A rockery, or rock garden, is a striking addition to any garden. The purpose of a rockery is to re-create the mountainous environment that Alpine plants grow in, crucially with plenty of sunlight and very good drainage. They also add structure and create a focal point in the garden and, once established, are very low maintenance.
The small cracks and crevices created in the construction of a rockery can also provide habitats for small insects, while butterflies will rest in the sun on the larger rocks. To attract wildlife to your rockery, choose alpine plants and wildflowers that provide a source of pollen and nectar.
In the steps below, we show you how to build a rockery garden.
You Will Need
- Rocks in a variety of sizes
- Hand fork or trowel
- Gravel or small stones
- Planting mix consisting of one part loam, one part hortcultural grit and one part leaf mould
- Landscape fabric
- Selection of Alpine plants
Choosing the location of your rockery is crucial to its success, ideally it should be placed in a sunny spot. Choose an area that receives as much direct sun as possible, rather than an area that is in dappled shade. Consider the microclimate within your garden, avoid areas that are particularly susceptible to frost or damp conditions.
Once you’ve picked the location, you will need to plan out your rockery. Either on paper, or digitally, map the placement of the rocks. Consider where you will be sourcing your rocks, a local reclamation yard could prove useful, and be aware of the sizes required for your design as well as how you will move them. You might need additional tools or to get some friends and family over to help.
Once you’ve planned your rockery, mark out the area you will be working in using sand or string in your garden. You will then need to prepare the area, depending on your design, some hard landscaping may be required to achieve the required height, before adding in the rocks.
You will also need to remove any existing weeds, adding a base layer of landscape fabric to prevent future weeds and to help keep the soil in place.
Next, place the rocks in the desired position. Be careful when moving them around, particularly your largest rocks, you might need to use a crowbar or bring in the help of family or friends. These ‘keystones’ will need to be placed correctly to achieve the desired height and impact of the rockery, position them so that they are tilting slightly backwards to achieve a natural look. Ensure these large rocks are secured by burying up to a third of their depth, and using smaller rocks and soil to firm them into place.
Once all the large rocks are in position, and you’re happy with the structure of the garden, it’s time to prepare the compost before planting. Alpine plants will thrive in a compost that is made up of one part loam, one part horticultural grit and one part leaf mould or coir.
The final step in creating your rock garden is planting. Look for spots where plants would naturally grow in alpine conditions to help achieve a natural look. Place plants in position in their pots at first to check you are achieving the desired look. Once planted, add a layer of small rocks or gravel to further improve the drainage.
Plants for rockeries are used to extreme conditions and altitudes, but many will also thrive in our gardens. Most garden centres will have a range of alpine plants available, but it’s also worth doing some research into less well-known varieties for your rock garden.
Most alpine plants require full sun, but there are some shade-loving varieties that can be placed behind larger rocks, or if your rock garden is placed in a shaded area of the garden.