Ideas for Rockeries

Written by andrea peck
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Ideas for Rockeries
This rock garden incorporates smooth rock and a stone pathway. (George Marks/Retrofile/Getty Images)

A rockery is a garden where rock or stone is its predominant feature. In a rockery, plants are strategically placed to complement the rough textures of the rock. Traditional rock gardens follow a theme that closely mimics nature. Sloping areas, often the bane of the gardener, are ideal spots for a rockery as the uneven ground, when accented by the curves and edges of the rocks and dotted with plant life, can become a real showplace with the right design.

Alpine Rockery

The traditional Alpine rockery attempts to replicate the high-elevation environment of a mountaintop. Rocks most suited to this rockery are large and flat. For an authentic appearance, they should be sunk into the ground by at least one-third of their size. A steep slope is an appropriate location choice, although additional soil may be necessary to create a realistic look and provide adequate space for plants. Generally small in size, plants that grow in the harsh conditions of an Alpine environment are adapted to dry, well-drained soil. Alpine phacelia, Moss campion, and pygmy bitterroot are Alpine plants that are fitting for a rockery. While planting, monitor your rock and plant placement. Consider the view from all directions and attend to soil erosion concerns. Attention to detail is important as it will ultimately enhance the natural effect. Plant markers imprinted with the common and Latin names of the plants are a nice touch for interested guests. Small rocks or sand can be applied as a mulch as weeds are best kept under control.

Ideas for Rockeries
Flowers have their place in the alpine rockery. (0516-fleurs des alpes image by Michel Bazin from

Meadow Rockery

A meadow rockery allows for some creativity. Rocks are still the dominant feature, but the choices are more varied. Rocks that are large, small, flat or rounded are equally appealing in a meadow rockery. It is wise, however, to remember that nature tends to favour one type of rock, not a variety, in one place. The topography of a meadow rockery, although less sloping than that of the alpine rock garden, is nevertheless enhanced by some curvature. Plant small and medium-sized grasses to add to the meadow effect. Blue grama (Bouteloua gracilis), Pacific hair grass (Deschampsia cespitosa holciformis) and buffalo grass (Buchloe dactyloides) are possibilities. Autumn crocus (Colchicum autumnale), meadow cranesbill (Geranium pratense), and western columbine (Aquilegia formosa) are apt choices for flowering plants.

Ideas for Rockeries
Low-growing flowers create a meadow appearance. (margherite in un prato image by Andrea Todeschini from

The Conifer Rockery

A true miniature of nature, the conifer rockery allows observers a perspective that is not ordinarily possible. The rocks used should be those which would be found in a forested area and it is important that miniature conifers are used. Miniature conifers retain the shape of the species, but lack the height and rapid growth of standard-sized and dwarf trees. This rockery is best served by a sunny location, well-drained soil, and rich, organic matter. Miniature Norway spruce, Canadian hemlock and Hinoki cypress invite interest in this rock garden. Conifers are hardy evergreens that will not fade under variations in temperature. Because other plants may grow to overshadow the small trees, this type of rockery is best kept solely as a collection of conifers.

Ideas for Rockeries
A miniature conifer can find a welcome home in a rockery. (green image by Madrider from

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