Last Modified: February 22, 2024

Planting a Rock Garden


Clovers in a rock garden

By Ben Parrot - Landscape Gardener & Amateur Geologist


Welcome to another episode of our People Also Ask About series, this time covering the popular questions online about planting a rock garden. It can be difficult to find a clear and concise answer to a specific question online. A rock garden not only enhances the beauty of your outdoor space but also serves as a testament to your creativity and love for nature. It is an eco-friendly option that promotes biodiversity by providing a habitat for various species of plants and insects. Better yet, it is a low-maintenance garden style that thrives in various climates.

This article provides answers related to designing and establishing a low-maintenance rock garden and highlights the importance of planning, including assessing the garden's sunlight availability, drainage and space. We also cover the essentials of designing a rock garden with some practical advice on planting in a rock garden and provide you with helpful answers, saving you the time and effort spent searching for answers to specific questions. Please look for yours in the quick links menu above.

Granite boulders with ornamental grass

What flowers grow well in rocky soil?

Native plants and wildflowers grow well in rocky soil, although not all plants grow well in this type of soil. That's why choosing plants that are naturally suited to rocky soil is advisable when planning a rock garden. Selecting native and wild plants is beneficial because these types are adapted to the harsh conditions that rocky soil presents, making them most likely to thrive. Hardy shrubs and trees such as oak and cedar, as well as lavender and sedums, grow well in stony soils. Their resilience and adaptability make them excellent choices for gardeners planning a vibrant and thriving landscape rockery.

Lavender plant close up. Jpg

What plants are best for rockeries?

When selecting plants for rockeries, consider incorporating perennials such as:

  1. 1
    Achillea - Common Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
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    Agapanthus - African Lily (Agapanthus)
  3. 3
    Bellflower - (Campanula)
  4. 4
    Geraniums - Cranesbill (Geranium)
  5. 5
    Kniphofia - Red Hot Poker (Kniphofia)
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    Sedum - Stonecrop (Sedum)
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    Veronica - Speedwell (Veronica)
  2. 8
    Bergenia 'Miss Crawford' (Bergenia 'Mrs Crawford')
  3. 9
    Lady's Mantle - (Alchemilla mollis)
  4. 10
    Tibetan Bamboo - (Himalayacalamus planatus)
  5. 11
    Fountain Bamboo - (Fargesia nitida)
  6. 12
    Golden Millet Grass - (Milium effusum 'Aureum')

These varieties are particularly suited for rock gardens due to their resilience and the vibrant colour they bring. To ensure your rockery remains visually appealing throughout the year, it's advisable to blend these perennials with evergreen shrubs. Evergreens help maintain a lush appearance during the winter months, effectively filling any gaps that might otherwise appear when perennials are dormant.

White flowering shade loving plant. Jpg
Fountain bamboo in a garden. Jpg

How can I make my front garden look nice?

Your front garden can be made to look more attractive by using a few important techniques. Aim to enhance the street scene by utilizing designs that go well with the personality of your neighbourhood. Emphasize symmetry and structure in your layout to create a visually pleasing effect while considering how your garden will look in winter. The arrangement should be carefully thought out, aiming for a result that complements the architectural style of your home and will bring you joy while leaving a good impression on guests. Keep in mind any applicable planning regulations. Finally, to make sure your front garden looks good all year round, incorporate some plants that look good throughout every season.

Can you put rocks on top of plant soil?

Adding rocks atop the soil in plant pots serves multiple beneficial purposes. For large or top-heavy plants, this practice can provide essential stability, preventing the pots from tipping over. Beyond the practical benefits, incorporating decorative rocks can also enhance the appearance of your houseplants, adding contrast and sophistication. This technique also protects the roots and stabilises the soil temperature, making it a useful addition to plant care.

Chippings around the base of a plant in a planter. Jpg

How to do a small garden?

To make the most of a small garden, it's important to use clever design techniques and careful planning. One way to do this is by adding a small patio or decking to create defined areas and give the garden a sense of structure and openness. Combining outdoor seating with storage solutions is a practical way to add style without sacrificing functionality. Raised beds can also be used to divide the space and allow for different planting schemes. Adding topiary and birch trees can add height and visual interest, while a green wall can make use of limited ground space.

How to build a small rockery?

Building a small rock garden can be accomplished by following a set of well-defined steps, commencing with a comprehensive planning phase to envisage the desired outcome. Firstly, mark out the designated area for your rock garden and then proceed to clear the space of any weeds, roots or debris. To aid drainage and stability, lay rubble over the area, followed by the placement of landscaping fabric to prevent weed growth. The next stage involves placing your chosen feature rocks, starting with the larger ones to form the foundation and structure. Integrate smaller rocks to fill the gaps, add texture and create planting pockets. Lastly, add a compost mixture to supply necessary nutrients prior to planting your rockery plants, and then water them in well.

