A rock garden is the perfect, simple alternative to a complicated garden design you just aren't up for creating. You can't seem for the life of you to get a plant to thrive. You're on the brink of desperation, one step from covering your lawn in astroturf and then it hits you. Who needs plants? Grass is overrated! You are going to build yourself a cool, little rock garden. Just like your former lawn, your rock garden will be grey or brown all of the time. Unlike the lawn, however, your sweet rock garden is supposed to be grey or brown. Instead of making your lawn look like it underwent its own private apocalypse like your scorched grass does, the rock garden will make your garden look modern and elegant. Maybe even exotic.
Before you get started, you have a few things to learn about rock gardens, or rockeries as the British like to call them. Though constructed primarily of rocks a boulders, a rock garden actually will have a few plants. Rock gardens are usually home to alpine plants. Alpine plants are plants that grow at high elevation above the tree line. They can survive in the alpine tundra, under extreme low temperatures and dry conditions. Much like cacti, alpine plants are hard core and can survive a ton of abuse, including ultraviolet radiation. If alpine plants can flourish in the tundra, they can flourish under your care.
To begin your rock garden, choose a spot. You could in theory turn your entire yard into a rock garden. This would definitely be very expensive and it might look weird and out of place if you don't actually live in an alpine tundra. Plus, since this is your first rock garden, you should start small to get the hang of things. You could think of your first rock garden as a test run and if you really like it you can always expand it or build more rock gardens later. Alpine plants are so hardy that many garners choose to create their rock gardens at the side of their garages. The purpose of this would be to hide their trash cans. This should be avoided in general. If you are going through the trouble and expense of creating a rock garden, put it somewhere you can enjoy it. Furthermore, alpine plant like sunny spots and will be happier if they grow somewhere more out in the open. On the other hand, plopping a rock garden down right in the middle of your yard will look weird. A mound of rocks in the center of your yard is going to look more like a grave than a garden. Choose a spot somewhere along your fence line.
Decide how big you want your rock garden to be. You can make a nice rock garden in just eight to ten square meters. If you're ambitious, you could also make a rock garden much, much larger than that. You may want to keep your budget in mind when planning the size of your garden. Rocks are going to be more expensive than plants. If you are worried about your first rock garden being so small that no one notices that you made a rock garden, make a raised bed for it.
Choose a rock for your project. Most expert rock gardeners will tell you to choose a local stone for your rock garden. Some may say that this is because the rock garden will look more natural with a stone natural to the environment. Others will explain that rocks are very heavy and expensive to ship, thus imported rocks are extremely expensive. Choose a local stone does not mean collect the rocks from your neighbors' yards. You are going to have to visit a quarry or nursery and buy your rocks. Traditionally, rock gardens are made from either sandstone or limestone. You can also use porous tufa. Tufa is fun because you can drill holes into it and plant your flowers right inside the rocks. Tufa also is prone to moss, which you may or may not like.
Prep your site by digging out a hole larger than you want your rock garden to be, about 18 inches deep. You'll fill this hole with moraine. That's a mix of soil and gravel. You need to have moraine surrounding your rock garden and leading up to it if you don't want to end up with just a pile of rocks. Dig the hole in the same general shape you want your rock garden to take.
Pick out the rocks you want from your local quarry. Keep in mind that in addition to the price of the rock, you'll have to pay to have it delivered. You also need to be able to move the rock yourself so you can put it in the right spot in your garden. One rock measuring 18 by nine by nine inches weighs nearly one hundred pounds. That means that 25 pieces that size weigh about one ton. If you are making a big rock garden and the quarry dumps your rocks at your curb, that could mean you are carrying two or three tons of rock to your backyard.
Lay your biggest rock down first somewhere near the edge of your rock garden. This will be your most important rock and is called your keystone. Arrange all of the other rocks around this rock until you are pleased with your results. Make sure that the rocks are firmly snuggled into the dirt and gravel so that they don't shift. Once you have a bottom layer of rocks, fill the spaces between them completely with infill soil. Don't leave any air pockets. Continue building layers of rock and filling the gaps with infill soil until you have constructed a little mountain. Allow the soil to settle for a month.
Now is time to plant your alpine plants. Dig out little pockets of the infill soil between the rocks. Plant the alpine plants in these pockets and fill the remaining space back up with infill soil. Once a plant is planted, pat the soil and top the ground with a layer of gravel. You need at least a three inch layer of this padding. Keep the plant well watered until it is established in your garden.