How to Build a Rock Garden

­Few are able to deny the magnetism that rock gardens have. If you’ve never seen one, a rock garden is simply a plot with a mix of rocks and any of several special species of small flowers. Some would say that because rocks are permanent, solid and rugged, they complement t­he delicacy of flowers. The Japanese recognized the calming and meditative effect of rock arrangement as far back as the medieval era when they developed the Zen garden. Fortunately, forging a beautiful and relaxing rock garden in your yard is surprisingly simple.

If you’re still on the fence about whether you want to take the time to build a rock garden, consider that this small time investment will pay off in spades. That’s because rock gardens can turn grassy areas and awkward, difficult-to-mow slopes into a low-maintenance landscape. In other words, when you’re done landscaping, you can just step back and enjoy your garden. You’ll probably have no harder labor ahead of you than occasional light watering or perhaps removing a weed or two.


­When you’ve learned just a few tricks of the trade, you can create an effective rock garden that seamlessly blends into your landscape. Consider how other kinds of gardens, such as vegetable gardens, can look obviously cultivated ­and artificial. On the other hand, a well-designed rock garden evokes a sense that Mother Nature has courteously bestowed some her best work on your land, to the envy of all the other lawns. In addition, rock gardens provide the ideal place to showcase the small, delicate and understated flowers that get overshadowed in other gardens.

If you happen to have a gentle slope in your yard that gets plenty of sun, this is the perfect place to build a natural-looking rock garden. If you aren’t so lucky, however, you still have plenty of options. Take note that sometimes different rules apply to varying climates and soils, too, but we’ll lend tips when these exceptions might crop up. Next, we’ll dig into what makes a proper rock garden foundation.

Does your homestead landscape have some empty space that could become a rock garden? Also known as a rockery, a rock garden adds dramatic year-round visual interest to any landscape while expanding the type of plants you can grow.

A rock garden, glowing with brightly colored perennials, can add a splash of color to an otherwise dark corner of your landscape. Planted with perennial culinary and medicinal herbaceous plants, the homestead rock garden adds value to the property. The plants can function as a storehouse of fresh herbs for personal use, or to sell as a cash crop at the local farmer’s market.

Planning A Rock Garden

When it comes to planning out the rock garden, use your imagination! A rock garden can be as small or as large as you want. Do the research to determine what species of plants will grow best in your area, and select the rock garden layout from there. An Internet search, or visit to a local landscape nursery, for inspiration is a good starting point.

A visit to a local garden or park can give you the rock garden inspiration that you need. Kevin M Klerks / Flickr (Creative Commons)

Choose plants for your rock garden based on size, color, and growing habits. Plants native to your area are most likely to flourish, as they are acclimated to local growing conditions.

Choosing A Location

Most types of plants that grow well in rock gardens require adequate light. Build and develop your rock garden where it will receive plenty of sunshine, away from shade and shadows that are created from trees and buildings. It is best to select a location that will have a few hours of strong sunlight, rather than one that receives light shade throughout the day.

Preparing The Rock Garden

Cultivate the soil well, removing rocks, weeds, and debris. By having a clear area, you’ll be able to have a “blank canvas” for laying out your rocks. Additionally, the lack of weeds and debris will allow the plants in your rock garden to flourish!

Getting Started

Experienced gardeners suggest getting started on your rock garden in the fall or winter, allowing the rocks and soil a chance to settle before adding plants in the spring. In northern climates, planting perennial plants in the spring allows the plant to be well established before winter winds blow.

Selecting The Best Rocks

Keep in mind that when designing a rock garden, the rocks selected for the garden are just as important as the plants. When laying out the design of your rock garden, always place the largest rocks first and finish up with smaller stones.

Just a coupla #rockgarden weenie beans 🌿🐶🐶🌿

A post shared by 🐶💖🐶💖🐶 (@theweenstagram) on Jul 24, 2017 at 3:31pm PDT

Bury larger rocks with at least a third of the rock below the soil level to create a natural appearance. A rock garden can be contoured as an erosion control diversion when landscaping on a steep slope. To achieve harmony, continuity, and balance, use just one type of stone per garden.

Positioning The Rocks

When laying out the stones, be creative and take advantage of where you place each stone to show it off. If the stone selected for the rock garden displays layers, or strata, it is best to place them in a horizontal direction to mimic nature.

