A rock garden can conceal many gardening problems. Bad slope, drainage problems and soil compaction issues all can be covered up through the use of a rock garden. This type of garden combines different types of stone and plant material to create a naturalistic garden that looks Mother Nature made.
To begin the process, first prepare the planned garden site. This preparation includes removing all existing plant material including trees, shrubs, and grass. Then observe the area and come up with a design plan. Play around with this design by drawing it out on the ground with powdered milk. This is the point where different designs can and should be played out before a definite shape is decided upon.
Next decide on an important aspect of a rock garden and that is the rock. Visit home improvement centers and quarries to view the local selection of rocks available. Regardless of where the rock is purchased from, the first step is to have the stone delivered and dumped. Once it arrives at the location, begin to sort out the rock. Organize the stone by size, color, and flatness. To aid in the sorting, begin to move the largest stones first but watch the weight. Many of these large boulders can weigh several pounds. After the large stones have been sorted continue down the sizes of stones until the smallest ones are reached.
After the stone has been sorted, draw out ideas of where you would like the stones located in the landscape. This is very important and saves a lot of backache from moving heavy stones from one area to the next in search of the perfect position.
Once the placement of the stone has been decided on paper, begin to dig footing in these locations for the stone. This footing will serve two purposes. One, it will help hold the larger stones in place and two, it will make the design look more natural. This will occur because the stones will not simply be sitting on top of the soil but instead will be added to the soil.
Next choose the plant materials based on the local environment. Several different species of plants can be used for rock gardens. These include snowcap rockcress (Arabis caucasica), mountain alyssum (Alyssum montanum), carpet bugle (Ajuga reptans), sea pink (America maritime), horned violet (Viola comuta), and many different. When selecting the plant material, pick several different kinds. This will add multiple textures and colors to the design.
After the plant material has been chosen, lay out the low growing plant material in a winding fashion to create a “river” effect. This “river” will empty into a fake basin. Once the plant design is suitable mark the outline of the “river” with powdered milk and begin to dig up.
Plant chosen plant material along the “river.” If the plants are in containers, remove the plant from the container and tease the roots. Dig a hole that is no deeper than the depth of the container and twice the width. If the plants are in burlap, loosen the burlap from around the roots but do not remove and plant as usual. Once the plants along the “river” have been planted, begin to arrange small boulders in the riverbed. Create a footing in the bed for each small boulder. Fill in around the small boulders with small riverbed stone and rake until the area is evenly covered.
Continue to plant the rock garden with remaining plant material. Do not forget to mix plants that only produce vegetation with ones that flower. This will create visual interest and look more natural.
Create a walkway through your rock garden that winds through the design. To create this path, mark off the area with powdered milk. Lay stones along this powdered milk path and when the design is pleasing tap the stone down with a shovel. Pick up the stone and dig a footing for each stone. Replace the stone back into the path and add additional small river stone. The ground in the rock garden will need to be covered with mulch. This will reduce weeds and help the soil retain water.
A rock garden can turn a garden negative into a garden positive with just a little work. Remember though that the most important step to any landscaping project is the planning process and a rock garden is no exception.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mindy McIntosh-Shetter has been an Agricultural Science educator, and is a horticulture and/or environmental blogger who earned a degree from Purdue University in Agriculture Education with a minor in biology, and natural resources. Presently she is finishing up her Masters in Environmental Education and Urban Planning for the University of Louisville while working on her own agriculture/environmental blog.