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How to Build Rock Gardens

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Rock Gardens for Small Spaces
Photo of hens and chicks. I use it as an example in How to Build Rock Gardens.

The red in the "hens and chicks" plant goes nicely with my red sandstone.

David Beaulieu

Some homeowners design rock gardens to exploit rocky slopes in their yards. Others, like me, import rocks into yards that are flat and rockless; we need stronger backs, but the effort is well worth it.

Another consideration that can influence the design of rock gardens is space. I am allotting but a small space for my rock garden. In larger spaces, the goal is often to create sprawling, naturalistic rock gardens. But given my space restrictions, I'm contenting myself with what amounts to a round raised bed made of select rocks. This design fits neatly into the nook I have chosen for it. My small rock garden won't be in the way when I mow my lawn, nor will it require much maintenance.

Yet a third design consideration is color. I have a collection of attractive red sandstone pieces; they will provide the structure for my rock garden. In turn, this choice will influence my plant selection. I want a color scheme that will work well with the red sandstone. I would like some plants with a hint of red in them, but also some plants displaying silver, yellow and white.

The sandstone with which I'm working is hardly the most durable of materials. Indeed, many of the pieces are crumbly, well on their way to becoming soil! But beauty was my goal, not longevity.

Rock gardens normally achieve some elevation above the surrounding ground. In this case, that means laying a first course of rocks and soil, then building upon it. In Step 2 I lay the first course....

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