Position boulders and stones in conjunction with soil berms to create rock garden topography of peaks and valleys. Placing them in this way will also encourage drainage. Most rock garden plants require fast-draining soil and cannot live in an environment of standing water.

Once you are finished with stone selection, placement, and soil amendments, it is time to choose hardy, low-maintenance plants acclimated to your U.S. Plant Hardiness Zone.

Northern Rock Gardens

A well-planned rock garden provides an ideal environment for many alpine species in northern climates. Alpine-type plants grow best on rocky mountain slopes with excellent drainage and plenty of light. By adding rocks, and doing a bit of planning, the home gardener can “mimic” the plant’s native habitat in miniature.

Alpine plants. Akos Kokai / Flickr (Creative Commons)

Alpine plants thrive in most any type of soil with excellent drainage. They are adaptive and will do quite well in dry and impoverished soil, but will do much better in a loose mix of well-drained, nutrient-rich soil.

Creating Ideal Soil Conditions

To provide these conditions in the garden, prepare a soil mixture to pack between the rocks. Blend a mixture of three parts organic topsoil, 1 part aged herbivore (horse, cow, sheep, goat, llama) manure, one part peat moss, one part small washed gravel or coarse horticultural grit, and one-part horticultural sand.

Blend this mixture well. Do not use sand you gathered at the beach: the salts and other contaminants in the sand will kill your plants.

Information On Alpine Plants

When choosing flowers for northern rock gardens, be sure to check the United States Plant Hardiness Zone for the plants you are considering. Keep in mind when you’re planning your garden that alpine plants are perennials. There are no annual alpine plants.

Alpine plants are propagated from seed, bulbs, tubers, or rootstock. Iris, Tulips, Narcissus, Northern Blue Flag, Bluets, Canada Anemone, Ice plant, Crocus, Wild Bergamot, and Joe-Pye Weed do well in northern rock gardens.

An alpine rock garden in full bloom. Bernard DUPONT / Flickr (Creative Commons)

Joe-Pye Weed is an especially vigorous plant with delicate flowers whose scent attracts hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees.

Altitude also factors into plant selection. Alpine plants, suitable for rock garden planting, typically do best in high altitudes. Alpine plants are usually small, low-growing plants that are tolerant of extreme temperatures. Most alpine plants are exceptionally hardy, woody, and evergreen. They may be herbaceous or deciduous as well.

Alpine plants are well suited for northern rock gardens, as they are minimal and barely touched by cold north winds. Small and compact, alpine plants can bear the weight of heavy winter snow loads.

Other Effective Plants For Northern Rock Gardens

Although not considered alpines, Dianthus (known as “Pinks”), all varieties of Sedum, Pasque Flower, and Creeping Thyme thrive in northern alpine rock gardens.

Winter hardy Variegated Creeping Thyme, Creeping Phlox, Rock Soapwort, Chick and Hens, and English Ivy make attractive additions to your northern rock garden.

Quenched 🌱 #inthegarden #hensandchicks #succulent #succulentgarden #rockgarden #aftertherain

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Kinnikinnik, a low-growing and cold-hardy evergreen, is undoubtedly the best native ground cover for homestead gardens in the Pacific Northwest.

Positioning The Plants

When choosing plants for your rock garden, select low-growing perennial plants to place in the foreground. Pick a few taller plants for balance, height, and to complement large boulders or a rock outcropping. Medium sized winter-hardy plants suitable for rock garden placement include Lavender, Pennycress, Autumn Joy Sedum, Columbine, Iris, California Poppies, Bellflowers, and Moonbeam Coreopsis.

Playscape and rock garden, with garden boxes to come! #thegreenseedpdx #ecofriendly #landscaping #design+build #familyownedandoperated #nature #rockgarden #timetorelax #ecolandscape #summer #kidsplayarea #playscape #goodbyegrass

A post shared by Austin & Emily Booth (@thegreenseedpdx) on Jul 23, 2017 at 9:05am PDT

In addition to alpine plants and low-growing winter hardy perennials, a rock garden can include ornamental grasses. These grasses include Purple Fountain Grass, Bottlebrush Grass, Northern Prairie Dropseed, and small shrubs and dwarf conifers such as Blue Rug Juniper.

