The UK’s Best Garden Rockery Ideas

Garden rockeries first took hold in the 1930s, when they became a big craze in the US. Since 2019, rockeries have swung back into style, and it’s not difficult to see why.

Rock gardens are the pinnacle of durability, often featuring hardy, drought-tolerant plants that can handle the temperamental UK weather. They can also be cheap, cheerful, and made to suit any garden, whatever its size. 

In this article, we explore 33 garden rockery ideas, including the best plants for a rock garden and how to adapt your rockery to suit any budget, garden size, or style. 

1. Try Crevice Planting for a Vertical Garden Rockery

Crevice planting is a unique way to bring verticality into a rock garden. Crevice gardens direct water flow through the rocks, nourishing the plant roots as it trickles, making them an excellent choice for gardeners looking for low-maintenance landscaping solutions. Thyme, creeping jenny, snow in summer, and creeping phlox are some of the best crevice garden plants.

2. Ground Cover Plants for Rock Gardens

Ground cover plants are a favourite for rock gardens because of their skill at speedily covering all of the nooks, crannies, and gaps between the various rocks. To mix it up, you could opt for a ground cover perennial collection, or if you’d rather choose carefully, some of the best options are hebes, phlox, aubrieta, and sedum. 

3. Garden Rockery Ideas With Water Feature

Rock gardens lend themselves to water features – you’re missing out if you don’t include one in your garden design! What’s more, it doesn’t take much skill or time to make! Choose a simple water feature such as a birdbath or rock pond to keep it simple, or go all out with a waterful or fountain if you’re partial to a bit of DIY. 

4. Bring in Structure With a Rockery Garden Wall

Rocks can add height as well as horizontal interest. In this design, they have created a simple raised terrace using a stone wall, gravel, and some elegant alpine plants, including the vibrant pink moss phlox and aubrieta ‘Royal Blue.’

5. Add a Dry Stream Bed Into Your Garden Rockery

Water features can be fun, but a dry stream bed is the winning rock garden idea if you’re looking for low-maintenance landscaping. Gardeners primarily use dry stream beds for drainage, as they help prevent erosion and water logging in your garden. When it comes to this design idea, you have a wealth of options to choose from – a pebble walk, a rocky (not so safe) road, or a dry stream bed covering a small space in your flower bed to solve any drainage woes. 

6. Use Concrete Planters in Your Garden Rockery

Concrete planters are environmentally friendly, long-lasting, and can withstand our ever-changing UK weather conditions. They also offer plants some heat insulation, as the concrete warms up the soil under the sun’s rays, making them ideal for rock garden plants that prefer warmer weather. You could also use concrete planters as a minimalist water feature, like in this design. Your options are endless!

7. Create a Slate Crevice Rockery

We spoke about a vertical crevice rockery, but what about a horizontal crevice garden? These rock gardens push plants to the very limit of their capabilities while allowing gardeners to increase the biodiversity of plants within a very small space. Some of the most popular rocks for the job are slates, limestone, and sandstones.    

8. Small Garden Rockery Ideas

Despite what you may think, small gardens can have rockeries too! In fact, due to the varying size of stones, rockeries are one of the best landscaping options for small gardens, particularly rental properties that may see next-to-no maintenance. This design mixes carex ornamental grass with sedums like the ‘Mojave Jewels Ruby’ and Tundra Tornado.’

9. Low-Maintenance Rockery Ideas

This design displays low-maintenance rockery ideas at their very finest. It shows off a mixture of cacti species of differing heights and textures – all neatly planted together in contemporary white raised beds – this design is perfect for a modern-style home. The Mexican fence post cactus, blue myrtle cactus, and candelabra cactus are great species to start with if you choose to feature tall, stand-out cacti within your rockery design. 

10. Corner Rockery Ideas

Corners can be a little tricky when landscaping, as they tend to be shaded, narrowing your plant options considerably. However, rockeries are the perfect solution to this problem because many alpine plants love the shade! Try the cottage garden favourite aquilegia or the beautiful border plant, the campanula. Other worthy contenders for corner rockery glory are brunnera, ajuga, cyclamen, and hardy ferns. 

11. Best Garden Rockery Stones

You’re creating a rockery, but can you use any old stones? No! Some rocks are utterly unsuitable for a rock garden because they weather poorly. Rocks to stay away from are friable oolitic limestones, granite, ironstone, and shales. Look for hard stones with distinctive lines (strata), as these have more character. Hard limestone and sandstones are the typical choices because they are durable, appealing, and easy to split if need be. Another great option is tufa – you can easily drill holes in this porous material, ready to plant lots of stunning alpine plants.  

