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How to Build Rock Gardens

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The First Course of the Raised-Bed Rock Garden
Picture of the base or first course of a rock garden.

The base of the rock garden: a circle of stones filled with soil.

David Beaulieu

For this rock-garden project, I'm claiming a patch of ground covered with grass. I could dig up the grass before beginning but decided on an easier way: laying down a layer of newspapers and shoveling dirt on top of them to hold them down.

The layer of newspapers will eventually smother the grass, which will then begin to decompose. But even before decomposition takes place, I've accomplished my first task for the current project: furnishing a clean slate upon which to work.

If you have an area already cleared, you can skip the task of laying newspapers and proceed to the following task, which is to lay the first course of stones and soil.

Again, my rock garden is essentially just a round stone raised bed, so I begin its construction by laying out a circle of rocks as the perimeter for my base. The diameter of my base is about 4'. None of my rocks is larger than 12" in any dimension, so they aren't too tough to manipulate.

With the circle of stones in place, it's time to fill it with soil. Rock gardens as a rule are composed of plants that require a soil with good drainage, and I'll select plants that conform to the rule. I have a sandy soil on hand for use in my project, thus meeting this requirement. If, on the other hand, you have a clayey soil, you'll have to add sand to it to promote better drainage. I'm also adding some compost to my soil. Once shoveled into place, walk on the soil to pack it down.

In Step 3, I'll build on this first course....

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