If a rock is a rock, then two rocks must make a rock garden, right? Well, not quite.
Also known as an alpine garden or rockery, a rock garden accentuates various rocks, stones, and boulders (big, small, square, round). Start by considering various rock garden ideas before setting out to design your project to make those large rocks pop and call it a garden.
What’s your rock garden design goal? Cozy and relaxed, or zen and mindful?
Take a look below at the different elements of rock gardens below:
- Water features
- Focal points
Then, mix and match these elements to create — and sketch out — your own rock garden design.
It wouldn’t be a rock garden without stones. Rocks come in many shapes and sizes, and they offer many purposes in a garden’s design. A huge boulder provides a great seat to bask in the sun, while small pebbles can create decorative mulch ground covers or pathways.
You can buy stones at rock shops, online stores, Amazon, and Home Depot. Prices will vary depending on the type, number, and size of the rock(s) you choose. Landscaping rock projects can cost hundreds of dollars and can top $1,000, depending on the size of your rock garden and the types of stones used.
1. Beach pebbles
Beach pebbles can make the perfect addition to a cozy rock garden. They come in a variety of shapes and colors, including rounded or sharp edges. Use these pebbles as mulch in your rock garden bed, making both your plants and rocks standout from the soil. Otherwise, your stones and flower beds will be competing for the spotlight against weeds, fallen leaves, and invading grass.
Interested in turning your rock garden into a welcoming space? Lay down some beach pebbles and turn them into a walkway that leads visitors into your calming rock garden.
2. Mossy rock
Mossy rocks, when big enough, are excellent seating cushions. They create a comfortable atmosphere with their soft surfaces, earthy smell, and bold greenery.
Is your lawn full of shade trees? Growing a shade garden around your mossy rocks will turn your rock garden into a beautiful space to cool off and smell the flowers. Consider adding a decaying log to give your mossy rock garden an earthy vibe.
3. Petrified wood
If you want your garden to have an eclectic atmosphere, try a rock that doesn’t look like a rock at all. Or better yet, is a fossil.
Petrified wood is a particular type of fossilized remains of trees (or tree-like plants) that have been replaced by stone via a mineralization process that often includes the rock minerals filling the spaces of the organic tissue, like an internal cast.
4. Granite boulders
Giant granite boulders will ensure your rock garden doesn’t go missed by the neighbors. These giant rocks can make creative seating arrangements and turn your rock garden into a fun and daring space to explore.
5. Pea gravel
Pea gravel are rocks smaller than beach pebbles, and pea gravel can make a finely textured surface for your rock garden.
Want to put down flagstones but don’t want to spend countless afternoons pulling up weeds growing through the cracks? Lay down pea gravel between the cracks and crevices, and you’ll be saying goodbye to weeds and hello to flagstones that make a beautiful, inviting walkway.
6. Stone mosaics
When laying down your small stones (pea, beach, or lava), why not turn the garden bed into an intricate art piece? Buy different sets of stone colors, grab your edging, and lay down your landscape fabric.
Design your edged borders so you can fill the open parts of the design with the chosen pebble color, just like a coloring book. Your exquisite design is bound to add instant charm and curb appeal to your lawn.
7. Lava rock
This lightweight rock may be just the touch you need if you’re creating a dry rock garden or a desert landscape design.
But if you’re not designing with a desert landscape in mind, lava rock can add a focal point that contrasts with the surrounding environment and draws attention to your rock garden. Lava rock is easy to transport and spread, making it an excellent stone for mulching or creating a stunning mosaic design of spirals, curves, or circles.
Flagstones are flat stone slabs used for paving. You can use flagstones to create a walkway leading to your rock garden, or even create a small patio structure within your rock garden that enables you to bring an outdoor seating area right to your garden.
Your rock garden won’t just be a place to admire stones anymore but also a place to gather for conversation and sit comfortably under the sun.
ROCK GARDEN IDEAS
These wonderful rock garden ideas will provide all the inspiration you need to start creating your very own rockery, or incorporating elements of this aesthetic into your flower bed ideas.
1. INTEGRATE STEPS INTO YOUR ROCK GARDEN
Stone steps are a natural extension of a rockery, and help to make the overall scheme feel more harmonious. This is also a particularly good solution if your yard slopes.
When adding steps to a garden, it is important that the stones have a rougher, or more riven texture, to ensure the surface is non-slip.
‘Any stone that is too sleek when it rains or too sharp for safe general maintenance should be avoided. Stones like limestone or granite typically serve better and are also visually pleasing,’ says Mark Feldman, chief home officer at Riverbend Home(opens in new tab).
Annually clean the steps to remove any algae, which can make the surface feel very slippy when it rains.
In this design, the garden is set over two tiers, with a secluded dining area to the upper section. The scheme plays with scale, mixing larger boulders and mid-size rocks with a border of smaller stones that leads the eye upwards.
2. CHOOSE DROUGHT-TOLERANT PLANTS
Rock gardens are the ideal solution for warmer climates and areas prone to drought. But you need to choose the right greenery to make it work, focusing on drought-tolerant planting.
‘At a time when conserving water has never been more urgent or responsible, rock gardens are a phenomenal way to achieve a high-impact look while saving this important resource,’ says Misilla dela Llana, author of Four-Season Food Gardening, who partnered with Sunset Plant Collection(opens in new tab) to create her rock garden.
