Do-It-Yourself Rock Gardening, Part 1

by Rachel Laurendeau on July 19, 2012

Stones, rocks and boulders are used in a wide variety of ways and in various types of gardens. For example, they are a key element of Japanese gardens, water gardens and xeriscaping and they are the main element of Zen gardens and wall stone gardens (also known as retaining wall gardens). When you simply talk about rock gardens though, as we are about to do, this is another gardening style altogether, which incorporates rocks and hardy perennials to create natural looking scenes. Beyond this simple definition, rock gardens are as variable as the gardeners themselves who let their imagination and creativity flow.

The Plants
Generally speaking, the flowering plants and woody plants used in rock gardens are slow-growing, compact perennial species found at alpine elevation or arctic latitudes. These plants are normally adaptable to various changes in temperature and climate and can withstand frost, harsh cold periods, drought and low-humidity.

Their low-growing habit allows for the form and color of the rocks to be seen and appreciated.

For busy gardeners, the rock garden is ideal since the plants are typically very low-maintenance. Once they are established, they don’t need too much attention aside from topping up the mulch, adding a new favorite plant and doing a bit of seasonal cleanup.

The Stones
While there is no lack of stones to choose from (tufa, flagstone, river rock, fieldstone, granite boulders, sandstone, etc.) try not to mix and match too much or it will just come out looking messy. Wise advice from Donna Balzer in The Prairie Rock Garden: “The key to choosing rock is to ensure that it is appropriate to the style of garden and that the same type of rock is used consistently throughout to strengthen the garden’s sense of unity.”

If you want this to be a serious DIY project, you can collect rocks over time or you can take the slightly pricier and simpler route by purchasing rocks from a quarry, garden center or bulk landscape supplier. While collecting stones may sound fun, it is very time consuming and backbreaking work. I paid someone to deliver the rock that I picked out.

There is no need to worry that your rock garden will look drab or lack color. In addition to all of the color from your plants, rock colors range widely from pale grey, brown and black to pink and red and even green or bluish. You will certainly be able to find the perfect landscaping rocks to complement your do-it-yourself rock garden.

Aesthetically, rocks in the garden provide seasonal interest in the winter when the plants are resting. Snow piled on rocks creates lovely forms and elevations in your landscape.

On the practical side, rock gardening is great in sloped yards as the rocks create a physical barrier to break the fall of rain and prevent soil erosion.

Join us for Part 2 of our series where we will discuss the design and construction elements of Rock Gardens.

Source: The Prairie Rock Garden by Donna Balzar

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