Building a small rockery. Jpg

What is the cheapest ground cover landscaping?

Gravel is the most economical option for ground cover in garden landscaping. Its affordability, combined with easy installation and low maintenance needs, make it an appealing choice for efficiently covering most areas. Gravel also provides versatility in terms of appearance, with a range of sizes, colours and textures available to complement various garden designs. You can see the whole range in the sidebar! This makes gravel a practical and cost-effective option for gardeners looking to improve their outdoor spaces without spending a lot of money.

What are spreading plants called?

Spreading plants are often called groundcovers, ground-cover plants or creepers. The key feature of a ground cover plant is its capacity to rapidly form a thick and compact layer over the soil, like a living carpet. This is a natural way of preventing weed seeds from sprouting, which decreases the need for manual weeding. Ground cover plants are a tool in garden design, providing both visual and practical benefits by producing a rich, unified undergrowth that looks beautiful while improving soil durability and diversity.

Creeping plants used as ground cover in rock yard

Need to work out how much gravel your project needs? Try our free gravel calculator.

How do you make a beautiful rockery?

To create a beautiful rockery, choose an ideal location with good sunlight, drainage, and visibility, following these basic steps:

  1. 1
    Plan your garden's design, considering its shape, size, and the type of rocks you'll use. It's best to choose native rocks.
  2. 2
    Select a colour scheme that complements your home and landscape.
  3. 3
    Measure and outline the area where you'll create your rock garden.
  4. 4
    Clear the site of any debris or unwanted vegetation.
  5. 5
    Lay the foundational layer of rocks, making sure they're level and stable.
  6. 6
    Spread a layer of soil evenly over the rocks.
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    Add a second layer of rocks, arranging them in a visually appealing way.
  8. 8
    Position your plants according to your design, taking into account their size and growth patterns.
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    Finish by adding decorative touches, such as mulch or small stones, to enrich the garden's beauty.
Sandstone boulders with ferns and herbs for rock garden

Do rockery plants survive winter?

Yes, most rockery plants will survive winter. While alpine and rockery plants are most adapted to dry, sunny conditions, they can survive autumn and winter in temperate climates. However, the wet weather in British winters can pose a challenge for these plants, which is why excellent drainage is a key factor in rock gardens. Additionally, covers can be used during excessive rain, and the re-location of any potted plants to sheltered areas may also be necessary. Ensuring well-draining soil for rockery plants is of vital importance.

What do you need for a rockery?

Building a rockery in the UK requires a range of tools and materials to guarantee a successful outcome. To begin, you will need marker spray, garden hose or string to mark out the area where the rockery will be located. A spade is crucial for digging up soil and shaping the terrain, while a trowel will aid in the precise planting of your rockery plants. A crowbar is also useful for securely positioning rocks within the design. To prevent weed growth, it is recommended to lay down a weed control membrane beneath the layer of gravel or mulch, ensuring a tidy and low-maintenance rockery. Lastly, a variety of stones and gravel are necessary not only for aesthetic ground coverage but also to provide supportive and decorative mulch for your plants, completing the necessary toolkit for constructing a rockery.

Gardening tools and equipment


In conclusion, the creation of a rock garden is an endeavour that marries the beauty of nature with the aesthetic appeal of artistry. It is a project that requires careful planning, selection, and arrangement of rocks and plants to create a harmonious and visually appealing landscape. The process may be time-consuming and require a certain level of commitment, but the end result is undeniably rewarding.

In the words of Gertrude Jekyll, a renowned British horticulturist, "The love of gardening is a seed once sown that never dies." Let your love for gardening guide you in this venture and may your rock garden serve as an enduring symbol of this love. Thank you for taking the time to read this post. We hope it has provided you with valuable insights and inspiration to start your own rock garden. Happy gardening!

1cotswold stones and ferns

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About the author 

Ben Parrot is a landscape gardener and amateur geologist. He is the founder of Outdoor Aggregates, with the mission to create the first encyclopaedia for decorative aggregates. From natural stone through to decorative bark, these aggregates are critical to garden and landscape design, universally.

The problem: There isn't any place where all the different types of decorative landscaping materials and construction aggregates can be found, nor are the specifications of each type readily available. So, enriched by his extensive experience, and inspired by the timeless elegance and raw beauty of stone and rock, etched by nature's artistry over millennia, Outdoor Aggregates was born.