Low maintenance and perfect for any climate, rock gardens are an ideal solution for people with a smaller garden space, difficult terrain, or limited funds. Whether you prefer a small-but-precise plot or a sprawling garden that blends with its natural surroundings, you’ll discover endless possibilities with a rock garden. Best of all, you can easily create an appealing outdoor oasis — zen or water garden, herb garden, or meditative space — without making a huge dent in your budget.
Precise, highly detailed, and whimsical, the charming English rock garden is a classic and popular style. It features immaculate layers and visually appealing potted plants or other ornamental structures. Low-growing plants such as ivys, herbs, and mosses cover all but about one-third of the surfaces and fill every crevice between them. Vining plants like climbing roses add vertical appeal to these lush, Victorian-inspired gardens.
The goal for a rock garden is to create a peaceful, serene space within a natural setting. The Japanese Zen garden features white gravel, pebbles, or rocks in an array of sizes and shapes. Add plants to complete this minimalist miniature landscape. Rake the gravel to create the classic rippled patterns. Choose low-key perennials such as Japanese forest grass along with plants that bloom in an array of calming shades. Unlike other types of rock gardens, Japanese Zen gardens are a high-maintenance option.
If you live in a dry area with little rain and high summer temperatures, you can create a beautiful rock garden using plants more suited to your local environment. You’ll find a wide variety of blooming cacti in bright reds, pinks, yellows, and blues. Succulents like agave, aloe, echeveria, sedum, and kalanchoe add texture. Start with a pebble, gravel, or crushed rock base. Add a stone tile walkway, or use rocks to create borders. Large, colorful, jagged rocks make unique centerpieces for your desert oasis.
Inclines and hills can lead to a landscaping conundrum. A rock garden is a unique solution and works equally well in small or large areas. First, check the slope for drainage and soil retention. Collect rocks in different shapes and sizes. The deeper the slope, the bigger the rocks should be. Choose fuss-free, low-growing plants for around the rocks, like periwinkle, creeping phlox, candytuft, and ajuga. Add plants like yucca and ornamental grasses for texture and to increase the visual impact.
Transform even the smallest area into a serene rock garden. For a more rustic, natural vibe, start with a few plants, add the rocks, then fill in the additional spaces with plants of varying heights and leaf types. Lamb’s ear and hens and chicks have striking visual appeal and are great choices for gardens with limited ground space. Mosses add a carpet of color. A single large rock or design elements like a small birdbath, a garden sculpture, or stool make perfect centerpieces.
There’s nothing like having fresh herbs available year-round, but many people may not realize how beautiful these plants are in a garden. Combine rocks in a variety of sizes with your favorite herbs to build a pleasing, beautifully scented herb garden. If you’re a tea drinker, include herbs like chamomile, lavender, lemon balm, and mint so that you always have a supply of tea options. Or focus on medicinal herbs like bee balm, thyme, rosemary, wild bergamot, and echinacea. Lighter colored stones like granite or limestone set off lush green leaves.
Add welcoming appeal to your home’s entry or driveway with a rock garden. Surround large boulders or naturally occurring rock formations with hardy evergreen shrubs and colorful perennials for year-round color. Combine early-spring bloomers with plants that flower in the summer and fall for ongoing color. Try prickly thrift, a long-season plant that adds texture and color and looks great in a rock garden. It blooms in late summer but stays green through the winter.
Water elements in a rock garden may seem work-intensive, but you’ll find waterfall kits online or at your local home improvement store that make the job much easier. Add pillow moss to rocks in the moist areas and Spanish moss in the areas that stay dry. Along the edge of the waterfall, consider planting canna lilies or other plants that thrive in wet soil. Aquatic-loving flowers like water poppies will grow well in the sediment at the base of the waterfall. Use varying shapes and sizes of stones for the waterfall to make it look more natural.
If you prefer that the rocks be the feature attraction, create a minimalist rock garden. These low-maintenance gardens feature simple lines, crisp edges, and pristine hardscaping. Add plants, but opt for those that are less showy — the use of space is more important than the specifics. Minimalist landscape designers say limestone or pale sandstone are the preferred colors for walkways and accents.
Angular rocks that are uniform in texture and color work best for big projects. Begin with a large boulder as a focal point. If you can move it by yourself, it isn’t big enough. Construct walkways using small stones to create intricate patterns. Create walls, dividers, stairs, or elevations by stacking flat stones. Plant taller plants toward the back and use small shrubs and colorful perennial groupings to fill spaces around the rocks. Add pebbles, gravel, and low-lying plants to cover bare ground.