Consider Hardiness Zones

When purchasing rock garden plants online, from a nursery, greenhouse, or local garden center, determine where the stock originated. Plant stock from a warm climate may be less hardy than is required for your northern garden. It is best to choose plants cultivated in United States Hardiness Zones 2 through 4. The lower the zone number, the hardier the plant. Select robust plants with a strong and well-developed root system.

Southwestern Rock Gardens

If you live in a hot, southwestern climate, you have the ability to duplicate the rocky and arid conditions of the desert to cultivate cacti and succulents.

Dare to be different. 🌵❤ #cactus #succulent #rockgarden #garden #phoenix #arizona #beautiful

A post shared by Kaity Thomas (@kaity.t) on Jul 24, 2017 at 7:44am PDT

When adding a hardscape element such as a rock garden to your landscape, select native rocks that blend with other rocks or rock materials on your property.

Euphorbia Plants

When choosing plants for a dry and arid rock garden location, you can’t go wrong with Euphorbia. An awesome family of succulents available in a diverse array of sizes, shapes, and colors, Euphoria are extremely drought and heat tolerant.

Euphorbia plants are perfect for Southwestern rock gardens. Amanda Slater / Flickr (Creative Commons)

Euphorbia presents shallow roots for ease of planting between rocks and landscape elements. While most varieties of Euphorbia are low growing ground covers that are less than six inches tall at maturity, other varieties can reach six feet tall.

Check the plant label to make sure you are getting the appropriate size for your rock or wall garden site. Myrtle Spurge is a favorite for its delicate leaves and sunshine yellow flowers. The easy to grow plant forms mounds 12-to-18 inches wide, and 8-to-12 inches tall.

Talk To The Professionals

Depending on the size and scope of your rock garden project, you may want to consider consulting an established professional landscape contractor. The contractor can secure an estimate on the materials and installation cost of the project you have in mind.

If you are planning a small rock garden, you can manage with a little muscle, shovel, crowbar, and wheelbarrow.

For more complex projects consider hiring a professional. Clotee Pridgen Allochuku / Flickr (Creative Commons)

By planning ahead, you may realize that you want to leave the job in the hands of professionals who are experienced and equipped to do the job properly. Realizing this sooner, rather than later, will save you a lot of time and heartache.

Final Thoughts

Keep in mind that some rock gardens may be a bit slow to establish. The majority of rock garden plants and ground covers require two to three years to become sufficiently dense. Once the plants are dense, they will provide full soil coverage and control weeds.

#succulents #rockgarden #summer #garden

A post shared by @ sfourqurean on Jul 22, 2017 at 9:24am PDT

Fast-growing plants can help fill in bare spaces, and then be cut back or transplanted to other locations as the rock garden matures. Be patient, and you will have a eye-catching rock garden in no time!

  • Native Plant Landscaping Made Easy, King County
  • Ground Covers & Rock Gardens, Colorado State University Extension
  • Garden Of The Season, Alpine Garden Society
  • Myrtle Spruge, Colorado Department of Agriculture
  • Alpines & Rock Gardens, Let’s Go Gardening


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Whether you want to make the most of an area in your garden that is difficult to maintain, or you just want to spice up your front lawn or backyard, rock gardens are a great way to do so. Usually, when you think about a garden, you generally think of green foliage, flowers, and bright colors. However, one of the fundamental but underappreciated parts of our gardens are the rocks. If you add rocks to your garden, incorporating them in the design and have them featured prominently among your foliage; you have a rock garden.

Just like plants, rocks also come in all different shapes and sizes. Although they do tend to be within a select color range or hue; this can be used as an advantage as well. The earthy tones and colors of rocks and stones elicit a natural closeness to nature. You can use the sturdy and unique form of these rocks to create a distinctive garden or lawn. Read on to find out how you can build your own rock garden and various ideas, tips and tricks to help you get inspired for your own cool gardening adventure.

Table of Contents

What is a Rock Garden?

To start off, let’s first understand what exactly a rock garden is. What comprises a rock garden? Can you place a few small stones in your yard to cover some patchy grass and call it a rock garden, or is there more of a method to this than meets the eye?

A garden such as this is basically a small section or area of land that is used to feature or emphasize rocks. These are great for landscaping in open spaces and large areas. However, the only purpose of these gardens isn’t to just look good. There is a form of rock gardens which are called Zen or Japanese rock gardens. This Zen garden of rocks utilize an assortment of various stone, very small plants, water features, moss, sand, and small stones. They are used for the purpose of meditation. These Zen gardens were designed to create and elicit the spirit of nature.

