The rock garden is back, and it’s drought-tolerant and requires little maintenance.
Rock gardens were once an essential element of both larger and smaller British gardens.
They were then, as with many other popular trends, neglected or made with little thought or understanding. The rock garden, or rockery, was almost extinct until recently.
However, garden centers started reporting increased alpine and rock sales a few years back. The Guardian newspaper predicted a revival of the rockery. The Guardian newspaper indicated that a ‘rockery revival’ was underway. Gravel gardens began to appear at garden shows like Amanda Grimes’ “Punk Rockery” garden at RHS Hampton Court last summer.
So I spoke to Amicia Oldfield of Doddington Place Gardens, who was short-listed for Historic Houses Garden of the Year last year. It boasts a stunning rock garden that dates back to Edwardian times and is renovated 12 years ago. It has performed well during the UK’s recent heat and drought records.
The garden is quite large, measuring approximately half an acre. It is set in a ten-acre area of gardens. However, there are many ideas there to create smaller rock gardens. Doddington Place Gardens is open from April to September. The gardens are open to the public twice per week.
How to plan your rock-garden
Amicia recommends that you begin by visiting other rock gardens. They will likely be in more extensive parks like Doddington Place Gardens. However, you can still get ideas from them.
Amicia suggests looking at a smaller section of a more extensive rock garden. A small area of alpine plants is located just near Doddington Place Garden’s stairs. This would be a great place to start a small garden in your town.
You can also check Instagram, Pinterest, and other social media platforms using the hashtag #rockgarden/ #rockery. You won’t find the perfect rock garden, but this will help you choose what to enjoy and avoid.
What is the best place to put your rock garden?
Rock gardens are a great way to manage a slope. Even a small bank can be hard to plant and water. It’s usually cheaper than building a retaining wall or terracing your space. How to Plant on a Slope.
You can measure the area and determine how many rocks are needed. You have two options: pack the stones tightly together or space them apart and separate them with a pebble mulch.
Posy Gentles was a garden designer who created a rock garden for her narrow, long town garden to increase the area’s height. Posy received the rocks from someone who wanted them to be thrown away. If you have stones that you received free of charge through an online exchange forum, the size of your rock garden will likely be determined by the number of rocks you have.
How to choose the suitable rocks
You will find that your local stone will look better in your garden. Although you may still need to learn what your local stone looks like, an internet search will reveal considerable differences in the appearance of different stones. There will likely be at least one building in your local area made from local stone.
Although rocks can be costly to purchase, there are many ways to get them for free or second-hand. Posy Gentles recommends that you look into local markets such as Freecycle or Freegle to find people looking to dispose of unwanted rocks from their gardens. She says you can often find them free of charge if they are collected.
However, just because you buy or obtain rocks locally doesn’t mean they are local rocks. If you do some research, you will know the best options.
Let the rocks develop a patina over time – don’t remove moss and lichens. These are essential for ecology and will give your rock garden a natural appearance.
How can you arrange rocks in rock gardens?
According to the RHS, stones should be buried at a third of their original depth and tilted backward to replicate how they would emerge naturally from the landscape.
A pile of brick, stone, or rubble can be used as a foundation for a slope. RHS recommends covering the soil with turf and compost. This prevents soil and compost from falling between cracks in the rock.
Posy used to work in a garden that had bricks from its owners. They never did get around to doing it. The pile of bricks was colonized by plants and is now a rock garden.
Posy’s rock garden raises the soil level by six inches. You don’t have to make a cliff face.
How to plant rock gardens
- For vertical interest, place evergreen structures first.
- Add smaller evergreen shrubs for winter interest
- Locate a local supplier of alpines.
- Sedums and sempervivums are small, drought-tolerant plants.
- Trailing plants such as creeping rosemary or creeping thyme, like aubretia
- You can add contrasting shapes to your garden with spiky plants like the iris, perovskite, and yucca.
- Smaller bulbs (wild tulips and miniature daffodils) can be planted with snowdrops, crocus, or Muscari.
Begin with the evergreen structure.
Rock gardens have been designed to mimic alpine mountainsides. To survive harsh mountain conditions and strong winds, plants are often small. However, you will also need to have some vertical presence.
Although miniature conifers have beautiful shapes and colors, the RHS advises you to make sure they are not dwarf conifers. Dwarf conifers can be slow-growing but eventually grow too large for your space. To ensure they don’t outgrow your area, check the final size of the shrubs. More information on choosing conifers and growing them is available here.
Rock gardens were partly created to showcase alpine plant species. It’s worth finding a supplier in your area and getting their advice about which plants are best for your soil. Many garden centers have an alpine plant section.
Other smaller, drought-tolerant plants are also good options. You can also find succulents such as sempervivums, stonecrops, and sedums. However, make sure you check which ones can withstand winters.
Water features and sculpture
Posy and Amicia agree that a rock garden already has enough structure, shape, and interest. It doesn’t require sculpture. Use the natural sculptural forms of nature. Doddington Place Gardens is home to exciting rocks and fallen trees that create unique sculptural forms.