Creating a rock garden takes a lot more than throwing around a handful of stones. A great deal of thought is required with regards to design, choice of rocks and plants, construction and even maintenance.
While the use of rocks in gardens in Japan and China can be traced back 100’s of years, modern rock gardening first appeared in England in the early part of the 20th century. Rock gardens are meant to mimic a rocky mountain slope and will often utilize alpine plants, which just happen to be perfectly suited to climatic conditions in Toronto and throughout Canada. Of course, there is no law stating that alpine plants are required. As with any other style of gardening, or any art form for that matter, there are no rules as regards rock gardening; only guidelines. You are only restricted by the boundaries of your imagination.
The first step in creating your rock garden is design. I recommend that you try and draw your inspiration from the landscape of your property. It’s best to chose an area with a slope as the rock garden will help prevent any erosion and the rocks will provide both a shelter for plants as well as an anchor for their roots. If you can’t find an appropriate sloped spot for the garden then you can always create what is known as a berm rock garden. This type of garden requires that you create dirt mounds on which you will place the rocks and plants. When choosing soil for use as a foundation to your rock garden, it is important to use soil that both retains moisture and allows for drainage.
The key to designing a traditional rock garden is having it blend into the natural landscape. Have a mixture of both small and large rocks randomly positioned in the garden and mulch throughout. If you are going for a simple, natural look then I suggest that you use a single kind of rock. If the rocks have stratification then try and position the lines in a similar direction. For a touch of flavor in your garden, you can use different colored rocks. In terms of plants, you want to create an interesting color contrast. The size of your garden as well as the rocks in it will also play a role in the types of plants that you should ultimately purchase.
There are a number of things to consider when choosing the types of rocks that you will use in your garden: your garden design, budget, intended colors and the size of the garden. If you are considering purchasing stones then you can head to a local quarry or garden center. Once you have your stones then dig a small hole and place the rocks tilted back somewhat. The angle will help prevent water from running freely down the slope of the garden which would otherwise erode the foundation of the garden. Once you have placed your stones, push a mix of peat moss, vermiculite and perlite into the areas between the rocks that will help with planting.
The first thing to consider when deciding on which plants to go with in your garden is the size of the stones in your garden. A rock garden with larger stones will require larger plants such as Dwarf Hemlock, Blue Star Juniper and Little Giant Globe Cedar. Gardens with smaller stones are great for smaller plants; including, perennials, miniature bulbs, annuals, Rock Cress, Dwarf Primula and a variety of mosses. Whatever you do, remember to try and keep a mixture deciduous and evergreens so that your rock garden will have active plant life all year round.