Dig It!: Rock Gardening
by Sage and Snow Garden Club
May 4, 2008
CHOOSE A SITE The beauty and charm of a rock garden depends on siting, choice and arrangement of the stones and finding the right balance of plants and stone. If you keep this in mind, you will be less constrained when selecting plants. A natural rocky outcropping is nearly always the best choice for a rock garden. Adding other similar types of rock to create a garden can artfully expand even a small outcropping.
PREPARE THE SITE The scale of your project and the presence of a natural stone outcropping will determine how much preparation your site will need. At the very least you will dig holes to set the stones securely and arrange them at pleasing angles. Remove sod as you would to make a new flowerbed. If the soil is heavy or needs drainage or if the stones may heave from freezing, remove and save the topsoil, then dig down 4-12 inches below where the stones will sit and add gravel for drainage.
CHOOSE THE STONE When choosing the stone for your rock garden keep in mind that stones native to the area convey belonging, but you might want to use stones from another place to create a focal point. The key to a successful project is its aesthetic value and structure. The stones provide the frame, foundation, or skeleton of the garden.
ARRANGE THE STONES Arrange the stones to feature and complement your favorite plants; there is general agreement on some basic design principles:
Let nature be your teacher.
Use one kind of stone, but in large gardens you may introduce a different stone as a special feature.
If you use crushed stone mulch, try to match the color of it to the dominant stone in the garden.
Use sun and prevailing wind exposure to set stones in a way that creates microclimates.
Bury at least one-half of each stone or up to the stone’s widest part so the stone looks settled into the ground, not sitting on top of it.
Arrange the stones so that grain, striations or fracture lines are all pointed in the same directions.
Use stones of various sizes, placing the largest at the top of the garden.
After you have arranged all the stones, study your arrangement for a few days; set key plants where you plan to plant them and take time to make changes in your arrangement. After the stones are set, redistribute the topsoil around the stones.
CHOOSE YOUR PLANTS There is no absolute ratio of stone to plants. One-third stone to two-thirds plants is a common ratio, but your site maintenance demands and personal preferences can change the ratio. Selected grasses, dwarf conifers, shrubs, and perennials make perfect rock garden plants, such as blue fescue, dwarf cypress, small junipers, heather, yarrow, columbine, rockcress, gentian, and Alpine speedwell. For more on these plants, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Sage and Snow Garden Club meets at noon on the second Tuesday of each month in the Pinedale Library. Contact the Sage and Snow Garden Club at Box 2280, Pinedale, WY, 82941 or email@example.com.