So, it is a purposeful arrangement of rocks and stones, which highlights or draws attention to the rocks used. There is however no right way to design or set you your rock garden. You can choose to make your stone garden however you want, make your own arrangement of rocks, and use the type and style of rocks and other accessories as you want. However, it is a good idea to get tips on how to prepare a base or and place your rocks for your rock garden. This is essential in orders to prevent rain or other water features from causing problems or other garden pests such as weeds from ruining the aesthetic of your rock garden.

Some Basics

The biggest thing to remember about making or building a stone garden is that it requires more physical strength as compared to regular gardens. So, it is important to have thoroughly thought our plans and good preparation, in order to avoid unnecessary work or physical labor. It might be a good idea to sketch the design or placement out as well before you move the rocks.

As mentioned before some people use rock gardens to make the best or transform problem areas in their lawns or yards such as rocky slopes. Other people also bring in rocks to incorporate into their gardens. They use these to add dimension to lawns or yards that do not have rocks or that are flat. When they bring in rocks to add to their gardens, stronger and more study rocks are required but, in the end, it is worth the effort. You can look up rock garden ideas to get inspiration on how people have transformed their lawns.

Something else to consider when building your rock garden is how much space you have available. When you have a large space available the goal is usually to create a sprawling and natural looking rock gardens.

However, with small spaces, you can opt to create raised beds of rocks with well selected small rocks. By choosing a design like a raised rock garden bed you can easily fit in small spaces and nooks that you have in your garden. This will ensure that the rock garden is not in the way when you mow your lawn and it will also not require a lot of maintenance.

The third thing to remember in the basics of rock gardening is the importance of color. For instance, you can use a red sandstone to give your rock garden a structure that is not only aesthetically pleasing but also functions well. You can wash out the red sandstone to enhance its red color to its full extent.

The color scheme, in turn, will lead to the selection of plants and will influence your choice of them as well. In the case of the red sandstone, you will need some plants that will work with the color scheme. It would be best to use plants that have subtle hues of red in them as well as complementary colors such as white, yellow, and silver.

Another aspect to consider is the type of stone for your overall purpose. Sandstone is not a very durable material. It tends to crumble over the course of time and generally tends to be in the process of turning into soil. If your main goal is the beauty or aesthetic of this look and not durability, then sandstone is the choice for you. However, if you are looking for longevity and durability then you should consider other stones such as granite.

There are some basic tools you will require once you have decided on building your rock garden. The tools and supplies you will need are:

  • Plants
  • Stones
  • A trowel
  • A shovel
  • Tape measure
  • Wheelbarrow (To move things such as compost and soil)

1. Clear off a section of land

The first step to building your stone garden is to make some space for it within your lawn or yard. Generally, rock gardens have some elevation from the ground that surrounds them. When you create your own raised bed, this means that you need to first lay a course of rocks and soil and then built upon that.

If the ground that you wish to build your rock garden on is currently covered with grass, you should first figure out what you would like to do with the grass. What you do not want is for the grass to start growing in and around your rock garden later on. If you already have a cleared-up space, you can move on to the second step.

One solution to this is that you can dig up the grass beforehand and then lay down your rocks. However, an alternative easier method is to place a layer of newspapers over the grass and then put some dirt over top of them in order to hold the newspapers in place.

The layer of newspapers will prevent the grass from getting nutrients such as sunlight and water that it needs and will eventually smother and cause the grass to decompose. The newspaper is a good idea as it will also decompose over time and not cause damage to the garden in any other way.

However, even before the decomposition of the grass starts you will still have completed the first step towards your rock garden; which is to clear up space.

2. Plot Your Design

If you already have an area cleared up, you can skip the step of putting a layer of newspaper and move on to planning your placement. A good idea is to plan out exactly what you want to with your land and area. This is important to do before you start work in order to avoid doing extra heavy lifting.

You can plan out the design by using inverted marking paint. That way you will have a good idea of what the stone garden should look like. You can look up some rock garden ideas to help you out in planning as well.

Another good tip is to add in some materials on top of the cleared area or newspapers that will help with increasing the soil drainage and also you can a layer of a weed resistant fabric if weeds are common for that area.

