Do-It-Yourself Rock Gardening, Part 2

by Rachel Laurendeau on September 13, 2012

In Part 1 of our Do-It-Yourself Rock Gardening series, we talked about the main elements of a rock garden, particularly, the types of plants and stones to include. Here in Part 2, we will discuss the design and construction of your rock garden. Personally, working on my outdoor spaces is  my favorite kind of home improvement project!

Inspiration: Before you begin designing your rock garden, get out into nature and look at how natural rock outcroppings are clumped together and how they are surrounded by native plants. For the most part, this is what you want to recreate when you create your home rock garden. If natural rock formations are not accessible to you, take the time to look at photos of what nature has created in books, magazines and online and find images that inspire you work in your home environment.
Location: once nature has stirred your creativity, take a look at your property and what it has to offer and design your rock garden to complement the surroundings.
Drainage: since rock gardens typically contain alpine plants which require good drainage, you will need to ensure that your site is either naturally sloped, on a berm or somewhat raised.
Soil: alpine plants can be a bit particular about their growing medium. Talk to your local garden center about the availability of specialized rock garden or alpine soil which is typically a bit more acidic and contains a small amount of sharp sand, gravel and nutrient-poor organic matter such as bulk peat moss, bark chips or leaf mold.
Rocks: one common mistake made by new rock gardeners is placing the rocks upright in even rows, making them look like tombstones. To avoid this, create a few random groupings of large and small rocks. To keep the look natural and cohesive, use the same type of rock throughout your garden and also have the strata lines running in the same directions, if you are using stones that are stratified. Using a bunch of different types of rock will just confuse things and the eye will not know where to focus. If you want to create a particular focal point, choose one or two rocks that will stand out, perhaps because of their color, texture or shape.
Mulch: to unite the groupings of rocks, use mulch between the groupings. The type of mulch you use will depend on your site and design but could be bark chips, pea gravel or small diameter river rock.
Plants: the last step is to place the plants in the garden, keeping in mind their mature height and spread. You will want to include varied color, texture and form throughout the garden while ensuring enough repetition of plant materials to create continuity. There are alpine garden clubs in many cities and joining one might be a good way for you to learn more about the perfect rock garden plants for your region.

Essentially, in order to be successful when creating a DIY rock garden or alpine garden, you need to choose plants, stones and soil that are appropriate to your site. A well-designed and constructed rock garden should look as though it has always been there and that it is part of the natural landscape.

Related Post: Do-It-Yourself Rock Gardening, Part 1

Resource: The Prairie Rock Garden by Donna Balzar and Canadian Gardening

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