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Rock garden ideas. Even the title seems incongruous: rock garden. When you think of gardens, you often think of lush grasses, flowering bushes, an artistic arrangement, and a plethora of plants.

A rock garden seems like it would be anything BUT those things! But you can get the same idea of beautiful design, perfectly placed plants, and relaxed feelings in a rock garden that you can in a typical garden.

Rock gardens also offer a myriad of benefits behind the scenes that people might not expect.

rock garden ideas - Picture of a rock garden

Why Would I Want to Grow a Rock Garden

There are many reasons you might be interested in foregoing a traditional lawn or garden in favor of a rock garden. One nice thing is rock gardens can be lower maintenance than a traditional garden. Rock gardens are also a clever way to deal with problems you might be facing in your yard.

For instance, if you have trouble growing a lawn, or if the area of your yard is on a slope, a rock garden would be an excellent substitute to a lawn and keep you safer in terms of not having to cut the grass on a hill.

Additionally, if you live somewhere that is experiencing a drought, you live in a desert type climate, or somewhere that does not have life-giving soil, a rock garden is a perfect way to use the space without the frustrations of watching your plants die or struggling to find a way to constantly water them.

Rock gardens are beautiful in their own right, but they also combat problems that you may have encountered in a less-than-ideal yard.

Rock Garden Ideas – Designing a Rock Garden

As the old saying goes, measure twice and cut once. This is especially true if you are dealing with giant boulders. You will want to make sure to sketch out a design on paper before you start doing the heavy lifting. That way, you will get a sense of how the garden will look without having to move the rocks in place, only to decide you need to move them all over again.

rock garden design - Picture of a garden

As you design your rock garden ideas, there are a few elements to keep in mind. You will want to have a few large boulders to anchor the space, and need to decide where to put those.

Additionally, medium sized rocks can be peppered throughout the space, and then river rock works well in between it all. In fact, many people create a “river” look by winding a path of river rock through the garden.

Don’t forget the plants, which are an important part of the layout, and will add color and life to your garden. Depending on the type you choose, many of them will create great designs for you and fill in areas that are barren.

How to Make a Rock Garden

Once you have a design in mind, you need to set about creating the rock garden itself. First, clear the space. If there is already grass there, you will need to remove it. One inexpensive way to do this is to use black garbage bags with rocks on top to keep them from blowing away. You also might need to dig out previous plants, or rake debris in the area.

Once the space is cleared, you need to think about shaping it. You might want to build up certain parts of your rock garden with soil or rocks. Additionally, you will want to create an edge to the bed, so that the line is clearly delineated. Doing this first will save you time in the long run.

The next step will vary, depending on your preference. Some rock garden enthusiasts put down a layer of mulch in which to plant plants, and some put down black gardening liner to keep weeds at bay. The choice is up to you.

Once you have the liner or mulch where you want them, place the giant boulders. This will define your space. Vary the size of the rocks throughout the garden so that it looks balanced. After the large rocks, place the medium rocks. Finally, add the river rock and the plants.

Rock Garden Plants

There are several important things to remember about rock garden plants. In general, a rock garden uses creeping groundcovers that will soften the hard edges of the rocks.

There are also hardy plants and bushes that flower and offer some height to your garden. Succulents are classics in a rock garden, as they grow well in most climates and are a fun addition to rock areas.

Ground Covers

Ground covers creep over and between your rocks, softening the hard edges and creating a more playful space. Some great examples include:

coral bells flower

Coral Bells Flower

  • Aubrieta – Colorful spreading ground cover that boasts bright purple flowers and will make a beautiful addition to your rock garden, spreading to make the space more colorful.
  • Coral Bells –  Colorful, variegated ground cover that will cover the ground and offer bright leaves.
  • Rock Cress – Beautiful cascading cover that will grow over and all around your rocks.

Flowering Plants

There are many colorful plants that will flower beautifully in your rock garden space.



  • Thyme – If you want a fun flowering plant that you can also use to flavor your food.
  • Douglas Moss Phlox – Comes in pink and purple varieties that will add a pop of color to your rock garden. With its longer stem it will also add height.

Hardy Plants

Rock gardens often demand hardier plants that do not need much soil or water.

hens and chicks

Hens and Chicks

  • Hens and Chicks – A quintessential rock garden plant that do not need a lot of water. They sneak into rocky areas and offer fun shapes and great colorings.
  • Prickly Pear Cactus – Is another plant that can withstand drought conditions and add a little height and beauty to your garden. Just be very careful while you plant it!

Questions About Rock Garden Ideas

What Do I Put Under the Rocks?

Many rock gardeners use a layer of mulch under their plants to retain what moisture they can and to have a nice base for the river rock. Other gardeners choose black gardening fabric to keep pesky weeds away that like to sneak up through the rocks. No matter what choice you make, ensure that the space is free from grass, plants, or debris before you get started.

How Do I Weed the Rocky Area?

The best defense is a good offense. If you use black gardening liner under your river rock, this will be an impediment to weeds to start with. If uninvited weeds do happen to appear, pulling them is one option, but it can get tedious. Spraying white vinegar on the weeds will kill them, but just make sure you don’t get it on any plants you want to keep.

How Do I Arrange the Rocks?

Set the big boulders first to get a sense of the space. If you have a hill you can mirror the angle and lines of the hill that is there. Do not put boulders in a straight line, but rather work with angles the way nature does. Place medium sized rocks next and then end with the river rock.

Can I Grow Flowers in my Rock Garden?

Yes! There are many flowers that will grow well in your rock garden and that do not require a lot of water or fertile soil. They will add color and life to the space. The yellow alpine alyssum offers beautiful yellow flowers to brighten your garden. Thrift is an extremely hardy plant that will grow pink flowers. Snow-in-summer is another flower which offers tall white blooms that add height and dimension to any rock garden.

How Can I Plant the Flowers Around the Rocks?

If you are planting perennials, plant them in soil wherever they work in the design and then you can cover the area carefully with rocks. If you would prefer to plant annuals that you will need to replant each year, you would be better off edging off certain areas where there are no rocks so that you can easily plant the annuals next year.

Should I Add a Water Feature?

Because of the cascading nature of rock gardens, some gardeners want to add a natural or self-contained water feature to enhance the look and feel of the garden. You could add a pond or purchase a fountain at a garden store to add to the look you have created.

Conclusion on Rock Garden Ideas

If your climate is less than ideal or your terrain is steep and it is difficult to grow things, then a rock garden would be a great addition to your outdoor décor.

If you are dreaming of decorative boulders and plants that do not need much upkeep, then a rock garden might be for you! With various size rocks, ground covers, and succulent-type plants, you can create a soothing garden even if your climate or terrain is not ideal by following the quick tips above.

If you are looking for other gardening ideas check out 9 Different Types of Gardening That Are Great