3. Choose Your Rocks and Lay Down the First Layer

The next step is to select the rocks you want to use, you can choose rocks based on what you have available at your local gardening or landscaping store or you can choose to purchase some from stone suppliers. Most of the small stones and rocks should be available from the gardening or landscaping stores. However, for the larger boulders or rocks, you will have to contact stone suppliers and their quarries.

If you already have your stones and rocks or at least some basic ones to start with you can lay down the first layer of stones and soil. This is to create that elevated bed for your rock garden. If, however, you are going for a larger more sprawling look you should place your heavy boulders first and use them as guidelines to make your design. You can again look up some designs or tips for rock gardens to help you out.

For the raised bed lay out a circle of rocks as the perimeter for your rock garden bed, optionally you can use any other shape that you want as well but for the base, a circle is recommended. In this case for a small rock bed, you can keep the width of the base about four feet in diameter. It is a good idea to use your bigger and more unattractive rocks for this bottom layer.

There are two reasons to do this, firstly by using your heaviest rocks you will not have to lift these for the next layer. Secondly, the first layer will be less visible, so it is a good idea to use the more unattractive rocks and then showcase the more attractive rocks in the second layer.

4. Add in the Soil

Now that you have the first layer of rocks in place, you need to add in the soil to fill it up. Generally, for rock gardens, plants that require a type of soil that provides good drainage are used. This means that you require the use of sandy soil.

If by chance you do not have sandy soil you but have clay-like soil you can add some sand to it and compost in order to encourage better drainage.

Shovel the soil into the circle or bed created by the rocks. Once the soil is filled in the bed, it is a good idea to walk on the soil to help settle it and pack it down. Later in order to complement the sandy and high drainage soil, you will add plants to your rock garden that are typically used in rock gardens and prefer high drainage soil.

5. Lay Down the Second Layer of Rocks

Now for the second layer of the raised bed of the rock garden, you need to make a smaller raised bed within the first one. You simply have to make another circle of rocks but with a smaller diameter as compared to the first, so you form a circle within a circle.

When making this smaller circle of the rock garden you need to ensure that the second circle is small enough such that it leaves a sufficiently wide enough perimeter between the first circle and itself. The area between the two circles should be wide enough such that you can place the plants inside it. As well as the area within the second circle should be wide enough for a small plant to be planted there.

Since you will have used the heaviest stones for the first layer of the rock garden be, you will have the lighter stone left over to use for the second layer. This will make it easier for you to lift and maneuver these stones to use for the second layer. However, it is okay to save one or two heavier stones or rocks for the second layer if you feel they are exceptionally good looking or pretty. The second layer of rocks will be more visible and catch the eye of the viewer as they will be closer to the eye.

6. Planting the Plants

Now it is time to consider the flowers for your rock garden. In an ideal world, the selection of the plants used for your rock garden would be entirely based on the color schemes. However, there are many other factors that need to be considered in reality as they can interfere in the choices we make.

One of the biggest issues with relying solely on color schemes for landscaping is the fact that plants are actually alive, and this is a big contrast to other things such as painting or other projects where you can base choices on color schemes. Due to the fact that plants are living things, they have certain requirements that we need to consider in order for them to stay healthy and alive. So, the choice of plants can be based on color schemes, but it cannot be limited to just that.

There are several things to consider when trying to choose the right plants for your rock garden. As mentioned above, one of the most important things to consider is drainage. It is a good idea to look for plants and foliage that you can use in your rock garden that like good drainage. These are plants that grow best when water easily drips through their soil.

It would be a bad idea to add a plant that grows well in wet soil into this mixture even if it goes really well with the color scheme. You should only put plants of similar nature and growing requirements together in order to help them grow and last longer. If you place plants with different requirements for growth together, they may look good temporarily however, in the long run, it will be hard for them to thrive in your rock garden.

Aside from drainage, there are some other things to consider, such as how much sunlight the plants require, and how much they need to be watered. If you have a spot for your rock garden that is highly exposed to the sun, then it would be a good idea to choose plants that thrive in a lot of sunlight and then group similar plants together to make the best of your chosen spot and plants.

Finally, you should choose plants that vary in leaf texture, plant height, and size. This adds a nice visual effect and looks more natural. To get the best selection of plant for your rock garden, you should make a list with the following criteria and make sure each of your plants meets these criteria.