‘Plants’ textures and movements really pop when placed against the dramatic backdrop of rocks. For my garden, we selected various drought-tolerant plants that complemented each other. Platinum Beauty Lomandra made a beautiful addition with its eye-catching variegated leaf blades.
‘Other plants in my rock garden include hens and chicks and other succulents, daylilies, bearded iris, aquilegia, Serbian bellflower, juniper, and bergenia.’
3. USE A ROCK GARDEN TO HIGHLIGHT A STREAM OR POND
Whether you are fortunate enough to have an existing body of water in your backyard, or are looking for garden pond ideas to add to your design, a rock garden is the perfect way to highlight it and make it feel like an integral part of your scheme.
While most rock gardens are compatible with drought-resistant plants, when planting on the banks of a waterway, you may need to look at plants that will thrive in wetter conditions, especially if the soil is prone to going boggy
This design is bordered by a stunning mix of low-maintenance plants, including ornamental grasses, ferns, irises and rosemary.
4. PLANT A HERB GARDEN ROCKERY
Add an aromatic herb garden to your rockery for a scheme that is both beautiful and useful. ‘Some culinary herbs make great choices for rock gardens because of their ability to thrive in poor conditions,’ says Marjorie Beausoleil.
‘The iconic thyme, which thrives in rock gardens, fills the space near the edges, dripping down gracefully and providing the gardener with a refined herb for the kitchen as well. I also love to grow Greek oregano, chives and sage in my rock gardens, as their blooms are particularly lovely and their foliage attractive.’
There are so many wonderful herb garden ideas to make this a productive space – but it’s best to focus on low-maintenance perennial varieties.
Marjorie also points out that fragrant herbs are also mosquito repellent plants – this works best if you rub the foliage between your fingers when passing.
5. BREAK UP A LARGE LAWN WITH ROCKERIES
If your yard has a large lawn, then adding rockeries is a great way to break up the expanse, and will add height to different areas.
Larger rocks will be better suited to a big space, acting as eye-catchers – or focal points – on the landscape.
Rocks are also used in some of the best garden path ideas, and look fantastic bordered by alpines, succulents or low-growing shrubs.
Think about the mature height of the plants you use, and how different varieties will work together. ‘Focus on tall, stately plants on the back of your rock garden, then go with shorter and shorter plants toward the front,’ says Marjorie.
‘Use a variety of texture and colors, but try to keep to a single palette for harmony.’
6. CREATE A ZEN GARDEN TO MIMIC WAVES
One way to bring rock gardens to life is to include the Japanese practice of raking gravel to mimic water – called samon,’ says Davin Eberhardt, founder of Nature of Home(opens in new tab).
These zen gardens typically feature carefully arranged rocks, along with neatly pruned trees and shrubs, water features and moss. At the heart of this is a section of gravel or sand that can be raked as a mindful activity.
‘Traditional Japanese gardens use a type of sand that is more like gravel, adds Davin. ‘The larger size allows it not to be affected by wind and rain. But, you can use whatever gravel is available in your area of similar size.
‘Flat river-rocks can also be leaned on one another to mimic the look of a flowing stream.’
Remember to put down a weed barrier before installing the stone.
7. PLANT TO ATTRACT POLLINATORS
‘Using the often neglected rock wall and rocky landscape found in many backyards as a pollinator and beneficial insect habitat has many great benefits,’ says Marjorie.
‘The plants I use in my own rock garden and along my rock wall are all native plants and are chosen specifically for their uses in providing habitat to beneficial insects as well as a food source for pollinators.’
Good options include easy-care plants like catmint, which provides summer-long blooms and ample nectar for pollinators.
You’ve got your stones; now it’s time to consider if your rock garden could benefit from a tranquil, calming water feature. Turn your rock garden into a space for wildlife, enjoy the sounds of trickling water, and create fascinating ripples to put your mind at ease.
A fountain in your rock garden can add elegance and tranquility. Speak with a landscape designer to discuss a fountain design that best suits your rock garden’s aesthetic.
Looking for a fountain that creates a warm, earthy atmosphere in your rock garden? Then consider a pottery pot fountain that spills water on slippery rocks, or a fountain with soft, smooth curves. If you’re leaning toward modern design, a fountain with straight edges and right angles will be perfect for a serene, chic rock garden.
Nothing says an inviting backyard like a small creek trickling by. Edge your lawn’s natural creek with stones, flower beds, and beach pebbles. Plant shrubs and bushes, and you’ll create a rock garden you’ll never want to leave.
Add a small dining area by the water’s edge so you can enjoy warm summer evenings by your enchanting rock garden.
3. Sprinkler to water plants
A water feature doesn’t always have to be a visual interest. Why not design an irrigation system in your rock garden that saves you time and money on routine maintenance?
Your blossoming flower beds will never miss a watering, and your rock garden won’t lose its beauty.
Design your rock garden into a wildlife oasis. If you love animals and enjoy taking care of their habitat, a pond is just the feature your rock garden needs. Accentuate your favorite rocks by placing them around the water’s edge and turn your pond into a space full of wildlife.
Invite a family of koi fish into your rock garden, and you’ll be spending many afternoons watching their intricate swimming patterns and scales. Set up a few chairs and listen to zooming dragonflies and the croaks of friendly frogs.
Building a waterfall in your rock garden can transform your lawn into a relaxing paradise. Surround your garden with trees, shrubs, and bushes, and you’ll have a great enclosure that offers a quiet, private atmosphere and features the sounds of bubbling, trickling water.