7 pretty rockery ideas and 20 best rock garden plants

a close up of a rock wall: Rock garden ideas: Japanese rock garden, by David Martin

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Rock garden ideas: Japanese rock garden, by David Martin

These rock garden ideas will inspire you to create your very own rockery – it’s just as well that autumn is a perfect time to start building a rock garden. Rockeries are easy to build from scratch is just about any garden. Even if you haven’t got the space for an expansive rock garden, you can start one in containers and display it on a garden table. See all our favourite rock garden ideas below.

Find more garden ideas at our dedicated page.

1. Rock garden ideas for a slope? Build tiers

Sloped gardens present lots of wonderful opportunities for rock garden ideas – use stones of roughly the same size to create a spectacular tiered rock garden, filling the spaces between the rocks generously with rock garden plants of different heights and sizes. 

See more sloping garden ideas in our gallery.

2. Use a natural planting scheme in a large rockery

If you have a lot of space to cover, you may find it easier to scatter a seed mix over areas you’d like to be carpeted with flowers, rather than attempting to plant up the vast space manually. A rock garden doesn’t have to look formal – a natural planting scheme reminiscent of Alpine flower meadows will look stunning in a large space.

This rock garden uses the Annual Rockery Plant Mix Seeds  from Amazon.

3. Rock garden ideas for small spaces: plant in containers like Monty Don

Even a tiny garden can still have a rockery – you can easily start one in containers. To create a rock garden effect, choose rock garden plants – succulents, cacti, miniature bulb plants like small daffodils and iris – and sprinkle the soil around the plants with pebbles. Then, display your miniature rockery on a garden table. Beautiful. 

Monty Don has created his rockery on a table in containers and we’re sharing (above) because we think you’ll love it as much as we do. It would look fabulous reproduced in any garden, but one of the things that’s brilliant about it is that even if you have the smallest of exterior spaces, you could pull it off, too. 

4. Easy maintenance rock garden ideas? Add rocks and pebbles

If you prefer a clumped planting scheme for your rockery (where rock garden plants are dotted in groups around your rock garden), add texture and interest by filling the spaces between the plants and large rocks with smaller pebbles. The result will be more interested and polished than if you leave the soil between plants bare. And, of course, it will mean fewer plants, fewer weeds, less work – and less money spent on rock garden plants.

5. Rock garden ideas from Japan

Japanese rock gardens are a bit different from Alpine-style rock gardens. Firstly, a Japanese rock garden will use more shrubs and compact trees such as acers rather than just low-growing plants. Secondly, slate and fine granite chippings are favoured over other types of stone. And, thirdly, if you’re building a Zen-style garden in the Japense manner, consider using moss as ground cover and stone garden decorations. Water features, especially water pumps, are also common. 

6. Mini rockery ideas

No room for a rock garden, not even for a rockery display on your garden table? You can still create a rock garden effect by planting up a garden wall with succulents. Or, display a pot of Japanese-style moss in a stone-effect planter. These aren’t rock gardens as such, but the texture and look are similar. 

More advice on how to create a living wall in our guide.

7. Choose the best rock garden plants – and plant them well, with Alan Titchmarsh’s advice

These are the top plants for rockeries to go for for year-round colour and interest:

  • Crocuses
  • Campanula
  • Sedum
  • Sempervium
  • Spring gentian
  • Pulsatilla vulgaris
  • Thyme
  • Saxifraga 
  • Dianthus
  • Miniature daffodils
  • Miniature iris (iris reticulata)
  • Delosperma
  • Ajuga
  • Phlox subulata
  • Euphorbia myrsinites
  • Iberis sempervirens
  • Dwarf rhododendrons
  • Lithodora
  • Silene schafta
  • Sisyrinchium 

Alan Titchmarsh has praised rock gardens as an undeservedly neglected garden trend. In his video (watch it below), Alan explains that rockeries present excellent opportunities for displaying small plants that otherwise won’t be very visible in your garden. His top tips for planting up a rockery are:

1. Get several of the same rock garden plant: because alpines and succulents are quite small, you need a few of each type to really make an impact.

2. Plant rock garden plants of the same type in groups rather than spaced out throughout the rockery: the effect will be much more appealing. 

3. Finish the look by sprinkling the top soil with horticultural grit – of the same colour  as the rocks. This will also suppress weeds and help retain moisture. 

Read more:

Gallery: Nordic style interiors: 7 secrets to bringing dark and dramatic vibes home (Real Homes)

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