Criteria list:

  • Make sure it fits the color scheme
  • It should prefer good drainage
  • Requires a moderate amount of water
  • Thrives in a sunny environment
  • There is a variety of sizes and texture

The Bottom Line

Rock gardens can be a great way to add some life to your lawn or yard. The best rock gardens are those that give a natural look and help you enhance your garden. You can build a rock garden utilizing a rocky or uneven section of land within your lawn to create a sprawling rock garden. However, you can also build a smaller rock garden by adding external rocks to your lawn or yard as well. The most important step in making a rock garden is to plan well before you begin. Hopefully, this guide was helpful in getting started on building your own rock garden.


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Stunning Rock Garden Design Ideas

Why cultivate a rock garden? They’re low-maintenance. They’re in season all year round. They add variety to the landscape. Need another reason?

Rock gardens can bring a natural, rugged beauty to any yard, including those with steep hillsides or other difficult growing conditions.

Organic and natural materials should be anyone’s first choice when decorating the outdoors and having a rock garden should definitely be on your wishlist this summer. Use rocks to transform your plain and boring backyard into a beautiful and relaxing oasis. Use their sculptural beauty to create eye-catching designs and try to make them look as natural as possible in the setting you’re providing.
If you’re still on the fence about whether you want to take the time to build a rock garden, consider that this small time investment will pay off in spades. That’s because rock gardens can turn grassy areas and awkward, difficult-to-mow slopes into a low-maintenance landscape. In other words, when you’re done landscaping, you can just step back and enjoy your garden. You’ll probably have no harder labor ahead of you than occasional light watering or perhaps removing a weed or two.

In fact, rock gardens are gaining popularity, as they can bring a modern element to landscaping and be used in a variety of contexts. Whether you’re waving goodbye to the lawn in favor of pebbles or you’d like to create a mini rock garden in a contemporary large planter, today’s ideas will spark the imagination. Check out the inspirational rock garden design ideas bellow!

Thanks for sharing this!

Gardens are a beautiful, relaxing thing, but not everyone has the time or space to maintain one. Just because you live in a place with extreme weather where pretty flowers don’t grow well or your job involves a lot of travel, however, doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy a garden of some kind. Have you ever considered building yourself a lovely, low maintenance rock garden?

Check out these 15 rock garden designs of all sizes that will inspire you to start making your own right away!

1. Painted stepping stones

Perhaps you’re looking for a way to introduce lovely rock pieces leading through the yard to your actual garden. Maybe you’re just not quite ready for a full rock garden yet, but you’d like to incorporate rocks and stones into your decor. Painted stepping stones are the perfect solution for both of those things! Check out these gorgeous stones on Woo Home.

2. Rocks in your garden

Perhaps you live somewhere with moderate weather and you have a little gardening experience, but you’re still looking for a design with lots of rock involved? Try combining the two! We love this spiral vegetable garden from the Huffington Post. It creates an adorable visual and perfectly combines rock and traditional gardens.

3. Rock beds with cacti

If you’re not sure you like the contrast between luscious green plants and rocks but you’d still like a little greenery, then a cactus or two is the answer! You can basically create yourself a cute little desert landscape right in your back yard. Frame it with wooden beams to make it look like an actual garden bed, just like this one from My Austin Elite.

4. Rocks and logs

Have you ever thought about having different levels to your garden and yard? We love the way this raised rock garden by My Austin Elite looks! Framing the rocks with cleanly sanded wood logs helps you keep the rocks contained and lets you define the shape of your garden while also creating an interesting contrast.

5. A clean rock corner

Some rock gardens are quite clean and minimalist to look at, and we love the modern touch it adds no matter how big or small your yard is! Choose a corner and create a boxed off rock space made of straight, clean lines, just like this one from Housely.

6. Carefully positioned rocks

Some rock gardens border on becoming works of art. This design on Minimalisti has a hint of carefully organized flare to give visitors a complete visual experience when they walk into your yard. Propping, stacking, and partially burying certain parts of the garden so that rocks stand at interesting angles creates great contrast.

7. Stone seating

Especially if you have plans to build a fire pit in your yard for summer nights, then stone seating is pretty and practical! Large, flat stone slabs make the perfect spot to put sitting cushions down and enjoy your rock garden to its fullest. Check out this design on State Homes.

