Tips for Constructing a Rock Backyard

Final fall, this column featured Showy Native Crops for Rocky Soils. Not included in that plant palette have been rock gardens. Whereas related in that the crops for such areas require beautiful (or as one would possibly hear throughout the pond, “sharp”) drainage, the areas are value distinguishing. Rocky soils happen naturally throughout the globe. Regionally, we’ve a preponderance of them. Rock gardens, nevertheless, are man-made. Listed below are some tips for constructing your personal rock backyard.

Culturally, the longstanding traditions of rock gardening have twin origins in each historic East Asia and Victorian Europe. As we consider them right here within the States, rock gardens are areas designed after the Victorian idea: locations to develop diminutive and pleasant crops, significantly these from excessive elevation areas (like steppe and alpine environments) that in any other case would fail in cultivation. The rocks themselves assist to realize this purpose by offering microclimates for such crops, however in addition they can be utilized to switch how water drains by the soil profile to enhance its suitability. With a little bit of inventive rock work and considerate plant siting, an enormous unfold of plant species will be grown in a rock backyard that in any other case wouldn’t succeed. 

boulders shaping bern

Constructing a Rock Backyard Berm

Maybe mostly, rock gardens are designed in “berms,” or mounded beds of soil. Massive rocks are sometimes used to assist form and comprise the soil on such berms. When making a berm, take into account pathway entry in addition to how it is going to be irrigated. Conceiving paths after which working berms in round them will be simplest, although their shapes will change considerably with rock work and earth transferring. I’ve grown on berms starting from 1 to five ft excessive and have discovered {that a} berm must be no less than 3 ft excessive (after soil settling) for many rock backyard crops. Typically, count on soil to settle one quarter to at least one third of its authentic quantity over a yr or two.

When framing berms or constructing rock work into the berms themselves, I stay by a number of guidelines: 

  1. Procure rocks which are bigger than you need visually (partially, that is as a result of second rule).
  2. Sink no less than one third of every rock into the soil (in any other case the rocks will seem misplaced and as in the event that they have been plopped down).
  3. Be sure that rocks are touching at or above the soil floor to assist group them visually.
  4. Use the identical kind of rock for your complete berm.
  5. If strata (strains that seem in every new layer of the rock) will be seen on the rocks, align them for a extra skilled look. 

Observe: If aligning strata and the precise rock work portion of your mission proves to be a spotlight, take into account investing in The Crevice Backyard by Kenton Seth and Paul Spriggs, a useful useful resource for these able to take their rock gardening to the subsequent stage. This ebook not solely options rock work and a mode with roots within the Czech Republic, but in addition serves as a superb introduction to a lot of distinctive crops well-suited to rock gardens. 

crevice garde
A crevice backyard at Yampa River Botanic Park

Crops for Rock Gardens

Crops of explicit notice for rock gardens within the area embrace Penstemon spp., Eriogonum spp., and Fendlera rupicola (talked about in  Showy Native Crops for Rocky Soils), in addition to extra uncommon and eccentric choices like the next. Be warned, nevertheless, that every one three will wrestle in a standard backyard mattress.

Cutleaf daisy compliments hardy cacti in this rock garden.
Cutleaf daisy enhances hardy cacti on this rock backyard.

Cutleaf daisy

Erigeron compositus, Zones 4–7

This native cushion plant delights in early spring with quite a few pink to white, daisy-like flowers on wiry stems above ferny leaves. It’s additionally extremely hardy and gained’t blink at –40°F.

Daphne jasminea

Daphne jasminea

Daphne jasminea, Zones 5–9

This aromatic, dwarf daphne stays simply a few inches excessive and grows slowly to cowl the soil or a boulder. It prefers a website with afternoon shade, which will be surprisingly simple to search out if the plant is tucked in on the east aspect of a boulder.

Petunia patagonica. Photograph: courtesy of Leonora Enking by way of Artistic Commons

Petunia (Fabiana) patagonica

Petunia (Fabiana) patagonica, Zones 5–9

A hardy petunia (you learn that proper) that developed on the Patagonian steppe, this pretty plant grows in giant flowering mounds. Don’t get too excited a couple of perennial petunia, nevertheless, as botanists are contemplating altering its classification.


‘Snow Leopard’ Whipple’s cholla
Photograph: courtesy of Lauren Springer

Photograph: Kerry Ann Moore


Earlier than siting your smaller plant materials, nevertheless, take into account additional strengthening your backyard’s “bones” with some substantive dwarf conifers and hardy agave, yucca, and cacti.  To my preliminary shock, Parry’s agave (Agave parryi, Zones 7–10) survives fortunately on the south aspect of a number of rock gardens within the Fort Collins space alongside ‘Snow Leopard’ Whipple’s cholla (Cylindropuntia × multigeniculata ‘Snow Leopard’ syn. Cylindropuntia whipplei ‘Snow Leopard’, Zone 5–9), which assist to maintain these gardens fascinating after the spring present loses steam in summer time’s warmth.

Use Microclimates to Your Benefit

Gaining a robust understanding of methods to capitalize on microclimates in a rock backyard is a foundational idea for fulfillment. Warmth lovers and marginally hardy crops (cacti, fiber crops, and many others.) desire exposures with afternoon solar, whereas woodland crops typically recognize cooler, shadier northern exposures, and alpine crops excel with morning solar on the east aspect of a berm. 


Like all model of gardening, expertise is among the finest lecturers, so simply getting began will be one of many quickest methods to study. In case you’re like me, although, and demand on an obnoxious quantity of analysis, you’ll be able to’t beat the North American Rock Backyard Society (, which has an important periodical on the subject, a top-tier seed trade, and regional chapter conferences to match. Or take into account stopping by or volunteering in your native botanic backyard’s rock backyard, the place you will be uncovered to new concepts or work alongside a regional skilled within the matter. 


Be taught extra:

Crops for Rocky Soils

Crops for Drought-Inclined Areas




Bryan Fischer lives and gardens on the intersection of the Nice Plains and the Rockies. He’s a horticulturist and the curator of plant collections for a neighborhood botanic backyard.

Pictures besides the place famous: Bryan Fischer

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