If you are doing front or back yard landscaping, there are many ideas you can incorporate into your plan for your yard. There are many different materials and plants you can use to create a beautiful, scenic, backyard design. Rock gardens are an often overlooked option, possibly because the name doesn't immediately conjure the mental pictures we have associated with flower gardens, water gardens, and other landscaping designs. But a rock garden is not something to be overlooked, with the right understanding of what a rock garden is and how to make one beautiful, it could be the perfect fit for your yard's design.
Rock Garden Design - What is it?
The design of the rock garden must be one of the most misunderstood of gardening and landscaping concepts. In too many small suburban gardens one sees a heap of stones and rocks, all jumbled together in a mound, covered with great bushes of juniper or heather, with here and there a sickly looking little gentian, clearly not long for this world, amidst a great vigorous heap of aubretia. The heather would be happier on a hillside, the juniper on a heath, the aubretia growing over the garden wall, and the gentian, the only plant of the four that should be there, might be given a new lease of life.
Rock gardens are for growing those rare, beautiful, small flowers that grow naturally above a certain altitude, often above the tree line and on the snow line, that are covered by snow for much of the year and that must flower in haste before the next year's snow comes âthe alpines. The variety of alpine plants is extraordinary but in all cases they are very small; tiny ferns and rhododendrons; evergreen flowering shrubs that can be held on the palm of a hand; rockfoils and stonecrops; miniature primula, iris, oxalis, veronica, cyclamen, narcissus, hellebores, arabis and violas. There are literally hundreds of alpine species and it is the attempt to grow this amazing collection in temperate zones that led to the concept of the rock garden.
The reason that so many aspiring rock gardeners fail miserably with these little plants is that they assume the alpines need no soil and that a rock garden is built of rocks placed above a bed of broken bricks and rubble. After all, they think, these plants grow without soil and on rocks in their native setting, so that will be best here. Not so. The little alpine plants in their native settings have immensely long and tough root systems, which reach deep down in between the rock crevices in search of the minerals which they require. An understanding of what these plants really require must be the first part of the rock garden's design.
The surroundings of the rock garden must be as natural as they can. It must not be placed near any trees, whose roots would soon move into the good soil intended for the alpines and exhaust it. If there are outcrops of natural rock in the garden, this is the obvious place for the alpine garden. Otherwise, you must bring rock in. Also bring in several wheelbarrow loads of good soil, with plenty of smallish stones in it. Alpine plants will do best if they are able to send their roots down at least 2 feet. This will make sure that they do not dry out in the summer. The rocks should be buried in the soil to at least 50% of their depth, so that they appear to be rising naturally from the ground and the area between them should be of closely packed soil with, towards the higher areas, some light gravel on top â this helps to prevent evaporation. The rock garden should look as though it has existed for a million years, not as though you built it this week!
If the rock garden is a large one, make a path of natural steps up it. These must not be regular, cemented steps, but made of well-shaped rock with worn surfaces. Plant violets and other small plants in all the crevices of the steps. They will soon spread and make the steps look natural.
Most Alpines do well on a deep crumbly loam but if you want to grow any of the acid-loving plants, trillium, cypripedium, or meconopsis, for example, it is as well to have one area of your rock garden of a peaty acid soil. This allows you to have all the acid loving plants together, as they would be in the natural state. In the same way, you can have a chalk area for growing plants such as the bee orchid and milkwort. The whole surface of the rock garden should be filled with plants, apart from a few projecting outcrops. This includes the area around the edges, which many of the dwarf succulents will happily colonize. There is no area that cannot be full of plants. Ferns, forget-me-nots and violets will grow happily in shadier parts, while the very tiniest of the lovely Alpine flowers will flourish in full sunlight at the top of the rock garden where they are not in competition with larger rivals.
Where Can I Find Rock Garden Supplies?
The easiest place to look for landscaping supplies and materials for a rock garden is the gardening section of a local supermarket. These are usually stocked with all of the basic and necessary supplies, tools, seeds etc.
If you have a local garden or plant shop, this is probably the best location, as you will then be dealing with specialists, but it may not be the most convenient option for many folks. Specialty shops are great because the employees (who often own the shops as well) can impart their own design ideas and suggestions upon you. They also may be able to supply you with more rare and expensive plant varieties, or order some in certain instances.
Your final option is to do your shopping online, which grants access to most every plant/flower variety in existence. The tradeoff is waiting for shipping, and sometimes shipping restrictions to certain regions.