Rock Garden Ideas

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Gardeners find a unique and enjoyable challenge in exploring rock garden ideas. Rock gardening is a fascinating subgroup of the horticultural arts. Recreating alpine landscapes in miniature with natural dwarf perennials and delicate but hardy succulents and bulbs offers endless challenges and rewards to the gardener.

The dainty scale of the plants also allows for great versatility in design, as they can be adapted to just about any size the grower desires. One can also play with scale and make a small space look larger by a studied placement of rocks and the addition of dwarf shrubs.


While a traditional rock garden is planted directly in the ground, a smaller but equally handsome form may be designed to fit a large trough using the same sort of miniature alpines featured in regular rock gardening. Walls or rock outcroppings can also be cultivated as a sort of vertical garden by filling the spaces with soil and planting alpines and small perennials, which will make a lovely cascading show when in bloom.

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In this rock garden idea, a variety of plants -- zebra grass, ferns, and several varieties of ground cover plants and trees -- frame and mingle with a path of rocks and boulders. The result is a garden design that looks as if planned by nature.

Gardeners can show off their eye for design with the trough rock garden ideas in the next section. Trough gardens isolate and raise miniature plants to make them more readily visible. Keep reading to find trough garden ideas and photos.

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Trough Rock Garden Ideas

A trough garden recreates, in miniature, a dazzling natural landscape. The trough raises the small plants and acts as a frame, highlighting the beauty and skill of the gardener's work. The ideas and photos below illustrate how this rock garden delight can be created in your own garden.

The role of a trough garden is unique among rock garden ideas. Trough gardens isolate and raise miniature plants to make them more readily visible; the trough frames the plants, displaying these tiny landscapes to best advantage. Succulents such as sedum and sempervivum are combined here with miniature evergreens, creating an attractive year-round planting. Covering the soil with gravel helps the plants show up well and discourages weeds; larger stones are often added as well, to further the illusion of scale.


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Brilliant, lush hydrangeas and lively wildflowers welcome visitors along the path to a stone statue in this trough garden idea. Unlike traditional trough gardens, the plants in this example do not exist in miniature -- they abundantly overflow their rock frame, instilling a sense of bounty and beauty.

A wall rock garden serves functional and decorative purposes in a garden. Plants can grow on or in between rock wall stones, creating a unique and lovely look for your garden. Take a look at the next section for photos and ideas about wall rock gardens.

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Wall Rock Garden Ideas

Wall rock gardens let you play with garden ideas in spots you may have never imagined -- mortared walls, stone steps, loosely laid drystone, brick walls and more. These wall rock garden ideas result in lovely contrasts between color and texture, and the stones, bricks, and rocks often protect the plants roots from the sun. The ideas and photos below will inspire you to search for wall rock garden sites in your home -- or to start one.

This retaining wall has developed into a great wall rock garden idea. The wall marks a boundary between two levels; mat-forming plants have been cleverly positioned at the top so that their cascades of tiny blooms spill down the wall's surface to be seen at eye level from the path below. Purple aubretia, yellow alyssum, and the perennial white-flowered candytuft Iberis sempervirens are topped by a splash of red tulips for a scene full of spring exuberance.


The interplay of color and texture in this wall rock garden idea is as fascinating as the overall design is brilliant. The weathered wall is composed of flint and brick and brick. It draws character from its covering of handsome-colored lichens and comes alive with the generous sprinkling of the golden-flowered stonecrop Sedum acre, which grows along the top of the wall as well as in vertical pockets. Tendrils of dark green ivy Hedera helix wind through at top left.

Stone walls and steps are natural rock-garden sites and make great wall rock garden ideas, since many plants grow on rocky outcroppings in their native habitats. The stones regulate temperature by keeping the direct sun off roots and by retaining warmth even after the sun goes down, which the foliage appreciates. The shady steps shown here are graced with a handsome combination of lady's mantle Alchemilla mollis, hart's-tongue fern Asplenium scolopendrium, and a hardy, single-flowered fuchsia hybrid.

For a vertically-inclined wall rock garden idea, look to these mortared walls. Mortared walls often allow space for plants to take root at the top and base of the wall, and half-planters may be filled with trailing plants and hung at intervals to cover the surface. Apricot, red, and yellow shades of the sun-loving rock rose helianthemum spill over the top of this wall and exhibit their natural cascading growth habit.

Traditional rock and alpine gardens contain collections of miniature plants from alpine regions, resulting in a charmingly diverse garden idea. Explore traditional rock and alpine garden ideas and photos in the next section.

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Traditional Rock and Alpine Garden Ideas

Traditional rock and alpine gardens are garden surprises. They pair rocks with collections of miniature plants from alpine regions, many of which are often rare, prized plants. The photos below show how delightful and charming traditional rock and alpine garden ideas can be.

A fine example of the widely appealing alpine and dwarf plant garden, this charming and diverse planting has each plant spaced and positioned so that it may be individually inspected. Alpine gardens, a rock garden subtype, contain collections of miniature plants from alpine regions, usually planted on a slope composed of rocky scree.


The traditional rock garden idea plays with scale by recreating a landscape in miniature. Rocks can seem like boulders or even mountains surrounded by a collection of low-growing plants, which may include annuals, perennials, shrubs, bulbs, or succulents. This garden displays a great deal of color in a small space by combining alyssum, aubretia, creeping phlox, and the tiny succulent Sedum spathulifolium.

In this traditional rock garden idea, carpets of emerald-green moss, brightly flowering aubretia and alyssum, and silvery, succulent sedum are tucked into pockets at different levels, allowing for an ever-changing view all the way up these rough-hewn rock steps. Without planting, the dark gray rocky outcropping could easily look bleak; when decorated with a rock garden, it takes on a softer, prettier, and more welcoming character.

