Rock Garden Ideas and Instructions: Build Your Own

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What Is A Rock Garden?

A rock garden is a plot of ground that is created in order to emphasize the beauty of rocks.  It also can add great beauty to your place.  A rock garden can also be called a rockery, stone garden or alpine garden.

The basic layout of rock gardens consists of a variety of rocks laid out in an aesthetically pleasing way. Some people like to mix large and unique boulders in with smaller pretty rocks. Rocks of all sizes and shapes are what make a rock garden really stand out.

A rock garden can bring out a natural beauty to your place.  By adding a rugged rock look you are in essence bringing nature to your place.  A rock garden will be a place for you to take those family photos or pose your pet for a Christmas card.  A well built rock garden can become the centerpiece of your home.

Why A Rock Garden?

Rock Gardens are often used in areas where the grass is hard to grow. People who have well water and may run short if they use up their water supply for watering lawns, often utilize rock gardens instead. Also, people often use rock gardens because they are so easy to maintain. If your idea of pushing or sitting on a riding lawnmower is not your idea of summer fun, a rock garden might be for you. Or if you don’t want to spend a lot of money paying for someone to cut your grass, again a rock garden may be your answer. The outcome is nice to look at and a rock garden is simple to maintain.

Some rock collectors also find a rock garden a perfect way to display their treasures.  By landscaping their special rocks into their rock garden, they can share their finds with family and friends.  Also, rock collection can take up a lot of space if kept inside a home.  For the rock hobbyist, placing rocks outside just makes sense.

One of the main reasons people love rock gardens is that they are fun to build and great to look at and enjoy.  A rock garden can add value to your home.  It can give your place a whole new look without remodeling a thing on your home.  The nice thing about rock gardens is that you can keep adding on to it as you go along.  You can also redo a rock garden in much the same way as you redecorate the interior of your home.

DIY Rock Garden –

You can build a rock garden yourself by following some simple steps. Try not to become overwhelmed.  You don’t have to plan a large scale rock garden.  Experiment by starting out small or start out with a simple rock garden.  You may even want to first experiment with a very small rock garden in a flower bed area.  So don’t feel like you have to rent a crane just yet.  Pick a size to start with that works well for you.  I’ve outlined the basic steps here of how to make a rock garden below:

1. Get Your Plot Ready

The first step to rock gardening is to decide exactly where you’d like your rock garden to be located. Decide if you’d like a small rock garden or a large rock garden. Maybe the answer is somewhere in between.  If you have a lot of brush or objects to move out, you will need to do this first.  Think of this step as making the way ready much like priming a house before you paint it. 

Many people like to make their front lawn a rock garden.  But this doesn’t have to be the case. I’ve seen beautiful rock gardens in backyards and side yards too.   Once you find the place for your rock garden use a shovel or hoe to remove all vegetation.

When choosing a place for your rock garden, make sure to select a place that has good drainage.  This will greatly depend upon your terrain. You may even need to put some underground drainage system in place before constructing your rock garden.  Many people like to build up soil first before bringing in the rocks.

2. Design Your Garden

Make sure to start to come up with some type of design for your rock garden. While this is not necessary at this step it will make things easier if you have a design in your head or on paper.  Think about the spacing you have and where you will want a pathway.  A pathway is not always necessary but depending on the placement of your rock garden a pathway may be in order. There are a lot of rock garden ideas online. Take a look at a lot of ideas before you begin.  Sometimes just looking at a photo may inspire you.  Also, look at rock gardens around your area.  Take photos and incorporate those ideas that you like into your own rock garden.

3. Get The Rocks and Set Them Into Place

If you have reached this step, you are really moving right along.  Now is when it gets extra fun.  Bring in those rocks and set them into place.  This step might be the most cumbersome and physically tough, but you’ll need to go and get your rocks.  Consider visiting a local quarry.  Chances are, this will be your least expensive option.  If you have a truck or trailer, a quarry will load you up.  Several trips may be in order depending on how big your rock garden will be.  Or you could have your rocks delivered.  One thing to plan for is how you will move your rocks around when you set them in their places.  If you don’t have a tractor, backhoe, crane nor Bobcat, you might consider renting one for the day or multiple days. While you will be able to rake up the small stones into place, boulders will obviously be much harder to move.

