Rock gardens might suit you if you have a rocky site with rather poor soil or a lot of gravel. Or perhaps you have a hillside that is hard to mow. Before you try removing all the gravel and rocks, perhaps you should consider putting a garden there. In the spring there is nothing prettier than the bright colors of creeping phlox and rock cress trailing over a rock wall or popping out of a rock garden.
Rock gardens may be large and cover an entire hillside or as small as little island garden in a small yard. If you're attracted to succulants and saxatile plants or if you have a rocky terrain this might be the perfect choice for you.
Even if you don’t have a difficult terrain to landscape, you can create a garden using rocks that have surfaced on your property and amending the soil with part sand, part gravel and part leaf mold to make the site for your garden drain faster.
I have a small water feature in my yard just off the edge of the patio. It is made of imitation limestone but is surrounded by rocks from our yard. My rock garden is tiny, but it’s a perfect place for hens-and-chicks (sempervivum tectorum).
If you’re not familiar with these little gems, they are the rosette shaped succulents that you often see planted in strawberry pots. The big one in the center is “the hen” and the little ones that circle it are “the chicks.”
Once in a while the big one sends out a tall stem that produces little flowers at the end of it. I don’t find this particularly attractive so I’m glad it doesn’t happen regularly, but when it does the “hen” rosette will die. Usually the little ones will get bigger and fill in the empty spot, but you can help it by breaking off some of the smaller ones with a little bit of stem attached and put it where you want it. It will easily root where you plant it.
I have several varieties of hens-and-chicks in my rocky garden. I also have some miniature creeping sedums and some little plants marketed as “stepables." Steppables are minature ground covers that are supposed to be tough enough to walk on without killing the plants. I don't walk on mine so I can't vouch for that, but they look pretty in my little garden.
Recently, on a vacation to northern NY, I saw a garden store that had made several miniature landscapes using tiny succulents and bridges and arbors made out of grape vines. I thought it was so cute that I came home and made a little arbor out of grape vine for my own little garden.
Typically, plants that are in a rocky environment do not grow and spread like other perennials. Instead, saxatile plants (those that grow well in poor or rocky soil) form neat, round mounds that look beautiful surrounded by their rocky terrain. These plants are not desert plants though and need some water in very dry weather.
Rock gardens in a truely desert setting would need to depend on cacti and other plants that have some way to store water and survive in very dry landscapes. The focus should be as much or more on the rocks and sand of the desert.
Alpine plants are another kind of plant used in rock gardens. They are plants that normally grow north of the tree line on mountainous slopes and are usually tough little plants that have learned to survive in harsh conditions. There are trailing types of alpine plants, too that look awesome planted in the crevices of rock walls or between flagstones in a naturalized garden.
I have a couple of porous rocks in my garden that originally came from a florist with a little dish garden in them. These have become welcome additions to the variety of rocks in my garden and now are homes to hens and chicks, some wooly thyme and a few pinks.
When you’re placing your rocks in your garden, they look more naturalized if they are partially buried. Put your plants near your rocks so they can receive a little shelter from the direct sun. When you’re finished designing your rock garden it’s helpful to spread another layer of pretty pebbles or gravel. This helps to keep the plants drier in heavy rain and keeps down the weeds. Plus, the stones themselves are part of the beauty of this garden.
If you’re buying rocks for your rock garden, be sure to buy porous rocks that will absorb some water. Since the ideal soil for rock gardens drains fairly quickly, a porous rock will keep the roots of a plant planted near it cool in very hot weather.
In winter my little rock garden is covered with snow which is a great insulator, but if your area doesn’t get a lot of snow it’s a good idea to cover your garden with a layer of evergreen boughs to protect it from constant freezing and thawing.
The alpine plants above are planted in a rocky well draining soil similar to there native environment.
As always, Thanks, for gardening with Julie!
Drought Resistant Plants
Drought Resistant Perennials
Perennial Garden Ideas
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