Create your own rockery with our easy how to guide
Rockeries are a simple way of creating a peaceful garden retreat, perfect for any size garden. With a little work and care, you can create a stunning garden focal point that’ll last through the seasons.
Rockeries are low maintenance and can easily be adapted to fit in awkward or smaller spaces.
You can build your rockery during any season, but the best time to plant your rockery is spring. This will give the plants enough time to establish themselves before the winter sets in.
Alpine plants are naturally found in mountainous regions, they’re hardy, easy to look after, and most will easily survive a British winter. Choosing the right alpines for your rockery could help give you colour all year round, with some flowering even earlier than herbaceous borders.
Alpines come in a wide range of colours, from bright pinks to soothing blues, and even a small collection can give your garden a focal point throughout the year.
Choosing your alpines
Choose your alpines carefully and you could have flowers from February through to October. Mix that with different coloured evergreen foliage and your new rock garden will have year round interest for you to enjoy.
You don’t have to stick to alpines. Trailing plants like aubretia look great cascading down larger rocks. You could also mix in small bulbs to give additional interest and splashes of colour. Crocus, Muscari (Grape hyacinth) and Chionodoxa (Glory of the Snow) all work well in a natural rockery. Below are some examples of the kinds of plants you could choose for your rockery:
White Flowering alpines:
Campanula Pusilla Alba (Fairies Thimble)
- Gypsophila (Baby’s Breath)
- Anemone Blanda (White splendour)
Yellow Flowering alpines:
Delosperma (Jewel of Desert Peridot)
- Alyssum Montanum (Mountain Gold)
- Solidago Cutleri (Goldrush)
Where to build your rockery
When selecting the location for your rockery, keep the following tips in mind:
Look at the direction your garden is facing and locate it so it can receive maximum sun.
- Avoid shaded or boggy areas
- Avoid covering water or power cables that you may need access to in the future.
- Don’t position the rockery against a wall or fence or cover manhole covers.
With the area identified, draw up a rough plan. The rockery should look natural, with flowing curves, and varying heights. Think about the choice of rocks, decorative stone and plants. Look at local rocks or stone that works well with other hard landscaping in your garden, for example existing paving or walling.
Your plan may look straightforward on paper, but it’s easy to lose track of it once you’re in the garden, especially when building a large rockery packed with heavy rocks.
To avoid this:
Mark out the area with sand to help you visualise the site.
- Use the sand to mark where the rocks will go
If you have a patio or unsuitable garden, you can still have a rock garden. Build your own mini alpine rockery in a stone trough or old stone sink. Whatever you use, just remember to give it good drainage and a sunny spot.
How to build your rockery
Depending on your chosen site, clear the area to bare soil, removing any grass, plants or weeds from the area.
If drainage is a problem, add a 15cm to 20cm deep base made from broken bricks and rubble mixed with gravel to aid drainage. This drainage base will also make a solid support for the main rocks.
Add a layer of weed control fabric over the area to prevent the planting soil from falling down into the drainage base.
Alpines like a really well drained soil. This is mixed with equal parts of multi-purpose compost, sharp sand and grit, but this can be adjusted for individual plant’s requirements. Place the mix in a wheelbarrow and mix it well together by turning over with a garden fork. Add a base layer of this mix to your site for the main rocks to sit on, the amount will vary depending on your requirements.
Position the largest rockery stones first to create the desired height and levels. Try and make it look natural and this may mean moving the rocks around and taking a step back to check their positioning. This part will be time consuming and hard work, so enlist the help of a friend to help move the rocks. A crow bar will come in handy to move the rocks into their final position. Partially bury the rocks in hollows, this not only provides stability to the rockery but it also gives a much more natural effect than laying them on the surface. This might mean moving the rock and digging it in after it is placed.
Add more of the soil mix across the rockery, spreading it out with a rake or by hand between the rocks. Try not to stand on or compact the mix. Add the remaining rocks and top up the soil mix to infill between the rocks and create planting pockets where required.
Give the rockery a good soaking and leave it to settle for at least a few days before topping up with extra soil where required. Larger rockeries may need longer for the soil to settle into all the gaps, but it’s worth the wait to eliminate air pockets.
Use this downtime to read the plant labels and set out your plants, in their pots, onto the rockery. Take into account their eventual height and spread and move them around until you get the best arrangement. It may initially look bare, but they will soon spread out and fill the rockery.
After the rockery has settled, it’s time to get planting. Careful planting gets plants off to a good start and helps keep them healthy. Plant one at a time and make the hole deep enough to allow the plant to be at the same depth as it was in its pot. Use a hand trowel to dig the holes and make sure the surrounding soil is gently firmed in after planting.
Top-dress around the collar of the plants with a layer of grit, gravel or decorative alpine stones. Not only will this display the plants better, but also deter slugs, aid drainage and help retain the soil below.
Keep it clean
If you can, it’s a good idea to wash the decorative gravel first to remove any excess soil and give the stones an instant sparkle to help show-off the plants.
Once all the plants are planted and dressed, the rest of the rockery can be easily top-dressed with more grit or gravel to a depth of about 2cm. You could also fill in any sparse areas between the plants and rocks with groups of pebble or smaller rocks.
Brush away any grit or soil from the rocks with a brush.
Water the plants thoroughly after planting. Use a fine spray to avoid washing away the top-dressing and planting compost. Depending on the weather, water the plants regularly until the plants become established. If you can, use collected rainwater instead of tap water.
Once established, a rockery is low-maintenance and does not require feeding or pruning and little or no watering. Keep an eye out for weeds and remove them as soon as they appear. Deadhead any spent alpine flowers and put them on the compost heap. Alpine need sunlight, so when autumn arrives, remove any fallen leaves from nearby trees that cover the rockery and cut back any overgrown plants. Don’t forget to keep the plant labels for tips on care and maintenance. Some of the alpines, especially succulents, can be easily divided into new plants to fill any gaps in the future.