A creeping phlox thrives as it grows up through rocks

How to create a Rockery (Rock Garden)

So… What is a Rockery?

Simply put, a rockery is a rock garden.

Rockeries are often human-made, but some can be naturally occurring. They present a challenge to gardeners both new and experienced. They require different care than other types of gardens. But once you figure it out, you will be greatly rewarded.

A rockery is a statement piece and will attract the attention and appreciation of visitors, neighbors, and other onlookers.

Where Should I Build a Rockery?

Rockeries naturally occur on slopes or hillsides. If you have a slope you're not sure what to do with, think about turning into a rockery.

If there is a spot in your garden that has soil that is difficult to work with, you could turn that area into a rockery. Places that receive ice-treatment salt like at the side of a driveway or by the mailbox are ideal locations.

A rockery can be created anywhere you would like. If it fits your garden design or you want a change, a rockery is a great way to create visual interest.

Materials Needed:

To build a rockery you will need rocks-- surprising right? You can acquire a few of the materials on this list or everything; it depends on your design scale. Here are some items you may need:

  • Boulders if you have them or want them in your garden 
  • Large, medium, and small rocks (locally sourced is ideal)
  • Gravel, shale, pebbles, or grit
  • Rubble (broken bricks and concrete)
  • Topsoil and/or compost
  • Mulch

How to Build a Rockery:

Creeping phlox has a low-growing habit. It's flowers are tiny and they hide its foiage

Don't let this process daunt you, it can be done over a few days or weeks or even months. You can play around with the size and scale of your rockery.

If you have lots of space and plenty of rocks, you can make a large rockery. You can also make a rockery that's the diameter of a hula hoop.

No mater the size of your rockery, the same basic building principals apply:

  1. Create a gentle mound with rocks and dirt. Rocks occur naturally on slopes and have the greatest visual impact if the ground has curving lines
  2. Place some filler in the mound so you can use less dirt-- this can be an upturned tub or more grit/gravel. Some soil will inevitably fall through so prepare to use more soil than what you originally planned
  3. Fill space randomly with larger rocks to give it a natural look
  4. Add grit, gravel, pebbles, or shale to the top, leaving some of the dirt and mulch exposed
  5. Add plants to the spots with the most dirt. make sure they have enough support and wont be blown away in the wind
  6. Water the rockery to help plants become established
  7. If any plants seem to be dying, remove them immediately and replant them in a more ideal location

Best plants for a rockery:

One of the most challenging aspects of building a rockery is selecting plants that can survive and thrive in such rocky conditions. This is a list of plants for rock gardens and rockeries that won't just survive, but will thrive.

These plants can be grown in sun or shade, or both. They can tolerate poor soil conditions and many have a creeping habit. These factors will make your rockery look like it's been there for years (even if you just planted it)!

Butterfly Weed

Butterfly weed grows flower heads with many tiny flowers-- this plant is a pollinator magnet

Butterfly weed has lush foliage, stunning orange flower clusters, and it draws in pollinators. Not to mention, the butterfly weed thrives in poor, sandy, and rocky soils. It may surprise you how full this plant will grow in the most unlikely conditions of the rockery.

Zones: 4 to 9
Sun exposure: Full sun
Mature height: up to 3 feet
Water: Moderately dry to average
Best for pollinator gardens, rock gardens, borders, and woodland edges.
To buy the Butterfly Weed Plant, click here

Creeping Phlox

Creeping phlox tumbles over the edge of a rock

Creeping phlox is one of the best plants for a rockery. Its creeping habit allows it to fill in open spaces and gives the garden a natural look. The pink flowers bright much color will bring color and beneficial insects to shaded spaces. 

Zones: 4 to 8
Sun exposure: Full sun
Mature height: up to 6 inches
Water: Average to dry
Best for pollinator gardens, rock gardens, borders, and edges.

To buy the Creeping Phlox, click here

Irish Moss

Irish moss forms a carpet of soft growth on the surface of the ground and a boulder

Most mosses need an excess of moisture, but Irish moss can cope with less. Its lush, lime-green growth will bring a natural look to any rockery. It prefers shade but can tolerate some sun. Irish moss should be watered weekly during dry spells if it appears to be drying out.

Zones: 5 to 9
Sun exposure: Part shade or full shade
Mature height: under 6 inches
Water: Average to moist, with humidity
Best for woodland gardens, rock gardens, as a lawn alternative, and containers.

To buy the Irish Moss, click here


Bluet are tiny, mini flowers that are fun to brush your fingers through (like a thick, living rug)

Bluets have tiny flowers with low-growing, bushy foliage. It accents rocks in the rockery and gives nice attention to detail. It can tolerate varying light conditions and does will in poor, dry soil. This easy to grow flower can be used to fill in nooks and crevices in a rockery.

Zones: 3 to 8
Sun exposure: Part sun to part shade
Mature height: up to 6 inches
Water: Dry to average
Best for from of borders, woodland gardens, rock gardens, edges, and containers.

To buy Bluets, click here


Periwinkle grows like a groundcover and fills in a space with it's lush foliage

Periwinkle is a great spreader with beautiful, blue-toned flowers. It s spreading habit will cause it to spill over and around the rocks giving the rockery a natural look. It is best planted in shady spots of the rockery, but it can tolerate occasional sunlight. 

Zones: 4 to 9
Sun exposure: Full shade
Mature height: up to 8 inches
Water: Dry to average
Best for from of borders, rock gardens, woodland gardens, edges, and containers.

To buy the Periwinkle Plant, click here

Ajuga Reptans

Ajuga reptans has tiny stalks of flowers that stand above its foliage

Ajuga reptans is typically used as a groundcover, but will make a great addition to the rockery. It has a spreading habit that will fill in gaps great in rocky surfaces. It is easy to grow and may need occasional watering, but its otherwise self-sufficient. 

Zones: 3 to 9
Sun exposure: Full sun
Mature height: up to 8 inches
Water: Average
Best for front of borders, containers, rock gardens, and as a groundcover.

To buy the Ajuga Reptans, click here


Yarrow has umbel flowers that attract beneficial insect

Yarrow is a prolific spreader and can tolerate a range of conditions. In poor soils or in a rockery, it won't spread so rapidly. It's a pollinator friendly flower that grows in full sun. In rockeries, it should have some organic material like compost or mulch to nourish the roots and an occasional watering if needed.

Zones: 3 to 9
Sun exposure: Full sun
Mature height: up to 3 feet
Water: average to moist
Best for pollinator gardens, rock gardens, borders, and cottage gardens.

To buy the Yarrow, click here

Shasta Daisy

Shasta daisies have disc-like centers with rays of petals surrounding it

Shasta daisy is one of the most iconic flowers around. They symbolic of summer and innocence. Plus, they are easy to grow and maintain. These make a good rockery plant because they are drought tolerant. Despite being planted in rocky conditions, they will still manage to bloom prolifically. 

Zones: 4 to 9
Sun exposure: Full sun
Mature height: up to 3 feet
Water: average
Best for flower beds, children's gardens, rock gardens, borders, and containers.

To buy the Shasta Daisy Plant, click here


If you have any unanswered questions about creating a rockery or if you have more questions about our plants, please reach out! We love to talk gardening with anyone who is interested.

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