4. Choose Some Plants

While the emphasis will be on the rocks, plants are going to add an element of life to your garden.  While plants are not necessary, they really will add an aesthetic quality to your rock garden.  Make sure to choose plants that are going to grow well in your climate.  If one of your goals with a rock garden was to not have to water every day, you may want plants that don’t require much water.  Succulents may be a good choice.  They will retain water for a long amount of time after being watered.

Flowers will add color to your rock garden.  If you like the flowers to come up every spring you may want to try some daffodils or other bulb plants like tulips.  Perennials are a good choice because they will come up every year.  Here are some perennials that you might want to consider:  Russian Sage, Asters, Coneflowers,  Switchgrass and Yarrow.

When you buy your plants, take them out of the container and loosen the soil around the roots.  Prepare a hole at least twice as wide as root ball.  You may want to add some fertilizer in the hole first.  I like to use natural manure fertilizer that we have around our farm when planting things.  You may want to check with a local farmer before you purchase commercial fertilizer if you don’t have your own natural fertilizer.  Many farmers will be happy to let you come and scoop up some fertilizer.

If you have some patience and aren’t in a big hurry to see plants in your rock garden, you could plant some seeds.   This will be the least expensive route to take.  You may want to plant a variety of seeds that you select because not all will come up.  It may take awhile to see the finished outcome so it’s better to over plant if starting seeds.  You could always thin out the plants later if you need too.

5. Get Your Walkway Set Up

A walkway is going to add so much personality to your rock garden landscaping.  If your rock garden is in your front lawn and you want the shortest route from your vehicle to your front door, then you may want a straight pathway.  But if you would like the path to look more natural and you aren’t caring that it may take a few more seconds to get to your door, then a meandering path will really look nice.

Decide what kind of pathway you like. One friend of mine has a traditional pavement sidewalk type of path with rock gardening on each side.  Another friend has stepping stones as her pathway.  The stepping stone construction give her place a hobbit type of feel to it. It really is cute and aesthetic.

The final step in setting up your walkway is going to be to add some type of mulch around the edges.  If you’ve chosen the stepping stone idea, you could add some mulch around the stones.  For a pavement walkway you will want to add mulch around the edging.   If you’d rather not add mulch you could instead use river rocks.

6. Extras – How About Water Running Through It?

There is nothing quite as soothing in this life as the sound of running water.  Or at least that’s my own personal opinion.  Think about adding water to your rock garden.  Some like a little stream while others go for a stream and a little pond.  You’ll need a water pump and a system to get the water back up to the source where it comes out.

You may even want to add a waterfall to your rock garden.  If you are planning on adding water for a stream then you are over half way there to making an artificial water fall.  Waterfalls are especially popular in Japanese rock gardens.  They will provide a focal point.  People naturally gravitate towards water.  So make sure to set up your waterfall where you’d like a natural focal point to be located.

Juniper bushes and small boulders look great around a water way or waterfall.  Try to create a natural and flowing look to your water stream.  It may inspire you to take a walk to a local natural water way.  Notice how in nature things aren’t arranged perfectly in order.  There won’t be a set pattern but rather a scattered and naturally beautiful disorder to a river bed.  Try to aim for your rock garden stream to look natural. You may want to take photos of natural places like river banks.  Then bring the photo back to your rock construction project and incorporate some of the ideas you found in nature.

If you want to go all out you could even add some goldfish to your pond in the rock garden.  I’m always amazed at how my friend’s goldfish not only survive Wyoming winters, where I live but they thrive in them.  Each year the goldfish just keep getting bigger and bigger.

Tips for Success

Go for the calming look when creating your rock garden.  Choose a colorful variety of plants and rocks.  Make sure to fill in spots between rocks with flowering plants.  Make your edges nice and well kept.  Go for organic and natural materials.  Many people escape to the great outdoors to feel refreshed.  There is no reason why you can’t make your rock garden have the same feel as the wilderness.  Birds and small creatures may even want to move in to your front yard.

Create levels to your rock garden.  By having soil and rocks at different heights will give your rock garden a natural and inviting feel to it.  Try a large slab of rock set down to bring an element of different levels to your garden.  Mix and match colors of rocks to give your rock garden some depth.

Final Thoughts

Building a rock garden can be tiring.  It can also be loads of fun.  When the going gets tough, remember why you started this process in the first place.  It won’t be long before you’ll be sitting in your rock garden and admiring your creation.


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