There are very few people that are able to deny the allure of a nice rock garden. If you have never laid your eyes on one, a rock garden is simply a plot of land with a mix of rocks and any of several species of flowers or shrubs. Some might argue that because rocks and stones are lasting, solid, and rugged, they complement the delicacy of the accompanying flowers. The Japanese have acknowledged the calming and meditative effect of stone arrangement since the medieval era, when the Zen garden came into existence. Luckily for the average Joe, creating a beautiful and relaxing rock garden in your yard is amazingly simple.
If you are still unsure about whether or not you want to invest the time and effort to build a rock garden, think about the fact that this small investment will pay off more than double of what you put into it. That is because rock gardens can turn the most unmanageable areas of your yard into fantastically designed low-maintenance landscapes. You won't have to worry about anything else but a light watering or perhaps removing a few weeds.
Where you decide to build and lay your rock garden is very important and it is dependent upon a few factors. First, you have to think about the foundation of the ground, your drainage possibilities, and what conditions the plants you choose need to thrive. When it comes to the foundation and the drainage, those can easily be manipulated by hand, but you do want to have a game plan ahead of time.
If you have just a flat plot of land, drainage will become a hurdle for you to try to dig, so try and find a plot with a few dips and grooves. This will also add dimension to your garden. When it comes to the plants, however, that is slightly more difficult. If you decide to place your rock garden in a shaded area, then you need to be aware of the flowers and shrubs that survive well in indirect sunlight and slightly cooler conditions, and the same thing applies if you decide to have your rock garden in a rather sunny area of your yard.
When building a rock garden, a good foundation is everything. Even if you have the most ideal natural slope for building the garden, we advise investing the time to dig up the area to put in a proper foundation. This is because most plants in a rock garden need soil to be water retentive and able to drain quickly.
To build a good foundation, you should dig first of all on a day when the soil is relatively dry. Dig down at least 30 centimetres and rid the plot of all weeds and roots. If you don't have a slope in your yard for the rock garden, you can also build a raised bed, which is an elevated plot upheld by walls, and for that, you should dig down about 91 centimetres. Constructing walls out of limestone or sandstone around the foundation will deter pets and any pesky backyard pests from treading on your flowers.
The next step in building a rock garden is to put down a drainage layer. Having a proper drainage system in place is incredibly important because any plants that you decide to put in your garden may either drown, rot, or just not thrive if there is too much water.
The foundation's first layer absorbs any excess moisture from the soil above it. We recommend throwing in a bunch of clunky rocks, a few old pieces of concrete or brick, and maybe even some broken pieces of clay pots. Evenly pack this layer to about one third to one half of your trench's deepness. If you are building on a slope with a light, dry, and non-clumpy soil, then this step may not be necessary for you, but having it in there wouldn't hurt.
After you have set up a solid foundation and set up a good drainage system, your next step is to put down the sand layer. The sand layer in a rock garden acts as yet another porous layer for water. Water will slide right on past this layer and keep your plants adequately moisturized and healthy.
The sand layer is also what holds up the topsoil. When laying down the sand layer, we recommend putting in a layer about seven centimetres deep. The sand you use between the drainage layer and the soil layer should be very coarse so that it can further act as part of the drainage system.
Next, we will want to put down the soil layer of the rock garden. This is the all important layer that will make or break your rock garden vegetation. You want to make sure you mix together a soil that will allow your flowering plants to blossom to their full potential. It is important to note that each plant might require a slightly different variant of this mixture, so we recommend a combination that can support most rock garden plants.
The soil mixture consists of one part topsoil, one part leaf mold (for this, peat or humus can be substituted), and one part small gravel. You can be a little more liberal with your measurements when making the mixture, because you will most likely need extra soil later on.
Once the soil layer is complete, your rock garden will begin to take its true form.
Now comes the difficult part of putting your rock garden together – choosing and placing your rocks. You want to find and use rocks that sit naturally on your land, if possible. Of course, there are not always a lot of rocks available in your back yard, so you can check out some home improvement stores that carry landscaping rocks. What is important is that you choose rocks that will blend in with your lawn. We recommend getting one type of rock in many different sizes and arranging them by scattering them in a natural looking way.
The arrangement and design of your rock garden will take a bit of patience. Choosing and carrying heavy rocks to your garden may be more of a two or three-person job, so ask some strong friends or family members to help you before you overexert yourself.
After laying your rocks, it is time to sit back and relax for a bit. Before you begin plant your flowers and shrubs, you need to let your rock garden settle for a while – and we mean a while. Give it about two to three weeks for the soil to fall and settle a bit.
This step is important because if the soil does not sit, you run the risk of it dislodging later on after you have already planted your flowers. After the soil sets, it will not change again. Once everything has set, fill your rock garden with the leftover mix of soil you made earlier.
Now it's time for the fun part – finding and planting your flowers and shrubs for your garden. Finding the right flowers and plants that grow best in your foundation takes a bit of experimenting, as there are some plants that thrive better in a rock garden setting than others.
You can begin by planting only a few flowers scattered here and there. As this first batch of flowers grows, keep a close eye on how they are doing and how the garden looks as a whole unit. You can always add and move the flowers to different areas of the rock garden as you see fit. The best types of flowers for a rock garden are Euphorbia, Rock Cress, Sedum, Candy Tuft, Alyssum, and Thrift, just to name a few.
Now you can step back, relax, and enjoy your beautiful new rock garden! The only thing you'll need to do now is watch out for weeds…
If this has inspired you to create your own rock garden, check out this next step - how to build a garden pond!