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How to Build Rock Gardens

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Selecting Plants for Rock Gardens: Pay Attention to Growing Requirements
Spurges are good plants for rock gardens. Some supply red stems for a color scheme.

Spurge (middle plant) supplies red stems and yellow flowers for my color scheme.

David Beaulieu

As mentioned in Step 1, my selection of plants for rock gardens will be driven by color scheme. But the use of color schemes in landscaping projects differs markedly from their use in, say, painting, in at least one important respect. And that is that plants, as living things, have growing requirements to take into consideration. So adherence to color schemes in landscaping can never be as single-minded as it can be in the art world.

We have already looked at one growing requirement: drainage. I want specimens for my rock garden that will grow best when water percolates readily through their soil. It would be a mistake to add a plant that prefers wet soil to this mix, no matter how much it does for my color scheme. Only plants with similar growing requirements should be grouped together, unless you're willing to sacrifice longevity for temporary "good looks."

Besides drainage, other considerations are light requirements and amount of water needed. I want plants that will thrive in full sun, making them compatible both with each other and with the spot I chose for my rock garden. I would also prefer drought-resistant plants, although, as I'll point out later, I did make an exception for one particularly handsome specimen, which I'll treat as an annual plant.

I'm also seeking some variation in plant-height and leaf-texture.

To summarize, before going to the nursery to shop for rock-garden plants, I've established certain criteria. My rock-garden plants should:

  • fit into the desired color scheme
  • prefer good drainage
  • prefer a sunny area
  • exhibit some variation in height and texture

In my separate article on rock garden plants, I present a wide array of choices for your plantings. But in Step 5 I'll reveal my plant selection for this particular project, after adding one more criterion to this list....

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