garden-rockery

How to Build a Garden Rockery

An Easy Guide to Build a Garden Rockery

Rockeries are eye-catching features that can really liven up the garden. They’re perfect on a slope, or on that rough piece of garden that you don’t know what to do with.

One of the best things about garden rockeries is that they offer the perfect environment to grow small alpine plants. These add plenty of visual interest but can be difficult to grow in other parts of the garden.

Plus, another good thing – rockeries are extremely easy to make!

Here you’ll learn how to build a garden rockery in 10 easy steps

Things You’ll Need to Build a Rockery

Tools

  • Trowel
  • Spade
  • Wheelbarrow
  • Pegs and string

Materials

  • Rocks
  • Landscaping fabric
  • Rubble to cover the area
  • Topsoil
  • Compost
  • Alpine plants 

Build a Rockery in 10 Steps

1. Plan Your Rockery Location

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Rock gardens tend to work best in sunny areas. This is because alpine plants prefer a sunny, well-drained position, much like the mountainous regions they thrive in. If your rock garden will be in the shade, choose plants that grow on the north and east side of mountains in the wild. 

If you’ve got a sloped area in your garden, this could be ideal for a rockery. 

Alternatively, if you are building your rock garden on level ground, you may wish to dig down slightly at the front. This will 1) make the rock garden more visible, and 2) encourage good drainage. 

Once you’ve found the perfect spot for your rockery, mark out the area using pegs and string. 

2. Choose the Right Rocks

 

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Thorpe Plant Centre (@thorpeplantcentre)

The most attractive rock gardens use rocks in a range of sizes. You’ll need enough large rocks to cover the entire area, and small rocks for the surface. Local rocks will look the most natural, but you can also experiment with different types and colours.  

Hard limestones and sandstones are best for rockeries because they weather well. Slate is another good option to consider.

Rock gardens are also a great way to use up unwanted bricks and paving slabs. These are perfect to build up the base, then more attractive stones can be used as a focal point. 

3. Prepare the Area

Prepare the area by thoroughly removing existing weeds – these may weaken your rock garden down the line if allowed to stay. Ensure you dig dandelions, dock and bindweed out by the root – your future self will thank you!

If you’re after some efficient ways to clear weeds, we’ve reviewed the best weed killers, weeding tools and weed burners – those weeds don’t stand a chance!

4. Cover the Area With Rubble

 

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Chiara Calvi Dorizza (@chiaracalvidorizza)

Add a small layer of rubble (such as broken bricks, tiles and paving slabs) across the rockery area. This will make a firm base for the rocks and encourage good drainage. If your rock garden is on flat ground, you may wish to build the rubble into a slight slope.

5. Add Landscape Fabric

 

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Duncan Jones (@duncanjonesgardening)

Place a layer of landscape fabric (otherwise known as ‘weed membrane’) over the rubble. This will prevent weeds from growing through the gaps in the rocks. 

Landscape fabric can be picked up very cheaply either online or in garden centres. For rock gardens, non-woven landscape fabric tends to work best (it’s less likely to tear than woven fabric). 

6. Begin to Add Your Rocks

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Now the fun begins! Start by adding the ‘keystones’ – the large rocks – first. Build them upwards across your rock garden, creating a peak. 

A good tip is to face the keystones in different directions – this will create a combination of shade and sun, and you can place plants accordingly. Secure the keystones by laying soil around them, and stabilising them with smaller rocks. 

7. Add Small Rocks

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Once you’ve laid out the larger rocks, it’s time to add in smaller rocks. Build up the shape with your small rocks, layering with soil as you go. 

Place some small rocks in circles/semicircles to create planting pockets – mini flowerbeds for plants.

You may also want to make a border for the rockery garden with smaller rocks, bedding these in with soil. Creating a strong border will stop smaller rocks from spreading out and make it less likely that weeds will get through. 

Fill additional gaps with small rocks, remembering to leave space for your plants. 

8. Fill Gaps With Compost

Lay your compost mix in the areas that you’d like the plants to go. Mix compost with horticultural grit and leaf mould if you can get hold of any – just make sure it’s free of weeds.

Use the compost to fill the planting pockets mentioned above as well as any other gaps. 

9. Add Your Plants

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Plan the placement of plants carefully, arranging and rearranging several times whilst still in their pots.

Shade-loving plants should be placed facing north or in the shadows of larger rocks. Plants that enjoy bright sunshine are better off facing south or in any particularly sunny spots. 

You may wish to go for a colour scheme such as white, or contrasting colours like pink and blue. 

After planting, place grit around the base to keep the roots in place. Add compost over the roots to help keep them strong. 

10. Check the Set Up

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Finally, check that you are happy with the layout. It can help to assess the layout of your rockery garden from an upstairs window. However, you should also assess how it looks from your favourite seating area

If you want to change anything, this is your chance before everything settles. 

Rock Garden Design Inspiration 

Many people base their rock gardens around certain themes to give it creative direction. Here are some popular rock garden styles that you might like to use as inspiration for your own rockery: 

Japanese-Style Rockery

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Decorative gravel, feature stones and minimalist structures will bring tranquillity and simplicity to your rock garden.  

Alpine Rockery

 

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Steven Hulbert (@steveohulbert)

Alpine rockeries are low maintenance and easy to build. Add colour with pink, white and purple flowers. 

Water Feature Rockery 

 

 
 
 
 
 
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A water feature rockery makes a beautiful statement and is a great choice for those with larger gardens. 

FAQs

What plants can I grow in my rock garden?

Suitable plants that grow well in an alpine rockery include: sedum, sempervivum, campanula, crocus, penstemon, miniature conifers, daphne, euphorbia, primula, rock roses, artemisia, lithodora, phlox, erigeron, or potentilla.

Many herbs also thrive in rockeries, including oregano, sage and lavender

Grow sun-loving plants in front of the rocks, while shade-loving plants can be grown in the shade behind them. 

The best rockery plants for tend to be alpine plants – those that grow naturally in mountainous conditions. Alpine plants are tolerant to drought and won’t grow too big. 

How can I stop weeds growing in my rock garden? 

Preventing weeds from growing starts before you’ve even set up your rock garden. Ensure any weeds are removed from the area before you begin to create your rock garden.

The best way to prevent weeds is to lay a sheet of weed membrane beneath the rocks. This will prevent weeds from growing up and through the rocks. Also, make sure to use weed-free topsoil when creating planting pockets in rock gardens.

Another tactic is to create a wooden or steel border around the rock beds. This will give the rockery structure and create a barrier between your lawn and rocks. When small rocks spread out, weeds are able to grow in the spaces. This border will keep small rocks together and slow down the growth of weeds. 

How can I build a rockery on a budget? 

If you want to build a rockery on a tight budget, you should look primarily at where you are sourcing the rockery stone from. 

Compare materials by visiting garden stores and rock suppliers. Rock bundles can often be picked up second hand. If you need to get rid of rocks from another project, you may wish to use these. Likewise, the rubble that goes underneath the rockery can be recycled from another project. 

You could also get rockery plants for free by asking for cuttings from neighbours or friends. Many alpine plants are quite easy to propagate, so this will help you build a rockery cheaply.

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