Rock garden ideas – 8 expert tips on how to build a rock garden

These rock garden ideas will inspire you to create your own – and it’s just as good that fall is a great time to start building a rock garden.

Rockeries are easy to build from scratch, it’s just about any garden. And, even if you don’t have the space for a huge selection of rock garden plants, you can start small in containers or display your own on a garden table. Whether it’s the alpine meadows carpeted with delicate flowers that inspire you, or if you’re inspired by the sculpted rock gardens of Japan, keep scrolling to see all of our favorite rock garden ideas below.

Find more garden ideas on our dedicated page.

1. Build bleachers in a sloping garden

Collection of alpine plants, Jardinage Express

Collection of alpine plants, Gardening Express

(Image credit: Jardinage Express)

Sloping gardens provide many wonderful opportunities for rock gardens – use stones of roughly the same size to create a spectacular tiered display, generously filling the spaces between the rocks with rock garden plants of varying heights and sizes.

See more sloping garden ideas in our gallery.

2. Use a natural planting scheme in a large rockery

Rock Garden Mixture Annual Seeds - 400 Seeds

(Image credit: Amazon)

If you have a lot of space to cover, you might find it easier to spread a seed mix over the areas you want to line with flowers, rather than trying to plant the wide space manually. A rock garden doesn’t have to look formal – a natural planting plan reminiscent of the flowering meadows of the Alps will look beautiful in a large space.

This rock garden uses the seeds of Amazon’s rock garden annuals mix.

Rock garden plant mix annual seeds

(Image credit: Amazon)

3. Rock garden ideas for small spaces: plant in containers like Monty Don

Rock garden in container, by Scott Webb

(Image credit: Unsplash / Scott Webb)

Even a small garden can still have a rockery – you can easily make one in containers. Simply choose rock garden plants – succulents, cacti, miniature bulb plants like small daffodils and irises – and sprinkle the soil around the plants with pebbles. Next, display your miniature rockery on a garden table. Beautiful.

Monty Don created his rockery on a table in containers and we’re sharing (above) because we think you’ll love it as much as we do. It would look fabulous reproduced in any garden, but one of the great things about it is that while you have the smallest of outdoor spaces, you can pull it off as well.

4. Use stones and pebbles to facilitate the maintenance of rock gardens.

Purbeck Rock Stone, Miles Stone

Purbeck Rock Stone, Miles Pierre

(Image credit: Miles Stone Ltd)

If you prefer a clump planting scheme for your rock garden (where the plants are dotted in groups), add texture and interest by filling in the spaces between the plants and large boulders with smaller pebbles. The result will be more interesting and polished than if you leave the ground between the plants bare. And, of course, that will mean fewer plants, less weeds, less work – and less money spent on rockery plants.

Rockery Stone from Stone Warehouse

Rockery stone of the stone warehouse

(Image credit: Stone warehouse)

5. Japanese rock garden ideas

Japanese garden

(Image credit: Unsplash)

Japanese rockeries are a little different from alpine style rockeries. First, he’ll use more compact shrubs and trees such as acers rather than simple, slow-growing plants. Second, slate and fine granite chips are preferred over other types of stone. And, third, if you are building a Japanese style Zen style garden, consider using moss as ground cover and stone garden decorations. Water games, especially water pumps, are also common.

Japanese rock garden, by David Martin

(Image credit: Unsplash / David Martin)

6. Mini rock garden ideas

Succulents, by Andrew Slifton

(Image credit: Unsplash / Andrew Clifton)

No room for a rockery, not even for a rockery display on your garden table? You can still create the same effect by planting a garden wall with succulents. Or, display a Japanese-style moss pot in a stone-effect planter. They are not the same, but similar in texture and appearance.

More tips on how to make a living wall in our guide.

Heather Fir Moss, Bakker

Heather Pearl Moss, Baker

(Image credit: Bakker)

7. Choose the best rock garden plants

Succulents, by Harry Grout

(Image credit: Unsplash / Harry Grout)

These are the best rock garden plants to choose for color and year round interest:

  • Crocus
  • Bellflower
  • Sedum
  • Sempervium
  • Spring gentian
  • Pulsatilla vulgaris
  • Thyme
  • Saxifraga
  • Dianthus
  • Miniature daffodils
  • Miniature iris (iris reticulata)
  • Delosperma
  • Ajuga
  • Phlox subulata
  • Spurge myrsinitis
  • Iberis sempervirens
  • Dwarf rhododendrons
  • Lithodora
  • Silenus Schafta
  • Sisyrinchium
  • Japanese maples

8. How to build a rock garden, with the advice of Alan Titchmarsh

How to build a rock garden: a rock garden by Annie Spratt

(Image credit: Unsplash / Annie Spratt)

Alan Titchmarsh praised rock gardens as an unjustly overlooked garden trend. In his video (watch it below) Alan explains that rock gardens present great opportunities for displaying small plants that otherwise wouldn’t be very noticeable in your garden. His best tips for planting a rock garden are:

1. Get several of the same rock garden plant: Because alpine plants and succulents are quite small, you need a few of each type to really make an impact.

2. Plant rock garden plants of the same type in groups rather than spacing in the rock garden: the effect will be much more attractive.

3. Finish the look by dusting the topsoil with horticultural gravel – the same color as the rocks. It will also suppress weeds and help retain moisture.

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