How To ChooseThe Best Plants For A Rock Garden

Rock gardens offer diverse possibilities for the cultivation of plants that aren't necessarily at home in an ordinary garden bed. Sunny or lightly shaded slopes offer an ideal opportunity for growing a carpet of diminutive plants.

Rock gardens are easy to care for. While they may look as though they need lots of maintenance, they really only need sun or dappled shade and a well-drained soil rich in humus.

A rock garden can have individual 'pockets' that can be filled with soils and nutrients to suit the plant chosen for the spot. Imagine matt-like covers spilling over rocks, small perennials producing clumps of flowers, tiny shrubs nestling among rocks and bulbs brightening the place in spring.

Ensure pockets are as deep as possible. If rocks are not too secure, place pebbles under unsteady ones to firm them up. Any crevices can be filled with sedums, sempervivums and similar species. Groundcovers suitable for rock-gardens include alpine phlox, dwarf campanula and variegated lemon thyme.

Rock Garden 2Credit: Wikimedia

Places where the sun strikes the rock can become very warm but are suited to saxifraga, aubretia, alyssum, saponaria, dianthus, erodium, potentia and others. Babianas occur in brilliant colours from cerise to deep purple. They prefer an open, sunny position. Dianthus does best in an open sunny position and should be well watered. It flowers for an extended period.

Draba is another tiny, cushion-forming plant growing to 5cm high. It has yellow or white four-petalled flowers and needs full sun and a well-drained soil.

Mossy saxifrage such as 'Jenkinsiae' grows to 10cm high and makes moss-like cushions or carpets, sending up dainty pale pink flower spikes among the grey-green foliage. It needs cool, well-drained soil and a semi-shaded position. Rock violets are easy to grow in a moist pocket. They like cool, shady positions and are not too fussy about their soil requirements.

Helianthemum 'Fire Dragon' is another pretty plant with orange to orange-red flowers in spring and summer. It likes partial shade and well-drained soil. Shady places will also be a haven for rock violets, cyclamen, gentian, iberis, viola, primula, veronica and host of others.

Rock GardenCredit: Wikimedia

Polyanthus primrose has yellow, white, red or purple flowers in early spring. It needs sun to partial shade and moist soil.

Damp places beside ponds are ideal for Hosta variegata with its marbled leaves and spired flowers.

Another good sedum is sedum acre which is fast growing and adaptable to full sun or shade, dampness or dry positions.

As a contrast to cushion-forming plants, dwarf English lavender has needle-like foliage and lavender flowers. It grows to 30cm.

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Many flowers which spring from bulbs will also flourish from warm rock pockets. Ericas, the Kurume azalea and daphne specimens provide crowning features in deeper pockets.

Portulacas, gazanias and alyssum will all brighten up a dry section. Another eye-catching plant is sedum shorbusser blut which grows to three or four inches. The flowers are a bright magenta-red which contrasts beautifully with bronze-green foliage. Given light soil and good drainage, this dainty plant is easy to grow. Old fashioned bellis perennis or double daisies will thrive in a small patch packed with rich loamy soil. They will flower for a four-month period at a minimum.

In cold climates, rock gardens can be protected from frost by covering with cut evergreen branches or straw.

So don't discount a rocky area as of no use. Turn it into an eye-catching rock garden instead.