Rock Gardens

By Sharon Naylor

February 18, 2011 5 min read

A rock garden creates visual interest along a garden pathway and also might "rescue" a section of your lawn that is a dead zone -- an area, perhaps root-bound, devoid of plant growth -- or just a boring patch of grass. In less than a week, you can transform this dead zone into a Zen-like rock garden or create the illusion of a riverbed by adding beautiful plants and flowers to your rocky design.

First, identify the area you wish to designate as a rock garden. Is it a large area? Small? Sunny? Shady? If you'll landscape your rock bed with greenery or flowers, the sun/shade factor is quite important. Your passion for sun-loving flowers might inspire you to put your rock garden in a bright corner of your yard. Or your appreciation of shade-loving plants -- for example, plantain lilies -- could inspire you to build your rock garden beneath a shade tree.

Next, decide on your rock garden's shape. A rounded-corner kidney shape is one of the most popular designs right now. S-shaped curving riverbed rock gardens are also at the top of homeowners' wish lists. If you have a hilly backyard, your rock garden could be a half-circle at ground level, and there could be several stone steps leading up to the next layer. To help you establish your rock garden's size and shape, use a can of light-colored spray paint to mark your outline on grass or dirt. You then have a visual of your garden's shape, can change it to suit your preferences or the dimensions of your yard, and can measure your actual space to determine the true amount of soil and rocks you'll need to fill your garden space.

Clear your garden space of any growth or debris using a rake or leaf blower. Use a hoe to break up and remove any additional growth or stones. Then use a metal edger to dig an established border around your rock garden's outline.

Next, take a look around you at the existing vegetation, the colors of trees, the color of your home, existing stones and boulders, and the colors of outcroppings or cliffs surrounding your home. The most balanced rock garden designs are inspired by their surroundings, blending into them, not fighting them through a contrasting color or a mismatched style. Scenery that says "adobe" calls for brown and beige rocks, for instance, whereas scenery that says "wine country" calls for burgundy and tan rocks. Let your surroundings help you decide on your colors and planting types.

After that, it's time to pick out boulders as the focal points of your garden. Then choose round or egg-shaped smooth river stones in solid, striated or speckled colors. Select gravel as ground cover. As you look in garden centers or home improvement stores at different sizes, shapes and colors of stones, you will encounter the following main types of landscaping rocks: river rocks, which are round or oval and smooth; pea gravel, small round stones commonly used on pathways, walkways and driveways, available in tan, brown, gray, black and white; lava rock, a porous rock in brown, red or black, often placed at the bases of plants; and rose quartz, a lighter-colored rock in white to pale pink that gives a sparkling effect to your rock garden's bed. You also will see large white dolomite boulders, known for keeping their white color even through weathering, and red granite boulders, which come in a range of reddish and rust colors.

A landscape specialist is often your best adviser on stone selections, assessing your property's slope and drainage patterns to best plan your stone sizes, weights and placements. Discuss the smartest preparation of the soil below your rock garden, deciding on creating a soil-sand mix or laying down a pond-type tarp to cover with soil and your rock garden. From there, you'll bring in your rocks and boulders, setting the lightest stones first and then the larger ones. This is a weighty job, so expect to spend a day or two on this step alone.

Next comes the addition of your greenery, flowering plants, succulents, bushes and other plants, giving your rock garden a living element and your property a pop of color.

In the end, you have a nature-inspired rock garden, and you've improved the value of your home.

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