Plants for rock gardens - Aubretia

12 plants for a rock garden

A rock garden is a stylish way to display your favourite alpine and other small plants. We recommend 12 to get you going.

A rock garden enables you to make an attractive display of small or alpine plants. It’s easy to create – all you need is a few large rocks or stones, free-draining soil and a mix of rockery plants. You can grow both sun- and shade-loving plants – the sun-loving plants can be grown in the foreground while the shade-loving plants can be grown in the shade cast by large rocks.


Alpine plants are native to mountainous regions, which are usually cold and dry – it’s these conditions that prevent the plants from growing tall. However, there are other small plants that are suitable for growing in rock gardens that are not necessarily alpines, and thrive in warmer conditions. Growing a mix of alpine and non-alpine plants makes for an attractive rock garden display.

Browse our list of plants suitable for rock gardens, below.


Pasque flower

Plants for rock gardens – Pulsatilla vulgaris

Pasque flower, Pulsatilla vulgaris, bears light purple, cup-shaped flowers which mature to develop a star shape, above ferny foliage. Grow in well-drained soil in full sun.

Height x spread: 20cm x 20cm



Plants for rock gardens – Dianthus ‘Dazzler’

Pinks, Dianthus, get their name from the serrated edge of the flower petals, which look as though they’ve been delicately trimmed with pinking shears. Their flowers have a clove-like scent. There are many to choose from, with flower colours ranging from pink to white and red. Most are small in habit. Grow in full sun to partial shade in moist but well-drained soil.

H x S: 30cm x 40cm



Plants for rock gardens – Thymus ‘Bressingham

‘There are many varieties of thyme to choose from, with leaves ranging from dark green to golden or variegated. Most have a low-growing, spreading habit, making them perfect for rock gardens. Grow in well-drained soil in full sun.

H x S: 20cm x 40cm



Plants for rock gardens – Sempervivum

Sometimes called hens-and-chicks, sempervivums are hardy, succulent plants native to rocky outcrops in mountainous regions. They look superb in rock gardens, especially alongside low evergreen plants such as sedums. Grow in well-drained soil in full sun.

H x S: 30cm x 40cm



Plants for rock gardens – Aubretia

Aubretias are extremely popular rock garden plants, bearing low-growing carpets of colour in late spring and early summer. Grow in well-drained soil in full sun.

H x S: 10cm x 45cm


Trailing bellflower

Plants for rock gardens – Campanula poscharskyana

Trailing bellflower, Campanula poscharskyana is a low-growing, spreading alpine campanula that works well in pots and as ground cover in hot sunny corners. It bears masses of small, star-shaped, purple-blue flowers from summer to early autumn. Grow in well-drained soil in full sun.

H x S: 15cm x 60cm



Plants for rock gardens – Saxifraga

Saxifrages are mound-forming, evergreen alpine plants, bearing rosettes of leaves from which tall stems of flowers appear from spring to summer. Grow in moist but well-drained soil, in partial to full shade.

H x S: 30cm x 20cm



Gentiana sino-ornensis

Gentians can be tricky to grow, but they’re worth the extra effort for their displays of trumpet-shaped flowers above mats of almost mossy foliage. They’re perfect plant for a rock gardens. Grow in neutral to acidic soil in full sun.

H x S: 8cm x 20cm


Gypsophila cerastioides

Plants for rock gardens – Gypsophila cerastioides

Mouse-eared gypsophila, Gypsophila cerastioides, is a dwarf, semi-evergreen plant with a creeping habit. Green-grey, hairy leaves contrast with masses of small white trumpet-shaped flowers in spring. Grow in well-drained soil in full sun.

H x S: 8cm x 20cm



Plants for rock gardens – Iberis sempervirens

A low-growing plant bearing mounds of evergreen dark leaves and contrasting pure white flowers, perennial candytuft, Iberis sempervirens, is perfect for growing in a rock garden. It’s blooms are well-loved by hoverflies. Grow in well-drained soil in full sun.

H x S: 20cm x 50cm


Erodium × variabile

Plants for rock gardens – Erodium × variabile

Related to geraniums and cranesbills, Erodium are called ‘stork’s bill’ owing to the shape of their mature seed pods. They have five-petalled flowers not dissimilar to cranesbills, which come in a range of colours including pink, purple, red, white and yellow. Erodium x variabile forms a dense matt of leaves, from which pure white flowers appear from May to September. Grow in well-drained soil in full sun.

H x S: 10cm x 30cm


Lithodora diffusa ‘Heavenly Blue’

Plants for rock gardens – Lithodora diffusa ‘Heavenly Blue’

Lithodora has gentian-like flowers during the middle of the summer when few true gentians are blooming. It’s easier to grow than genetian and flowers well. Its evergreen mats of foliage spread slowly to make good ground cover on a rock garden or scree. Grow in well-drained, acidic soil in full sun.


H x S: 15cm x 60cm