Rock Garden Reverie

Rock gardens have always delighted (and to a certain extent, mystified) me. Wandering through a botanical garden, or on a walk through the local neighborhood, coming across a rock garden is sure to be a highlight of the day. A rock garden represents an entire rugged landscape depicted in a compact space, with a wide diversity of plants, displayed artfully in pockets created by rock outcroppings, contrasted with informal patches of pebble & grit.

Compact perennials, alpine plants, succulents, and  dwarf conifers quite often make up the lion’s share of plants featured in rock gardens. They’ll all share a requirement or at least tolerance of very well-draining soil, along with an abundance of sunshine. Creeping Thyme, Gentian, Saxifrage, Phlox, Dianthus, Sedum and alpine conifers are all well-represented. Hard core rock garden enthusiasts scour nurseries and online plant offerings looking for the rare and unusual, the same way a rose enthusiast is always on the hunt for the most sought after of roses!

It doesn’t have to be that hard (or mystifying) though. You can get your rock garden started with absolutely lovely, much easier to find plant selections, and then build from there as your experience, interest and confidence grows.

Lithodora ‘Grace Ward’

Forms a low growing mount of soft evergreen leaves, and displays brilliant blue flowers through spring and summer. Very happy bathed in sunshine, but does best in the cooler summers of the coast.




Sempervivum ‘Gold Nugget’

Hens ‘n’ Chicks enthusiasts boast amazing collections of these easy to grow succulents. ‘Gold Nugget’ is the most stunning of them all, displaying bright golden foliage, edged in orange-red tones.




Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’ (Black Mondo Grass) –

Great for contrast, with arching black grass-like blades of “evergreen” foliage, that look great in contrast with light grey or gold – like the rocks found in rock gardens or the foliage of the ‘Gold Nugget’ sempervivum!



Dianthus gratianopolitanus – (Cheddar Pink or Cliff Pink) –

Related to carnations, cliff pinks are slow growers, forming a low mount of glossy evergreen foliage. Magenta pink blooms displayed spring through summer are deliciously fragrant. There are many cultivars available, including ‘Firewitch’ and ‘Tiny Rubies’. Dianthus ‘Kahori’ is a hybrid that deserves special mention, blooming freely throughout spring and well into the summer.




Phlox subulata (Moss Phlox) –

Choose from one or more of the many cultivars of this low growing, usually evergreen perennial. Flowers in shades of pink, white and blue are soft and plants have wispy, lacy appearance. Shear back after blooming to keep plants tidy.




Creating a rock garden can be a practical way to deal with a difficult site in your garden, or can be created as a delightful focal point, or as a true “hobby garden”. Warning – you may get hooked! If you are gardening in containers, create a trough garden to simulate the well-draining soil and rugged characteristic of a rock gardens and fill it with the same intriguing plants!


Written by: Scott Pearce

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