If you want your garden to go beyond its involvement in the total landscape of your home, then you can add rocks to create a rock garden. Rock gardens have been around for thousands of years and helps to create more of a natural environment than just plants alone.
History Of Rock Gardens
Originally created in Chine and Japan, rock gardens began as unusual rock formations on a landscape with no plants. Interest in rock gardens in the United States goes back to the 16th century based on early publications that described them.
The concept began to include plants in an attempt to mimic the natural environment of the Alps with the inclusion of alpine plants along with the rocks. The first book to encourage the creation of rock gardens with alpine plants was Die Cultur der Alpenflanzen, which was published in 1864 and written by Anton Kerner von Marilaun, an Austrian botanist who studied alpine plants in the wild.
Rock gardens were appearing in the United States as early as 1872 witnessed by an article written about such a garden that included such alpine plants as rhododendrons, gentians, and edelweiss in a rock garden at Sunset Hill in Manchester, Massachusetts. The same garden was described along with five other gardens in the state in an article titled Some Massachusetts Rock Gardens, published in the New England Garden History Journal in 1991.
Another rock garden was created at the Smith College Botanical Garden, which was completed in 1897.
Rock gardens were later created in New York, North Carolina, and Ohio by the 1930s and Canada as early as 1921.
Benefits Of Rock Gardens
There are a number of benefits to rock gardens including:
• Their ability to survive in harsh environments.
• Low maintenance.
• Great appearance throughout the year.
• Appears to create more space
• Helps to diversify your yard
• Adds texture
• They increase property value
Five Components To A Rock Garden
The various styles of rock gardens depend on five components.
1. The size of the rocks being used.
2. The type of rocks being used.
3. The visibility of plant life
4. The use of water
In the case of the size of the rocks being used, boulder gardens use larger rocks that help to define space. Gravel gardens use tiny stones and gravel are used as bedrock for plants or accent items.
A garden consisting of rocks and plants can provide more interest and height than a common garden. (Source)
The type of plants you use in a rock garden will depend on the climate and the appearance you are seeking. It is recommended that you refer to the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map when selecting the proper flora.
Some plants that are considered ideal for rock gardens include:
• Small ornamental grasses
• Dwarf iris
• Ice plants
How To Build A Rock Garden With Weed Prevention
There are three elements in building a rock garden. They include:
1. Preparing the space and preventing weed growth
2. Building the rock garden
3. Planting your rock garden
1) Preparing the space and preventing weed growth
During this part of creating your rock garden you want to consider the kind of rock garden you want to create. Do you want the garden to be small or large? Do you want to place it in direct sunlight or in shade? Alpine plants used in rock gardens flourish in sun. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t use these plants in a shady site. You can plan out the garden so that the Alpine plants still get enough sun while most of the plants are bathed by shade.
Inspect your property to find the spot where you want to create the rock garden. This type of garden is pretty much a permanent structure. So don’t place where there are manhole covers or underground pipes that may need to be accessed.
Once you’ve located the place for the garden, draw what you want the garden to look like.
Next, use a spade to dig out the outline of the garden, and then clear the site. Clear out plants, grass, and anything else they may be present including furniture, tree roots, etc.
After that, plan a drainage route for the area. Remove a few inches of the topsoil and mix it with 6-inches of gravel, rubble, broken bricks, pea shingle, or coarse sand. This modification of the soil will assist it to drain better.
Lay weed-resistant fabric on the area to prevent the growth of weeds. While the fabric prevents weeds from growing it allows water through for the plants. You don’t have to use weed-resistant fabric if you don’t want to. Instead, lay down several layers of old newspaper above the top layer of soil. While it’s true that the newspaper will break down it will prevent weeds from germinating in the area. Don’t worry about the appearance of newspaper on the ground and the possibility that it might be blown away by a sudden gust of wind. The paper will be covered with a layer of topsoil and rocks.
2) Build the rock garden
Select the rocks you want to use in the garden. How you arrange the rocks is up to you. However, a random scattering of large and smaller rocks will work well. You might want to include at least two or three very large rocks to help highlight the garden or you may want to use rocks that are about the same color and type. Again, the rocks you select and how you arrange them is strictly up to you.
Use the rocks for visual effect and to give shape to the plant beds that will be part of the garden. You can mimic nature or use the rocks to create a frame around the plant bed.
Place topsoil between the rocks. Some favor to submerge the rocks somewhat into the soil so they don’t appear to be floating on the yard.
Use weed free topsoil. It might also be a good idea to use topsoil that is 30 percent grit to assure good drainage.
Tamp down the soil. Press it into the ground and water it with a garden hose to assure that there are no air bubbles.
Wait a few days before you plant so that the rocks can settle.
3) Install plants into the rock garden.
Plants should be selected based on features of the site. Keep the type of soil the plants grow in mind when selecting them, whether or not they will get full sun, partial sun, or shade. Keep in mind that if you select plants that die during winter, then the rock garden may look a little barren. Instead, you may want to use plants that last year ‘round including evergreens to form a backbone for the garden.
Lower growing, clump forming, smaller plants look great in a rock garden. So, include Alpines and Sedums because they exhibit well between rocks. You can also use evergreen Alpines such as Celmisia ramulosa, Dianthus, perennial Penstemons, and Picea. You also may want to consider an Acer (A.K.A. Japanese Maple) to offer height and visual interest to the garden.
You also may want to include plants that help to suppress weeds. They include Leptinella potentillina or Creeping Sedums. They cover the ground so well that they smother out weeds that are attempting to grow in.
As you create your rock garden keep in mind that large rocks retain heat. So plants that favor heat will thrive while plants that need a lot of water or don’t do well in high heat may not flourish.
Finally, don’t feel like you have to occupy all the space between the rocks with plants. Remember, the purpose of a rock garden is to display the rocks and the plants. And, be sure to give the plants enough space to grow.
Caring For A Rock Garden
Rock garden plants don’t need much water. You will also discover that ants enjoy making their homes between the rocks. If this doesn’t bother you, leave them alone. If they do bother you, buy some ant killer from your nearby garden store.