12. Modern Rockery Ideas

Rockeries are naturally relatively modern, but there are ways you can enhance the contemporary feel in your rock garden. One way to incorporate a rockery in a modern garden is to pull up some patio slabs, line this with light-coloured pebbles, and run a stream through. You could go for the less is more approach with simple concrete planters and accent boulders on pale gravel or add a modern path made up of long stone paving interspersed with gravel. 

13. Front Garden Rockery Ideas

We typically like to keep our front gardens low maintenance, making a rockery the prime choice for this spot. Rock gardens can divert rainfall away from your home, preventing foundation erosion, soil and grass deterioration, and basement flooding. Adding a small layer of gravel or rocks will also act as a natural weed barrier. Ultimately, it’s a cheap and easy way to boost your home’s curb appeal (and value!). 

14. Large Rock Garden Ideas

You can scale up a rock garden as much as you need, so it’s the perfect landscaping solution for large gardens. It’s best to choose bigger stones for bigger gardens, as small pebbles and stones don’t make the impact large gardens need. In this design, they have used sizeable boulders, stacking them on top of each other in a staggered format to create a layered border. Top tip: if you’re making a multi-layer rock garden like this, ensure the biggest stones go at the bottom – this will keep the soil secure. 

15. DIY Rock Garden Ideas

There’s no need for rock gardens to be all jagged edges and giant boulders. If you prefer your garden to be unique and reflect your quirky personality, why not try DIY rock arrangements? In this design, they use pebbles to create a cute, flower-shaped display, but you could also try concentric circles or even stone footprints, using a bigger stone to create the heel and ball of the foot and smaller pebbles for the toes. 

16. Best Rockery Plants – Perennials

Perennials make great garden plants (especially if you’re too busy to tend to the garden often!) because they live for more than two years, unlike annuals – perennials simply die down over the winter months and then come back to life the following spring. Achillea, bellflower, geraniums, kniphofia, agapanthus, and veronica, are some of the best perennials for rock gardens. 

17. Natural Rock Garden Ideas

Rock gardens are natural in and of themselves, but there are ways to maximise the natural element of your rock garden. Featuring local rocks is a spectacular way to celebrate your natural environment, and pairing these with self-seeding plants like lady’s mantle, granny’s bonnet, and sea holly, makes for a nature-inspired, easy-care rock garden. 

18. Simple Rock Garden Ideas

Rock gardens don’t have to feature fancy waterfalls and intricately-placed stones to be beautiful. Your rock garden could be as simple as adding some grey pebbles and a couple of larger boulders to a bed or border. Here, they’ve made a dry stream bed in their border using big pebbles to line a windy path of smaller pebbles, then placing boulders at either end. 

19. Add a Herb Rockery

Herb rockeries work well in cottage and wildlife gardens as they attract bees, butterflies, and insects in droves. But let’s not negate herb rockeries for other garden designs – their culinary use makes them ideal for any garden, whatever its style! Thyme, oregano, rosemary, lavender, chives, parsley, marjoram and sage are all excellent rock-loving aromatic herbs. 

20. Simple Small Container Rockery

Miniature rock gardens in containers suit smaller gardens and patios. You can let your creativity run loose with a container rockery, making a mountain-like scene with valleys, flowers, and foliage, or a small pool or waterfall. Concrete and porcelain sinks make amazing containers for rock gardens, as they bring character to gardens. However, you don’t need anything this fancy – a simple flower pot will work wonders, too. 

21. Best Rockery Plants – Bulbs

Although you may not assume this is the case, many perennial bulbs tend to do well in rock gardens. In fact, they’re one of the best options because they fill little planting pockets and will continue to spread and flower for years to come. Wild tulips, snowdrops, and miniature daffodils are some of the most common choices. You could also opt for irises, alliums like the pink lily leek, winter aconite, and cyclamen. 

22. Japanese Zen Rock Garden

When you think of a rock garden, your mind may travel to Japan – this is what people often envision when they think of rock gardens. Japanese rock gardens are highly versatile – you can strip your garden right back to the essentials, with only sand or gravel and boulders, or you can add Japanese greenery with bamboo, Japanese maples, wisteria, lotus, azalea, hakone grass, camellia, and Japanese boxwood. Bare in mind if you want to keep your Japanese zen garden as authentic as possible, artificial plants should play no part in your design!

23. Garden Rockery With Accent Boulders

Accent boulders can elevate a garden rockery from bland to beautiful. These stones tend to have intricate strata, giving them character and making them naturally eye-catching. You can also use accent boulders to construct steps and boulder walls. Granite, smaller sandstones, and thin veneer stone can make excellent accent boulders. You could also incorporate boulders with moss and lichen to bring a variety of colours to your rock garden. 