8. Rocks and pottery

If you’re concerned that a garden full of solely rocks will make your yard look like a desert landscape, find something to break up the visual! Zielmedia suggests pottery or stone work vases to give the garden a pop of colour and some height variation.

9. Painted kids’ rocks

Do you already have a rock garden but you’re looking for a way to let your kids add to it? Fun rock painting crafts are the perfect solution! Check out these colourful little rock critters from She Knows. We think they’d look adorable dotted around your display.

10. Rock garden in cement

Your rock garden doesn’t have to be built where your grass is. If you’ve been thinking of repaving a concrete or stone tiled area of your home, like the patio or the driveway, think about incorporating a rock garden into that part of your home instead. Save a square spot for a pretty rock garden design and fill it in with pebbles, stones, and a bit of complementary greenery, like this garden from Icon Home Design.

11. Raked rock zen gardens

Decoist suggests keeping things simple in construction but pretty visually by raking small pebbles into patterns like a Japanese zen garden! We love the way circles and softly waving lines look in designs like these and it’s also great that you can change the design whenever you want just by raking a new one.

12. Rock strawberries

If you’re looking for something a little more crafty and colourful to add to a garden you already have, rocks and rock gardens are still the thing for you! We love Housely‘s idea of painting little rocks like strawberries and filling pots with them, as though you’ve just been out strawberry picking.

13. Rocks as garden markers

Perhaps you have both a rock garden and a garden for plants or flowers? Incorporating a little greenery in your rock garden and a few stones in your regular garden blends the two just enough to balance out your yard. We love this simple idea of painting rocks to mark out where each vegetable you’re growing is planted! Check it out on Kitchen Fun with My 3 Sons.

14. Potted rock “cactus” garden

If you live in an apartment or have a very small yard, you might not have room for an entire rock garden. That doesn’t mean you have to miss out on all the fun, though! Grab a pot or a planter and fill it with small rocks, pebbles, or stones. Paint differently sized rocks like cacti and “plant” them in the pot full of tones so they stand upright like a cactus would. Place it somewhere in your home or garden for a little faux greenery!

15. Tabletop rock garden

Creating a tiny rock or zen garden can be just as relaxing and therapeutic as making and sitting in a full sized one. These are the perfect option for people who live in apartments or whose homes don’t have yard space. Grab a few smooth rocks or pebbles, some twigs and long lasting or faux plants, and a little box or tray to put them in. We love this one from Minimalisti!

Have you created other DIY rock garden ideas that you don’t see here but that you’re very proud of? Tell us about them in the comments section or link us to a picture of your work!

Decorative rocks and more

We have many types of rocks for sale here at Payless Hardware & Rockery. View some of our most popular styles here, and be sure to reach out if you have any questions about costs, uses, pickup, or delivery.

Creek Bed Cobbles—An attractive landscaping feature, creek bed cobbles are larger rocks that are perfect for erosion control or decorative purposes. As their name suggests, they are often used in dry creeks, around ponds, and as a feature around trees, bushes, or plants. They are colorful and smooth.

Dolomite—A sparkly stone known for its beauty, dolomite is the perfect stone to select to offset ornamental plants, or to draw attention to feature plantings. Light colored and not too large, this stone makes a great addition to any planted area, and is usually used because of its visual appeal.

Ginger Rock—Those who prefer a more earthy tone in decorative rock will love this stone. Ginger rock is typically a gold color, and it is an absorbent stone that is ideal for landscaping. This lightweight gravel perfect with succulent plantings or in an area that has a tropical theme, but it has many different applications.

Gold Rock—Another gold-colored rock, this stone makes a versatile landscaping rock, and it comes in a range of shades. Use it to set off greenery, or to richen a plain planted area. It’s a very natural-looking stone that can be utilized in many landscape designs.

Crushed Granite—Crushed granite is a popular material for patios and pathways, as it is beautiful and erosion-resistant. It is also often used with flagstone as a filler material for walkways or gathering spaces.

Red Lava Rock—Red lava rock is porous and offers a unique look. It is brick-colored and does not fade over time like mulch, making it a perfect material to use around plantings and trees. Also, unlike mulch, pests are not attracted to this material. Those looking for a vibrant landscape material will enjoy the look of this rock.

Pami—This type of pebble provides a rich bunch of color, but in a natural range. You’ll find this material everywhere, as people love them for everything from container gardening to lawn replacement. They are also popular for fountains and water features.

