Contact: Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
Are your home and yard located on a pile of rocks, as are many in Vermont? Then you might want to consider planting a rock garden to take advantage of the situation.
Start by visiting nurseries with outdoor display rock gardens to get some ideas. Or take a walk in a mountainous area to study the natural ledges and rock outcroppings for a better understanding of design and construction of ledges. You'll get an idea of rock placement, surface exposure, and the amount of stone buried in the slope.
When selecting rocks, be sure you have a number of very large ones to form the backbone of your design and a collection of smaller rocks to fit among the larger ones to create planting pockets for soil.
Bury most of the rocks in the slope. Frequently, in a rock garden, as little as ten percent of a rock's volume is exposed. Position rocks so the most interesting weathered face shows.
Once you have an attractive design, don't spoil it by adding a random collection of other types of stones, painted rocks, or novelty pottery items. The point of a rock garden is to bring nature, not theater, to your garden.
Scale is the most important factor when selecting plants. They should neither dominate nor be lost in their setting. Plants that grow too large will hide the rocks while dwarf plants can be hidden among the rocks.
In general, low creeping plants blend in well with rock garden designs. Dwarf and creeping varieties of junipers, creeping cotoneaster, mountain pinks, dwarf rhododendrons, and low and creeping perennials are good choices.
If you have a location that receives at least half a day of sun, grow herbs and sedums, too. Use perennials to add seasonal flowers to your rock garden to contrast and complement woody plants. Place dwarf alpine perennials near walks or borders where they can be observed easily and closely.
As you select plants, remember there is nothing magical about the environment of a rock garden. You still must meet the cultural, light, and soil needs of your plants if you expect them to thrive.
While a rock garden won't fit every landscape property, it is an ideal way to enhance your present garden--if you are willing to spend a little time and effort.
Return to Perry's Perennial Pages, Articles