24. Rockery With Walkway

Walkways create a framework of movements throughout your garden, connecting the various spaces and defining the boundaries of areas with different uses. They also ensure your garden looks more organised and manicured. Rock garden paths are an elegant, gentle way to guide you through your garden, keeping nature at the heart of the design. Cobbles and gravel provide a solid foundation for paving stones, and they’re much easier to lay than mortar, so this an easy design to do yourself. 

25. Garden Rockery Pond

Ponds and rock gardens go hand in hand. A pond will complement a rock garden’s zen, natural vibe while introducing new homes, bathing spots, and breeding areas for frogs, birds, insects, toads, and more! Ponds are an element in a rock garden that keeps on giving – place a bench in front of this gorgeous feature and watch the hours fly by!

26. Desert Rock Garden Ideas

Desert rock gardens are environmentally responsible and sustainable, so they’re one of the best options if you’re looking for an easy-care garden with longevity. Desert gardens should keep the local climate in mind and be relatively self-sufficient, needing little water and no pesticides or fertiliser. Large agave plants like agave Americana ‘marginata’ and agave filifera, alongside euphorbias and haworthias, make a stunning display. If you want some unique plants to add extra interest, try haworthia truncate or the ghost plant (graptopetalum paraguayense). 

27. Rock Garden on a Slope

The versatility of rock gardens means you can build them on level ground or a slope. When planting anything on a hill, you need to consider the engineering, accounting for water and soil runoff, gravity’s effect on the plants, and your plants’ nutrient and fertiliser needs (as fertiliser may slide down the slope!). This is what makes rock gardens a prime choice – the large rocks form a barrier, stopping everything from sliding away. Low-growing plants are typically best for rock gardens on slopes – try periwinkle, creeping juniper, sweet woodruff, and snow in summer. 

28. Terrace Rock Garden

The severe, jagged lines and verdant greens of rock gardens provide flawless contrast to the softness of a wooden terrace. Whether you want to line your terrace with a rock garden border or place rockery containers on your decking, rock gardens and terraces are a match made in heaven. Slate chippings provide that beautiful blue-grey colour that complements a light wood decking, while cobbles, pebbles, and gravel may pair better with a warmer decking like red cedar. 

29. Create a Wildlife Friendly Rockery

As we know by now, rockeries can become a haven for wildlife. But, to increase your wildlife numbers, you need the right wildflowers. You can’t go wrong with wild basil, cheddar pink, harebell, maiden pink, wild marjoram, common toadflax, and rock rose. These all produce an abundance of nectar, keeping the bees and butterflies happy. 

30. Best Succulent Plants for Rock Garden

Consider size, texture, and shape when adding succulent plants to your rock garden. Ponytail palms, agaves, organ pipe cacti, and aloes are some of the best large succulents for a rock garden. Whereas the best medium-sized succulents for the job are dasylirion and euphorbias – these will work wonders in the middle section of a bed, border, or sloping rock garden. Then, there are the low-growing ground cover succulents like the ice plant, portulacaria, crassula, sedum, aeonium, and dudleya. 

31. Use Ornamental Grasses in Your Rock Garden

Ornamental grasses are hardy and versatile. They bring an element of movement and texture into a garden that no other plant variety can match. What’s more, they supply year-round drama. You can easily incorporate grasses into beds and borders as little hints of colour and texture or as stand-out focal points alongside accent boulders. Imperata Red Baron is an upright ornamental grass known for its vibrant red, pointy blades that turn green at the base. Another terrific choice is the Carex aurea, which sports thin lemon-yellow blades. 

32. Cheap Rock Garden Ideas

You can keep your rock garden cheap by buying local stones and getting your hands dirty with some DIY. If you have power tools at home, you can easily drill holes into rocks, as they’ve done in this design, and use these as makeshift planters. Container planting is another way to keep your rock garden within a tight budget, as you can pick up cheap containers at car boots and yard sales! I also recommend utilising the speedy growth of ground cover plants, as this will reduce the number of plants you need to buy. 

33. Small Rockery Garden Ideas for Front of House 

You can incorporate a small rockery garden at the front of your house by adding rocks and aromatics like lavender to the side of steps, creating a collection of rockery containers with a variety of interesting alpine plants, or simply incorporating greenery into an already-gravelled front garden. In this design, they have created a small rock garden using stones of varying sizes and shapes, with some vintage pieces like a glass jar and an old clay water pot. 

Your Rock Garden Is Just a Stone’s Throw Away

Rock gardens add unique texture and diversity to a landscape while remaining relatively low-maintenance. They won’t wither in warm weather or give up on you when the winter frosts bite, providing consistent interest all year round. What’s more, you can make your rock garden as big, small, modern or conventional as you like to suit the size and style of your home! Ready to rock and roll?