Quartz—Quartz is a type of premium natural stone revered for its beauty. Low-maintenance and easy to place, this decorative rock is perfect for exterior areas you really want to highlight. The stone itself has a sparkle to it, which many people love.

Salmon Bay Rock—From container gardens to driveways, salmon bay rock is used in many different applications. It has great color and is utilized in hardscape designs as well as for landscape bed material.

Gold Fines—This material is smaller in diameter than most landscaping materials and is primarily used as a pathway, driveway, or patio-area material. Compacted properly it can be a very good choice for long-lasting appearance and durability.

Granite Fines— Like Gold Fines, this material is compacted and used underfoot. It is suitable for athletic fields, parking areas, and many other similar applications where a sturdy material is needed.

Mexican Pebbles—People searching for an understated, yet beautiful landscaping stone will be drawn to the smooth, soothing look of Mexican pebbles. With their blue-grey hue they are a perfect compliment to water features and ponds, but they can be used in many different ways. They also look lovely in planters.


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    How to Plan a Rock 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. The next few pages will suggest ways of creating a successfully integrated rockery even in a flat area.

    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.

    Learn how to build a rock garden in the next section.

    Want more information about rock gardens? Try these:

    • Rock Gardens: Learn about these unique and functional gardens.
    • Rock Garden Plants: Learn about the special plants that make up rock gardens.
    • Garden Types: Explore a variety of wonderful garden types.
    • Gardening: We answer all of your general gardening questions in this section.

    Steeply sloped areas don’t have to be ‘trouble spots.’ Hillsides can be turned into gorgeous rock gardens. Here are some tips.

    Properly constructed, a hillside garden can be a delight of texture, form and color and provide year-round excitement.

    Gardening on a hillside is a wonderful and rare opportunity. Yes, it does present a few challenges, particularly with installation, but there are so many benefits. Immediately, you have contour, and this is a game changer. The movement of land provides interest before you even buy your first plant. Then, after you’ve planted, your plants seem to own the landscape. Woodies defy the pull of gravity and stretch upwards while perennials hug the ground in mats, clump up in the protective spaces between rocks, or revel in the slopes and tumble freely.

    Traditionally, planting of berms and hillsides has been the stuff of rock gardens, and basically that’s what we’re doing here. To prevent erosion, we need to use the devices rock gardeners have used all along. Tiers of rocks (or some other materials) set into the hillside at a slight upward angle that break the slope into terraces, gravel or hardwood mulch, and thick plantings will all work together to prevent a heavy rain from washing away your hard work.

    You can amend the soil with compost before you plant. If you have very heavy clay, it is recommended.

    It is not absolutely essential, though. Do not amend your clay soil with sand. Where we’ll differ here from many rock gardens is that we have little interest in solely using true alpine plants. In the heat and humidity of the Midwest, we’re totally willing to rely simply on plants that look right and will live.

    Be sure to include some woody plants for structure. Mixing up textures, forms and foliage colors will always provide more interest. You can play homage to the color wheel, but I have found that if you go easy on extreme colors and are generous with white, most of the plants play well together. Mainly, try things and have fun!

    Chrysanthemum weyrichii is a perennial mat-forming chrysanthemum that waits until mid-October to erupt in white daisies.

    Some traditional rock garden plants such as Dalmation bellflower ( Campanula portenschlagiana ) actually grow surprisingly we ll in the Midwest landscape, if given the good drainage a hillside provides.

    Lady finger ( Anthyllis montana rubra ) is another true alpine with a surreal flower that grows well if given good drainage. Aurinia sa xatilis , Arabis alpina and so me dianthus species will do well and deliver some exceptional beauty.

    Rockcress (Arabis alpinis) poking up from between stones.

    Dwarf conifers and other small woodies add structure and winter interest to such a garden without overwhelming the proportions. Seen here is Picea pungens ‘St. Mary’s Broom.’

    Dwarf fan-leaf columbine (Aquilegia flabellata ‘Nana’) is a gorgeous little mounding plant with soft, blue-green foliage, an easy disposition and an oversized flower. Easy in any garden.

    One of the nicest things about gardening on a hillside is that smaller plants are raised up and are easier to view.

    (From State-by-State Gardening March/April 2012. Photography by Scott Beuerlein.)

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