Building a Rockery

Summary: Ever fancied building a rockery in your garden? If so, find out all you need to know in order to get started below

A rockery is a great way to add diversity to your garden – the difference in landscape and plants will bring a totally different element to your garden, giving it a new lease of life and a point of interest.

On the other hand, if you need to get rid of a load of rubble and hardcore but don’t want to pay for landfill, then building a rockery in your garden may be the perfect solution!

Where to Locate Your Rockery

By building a rockery you’re basically imitating an alpine mountainside, so a sunny site that’s free-draining and on a slope is ideal. You might need to build up the slope yourself, but try to make sure the site you choose is in the sun for most of the day, and that it drains freely.

Rockeries tend to blend in better if situated somewhere on the perimeter of the garden, against a wall perhaps. Rock gardens also work well alongside water, so if you have a pond you might consider working in a gentle cascade through the rockery.

Avoid building your rockery underneath a tree, as not only will it provide too much shade for the sun-loving alpine plants, but the leaves that fall on the delicate little plants in autumn could smother and even kill them off.

What You’ll Need

Firstly, a piece of paper and a pencil – you don’t want to be moving lumps of rock around the garden more than once, so make sure you get it right first time! Plan your rockery on paper, making a sketch of the garden and experimenting with the size, shape and location until you’re happy with it.

If you want to build up the height of your rockery by much, or if you need to improve the drainage of the area, you’ll need a quantity of hardcore or rubble.

Rocks are pretty essential of course, and you’ll need more than you think. An area of 12 square feet can easily use two to three tons of rock in order to create a decent rockery. You’re not just making a flower bed with a few rocks stuck in it for show – the rocks are the whole point of the feature, and are essential to the habitat you are creating.

When it comes to choosing your rock, go for whatever can be found locally if possible. Why not try contacting your local quarry? Otherwise, garden centres or builders merchants are probably your best bet. Whatever you go for, be careful - make sure when you order it that you’re not going to be left with a driveway full of huge stones and no way to lift them.

You’ll need some shale or gravel to fill in between the larger stones, and some gritty soil (compost or topsoil mixed with sharp sand or grit) to create planting areas.

When it comes to tools, a wheelbarrow and shovel will be useful, and maybe even a crowbar. Old clothing, steel-toed boots and protective gloves are all a good idea, but the most important thing by far is a friend or two to help with all the heavy lifting!

Get Building

Start at the lowest point of the rockery, and work your way up the slope. Loosen the earth underneath where the rockery is going to be, and add in some hardcore or rubble to improve drainage. If you are filling in your own slope using hardcore, you might want to add in a bit of soil here and there just to stop the rocks from shifting too drastically. Unless you compact it, your pile will gradually sink down a little with time.

Select some good rocks to make the front edge of your rockery, kind of a retaining wall. Try to make sure the shape isn’t too uniform, and embed the rocks securely. If the rocks have any strata, or lines, in them, make sure they all lie horizontally to look more natural.

Create a base using the largest rocks, bedding them in at least half way, then fill in gaps with smaller rocks and shale. Pack gritty soil into pockets here and there to plant your alpines.

See our project Introduction to Rockery Plants for help on deciding what to plant.

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