Intriguing effects can be achieved by combining two styles of garden -- traditional rock garden and water garden -- in close conjunction. Here, a slope of rocky terraces supporting rock-garden plants ends with a water spout emptying into an ornamental pond. Water-loving Iris laevigata Variegata and the less-thirsty lady's mantle Alchemilla mollis can therefore be grown close to each other. The arrangement creates a lovely image as the vertical iris foliage reaches up toward the alchemilla leaves that spill over the rocky edge.

Take a look around your yard -- you may already have the start of a natural rock garden. In our final section, we'll explore natural rock garden ideas and photos.

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Natural Rock Garden Ideas

Natural rock garden ideas are already started by nature. Naturally rocky yards can be altered to create expressive expanses of greenery. Stone, logs, and stumps are used as focal points, instead of being removed. Isolated boulders act as rock gardens in miniature, serving as both containers and ornament. The photos below will give you further ideas to explore when working with natural rock gardens.

In this natural rock garden idea, several elements combine to form a vivid and practical garden display. Wood steps rest atop pebbles, and the path is lined by rocks, boulders, and a variety of plants -- ferns, and fir and spruce evergreens. The balance of colors and textures creates a visually delightful sight out of a functional garden area.


In this stunning natural rock garden idea, water garden elements are combined with plants and a natural rock garden. A stream is surrounded by pebble and rock. The diversity of rock and pebble shapes creates visual interest and complements the movement of the waterfall above. Ground cover plants complete the picture with their vivid, colorful, and crisp foliage.

In this beautiful natural rock garden idea, the stillness of a large pond is interrupted by a grouping of majestic boulders. Daylilies and water lilies add delicate touches of color as they float atop the reflective surface of the pond. A collection of ferns completes the presentation, adding balance with their lush foliage and vibrant color.

Rock gardens add unique notes to your overall garden design plans. A rock garden can exist in lovely harmony with water garden ideas, or in miniature as a detailed traditional alpine garden. No matter the size of your garden, or the climate of your region, rock garden ideas are unique and add beautiful touches to your yard.

Find out the best plants for a natural rock garden in the next section.

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Plants for a Rock Garden

Ground-cover sedum works well in a trough or slope.

Plants for rock gardens are often chosen specifically to evoke or even recreate mountainous landscapes. By carefully planting and cultivating the blossoms, a rock gardener undertakes a uniquely rewarding challenge.

With a bit of patience and a discerning eye, a gardener can transform a pile of stones and bulbs into a captivating rock garden. The following plant profiles will tell you what you need to know to create a rock garden of your own, from growing suggestions to soil requirements.



With its purple blooms, aubretia is one of three classic spring-blooming plants used in rock gardens, ideal for banks, walls, or slopes.


Growing in red, yellow, and white varieties, and blooming in both spring and summer, avens' bright colors stand out prettily in any rock garden.

Basket of Gold, Goldentuft

Each spring, these brilliant yellow flowers appear, spreading low to the ground. For a more subdued, pastel shade, the "Citrina" variety can be substituted.

Blue Fescue

This tufty grass grows in narrow, silvery blue-green blades. Since they grow no higher than four inches, they are excellent for small-scale gardens.

Campanula, Bellflower

Also known as "fairy's thimble," these bell-shaped flowers grow in pale blue or white, and are perfect for rock gardens and containers.


Blooming in the spring, these sweet-smelling clusters of snow-white flowers fit easily into any rock garden.

Dianthus Carnation Pinks

Useful as a ground cover in rock gardens, dianthus carnations come not only in pink, but also mauve, red, and white.

Dwarf Deutzia

Due to its small dimensions, dwarf deutzia can be utilized in a rock garden of virtually any size. Spring's white flowers eventually give way to a lovely red in fall.

Ground-Cover Sedum

Whether on a sunny slope or a wall, or even in a trough, the red, pink, or white star-shaped flowers of ground-cover sedum make for a handsome rock garden.

Gypsy Baby's Breath

The tiny flowers of gypsy baby's breath appear misty from even a short distance, and look beautiful on a sloped bank or rock wall.

Hairy Penstemon

At the end of spring, spikes of rose-pink to lavender flowers appear, favoring open ground and tight crevices alike.


Easily-grown, the rosettes on this low-growing succulent can be green, bronze, ruby, or green, and work well in pots and troughs.

Ice Plant

Any sunny walkway would be enhanced by the splash of purple-magenta daisylike flowers of the ice plant.


Native to the Pacific Northwest, lewisia blooms in pink, peach, apricot, cream, and white, and is a good choice for rock gardens, troughs, or pots.

Prickly Pear Cactus

Though it requires a warmer climate than many other plants, the brilliant yellow flowers that bloom in spring to summer make beautiful additions to a rock garden.

Rock Cress

An evergreen mat of foliage is characteristic of rock cress, making it an ideal plant for any rock garden. In April, white blossoms only add to its appeal.


From summer to fall, pink flowers bloom from long, trailing stems, ideal for growing on top of a rock wall.


With its attractive yellow flowers and tendency to creep, sedum is excellent in rock gardens, as it will grow where many other plants cannot.

Snow-in-Summer, Ghost Weed

The tiny white flowers that give this plant its name grow from late spring all the way through summer, making a wonderful ground-cover flower.

Trumpet Gentian

Unusually-colored, the navy blue and green-striped trumpet gentian looks beautiful in a trough or rock garden.


Standing tall at up to six feet, yucca blooms in the summer, producing an exotic, cream-colored set of bells.

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