots cool and maintain moisture.

Place the largest rocks first keeping enough space between them to add plants. Position the rocks in a non-uniform pattern to maintain a natural look and partially bury them. Add smaller stones to accent the larger ones and allow some of these to carefully peak through the soil to mimic nature. To help retain water, tilt the rocks backward within the soil. This will allow water to drain back into the slope instead of simply running off. Create pockets between rocks and fill them with plants according to your design scheme. For instance, rock cress and violets look lovely tucked into crevices along with wood phlox, candytuft, and dwarf azaleas. For additional structure and year-round interest, add dwarf conifers and other evergreens. Incorporate natural-looking mulch such as pebbles or gravels. The sloping rock garden can be further enhanced with interesting water features such as cascades or falls.

Other ideas for rock gardens include rock retaining walls and stone patios. You can create cascades of colorful flowers by incorporating a rock retaining wall. To ensure success, the wall should not be implemented with mortar. Instead, layer the soil between stones and add plants as you build the wall up. It is imperative that you implement only flat stones. Retaining walls do not require any type of foundation unless they are taller than 2 or 3 feet. When you are building up the wall, do not leave any space between the wall soil and the soil of the slope. As you move up within layers, position the stones so they cover the previous layer joints. Slightly angle the retaining wall against the slope so water can easily seep down and reach plants. Make sure the wall has spaces in-between the stones to add some soil and a small plant. Patios can be given new life by planting small perennials, such as creeping thyme, in-between your patio stones.

There are bound to be unfavorable sites within any landscape; however, many of them can be easily fixed by creating your own unique rock garden.

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