In the Garden:
Lamium and sedum are two of the well-mannered perennials I use to highlight the natural beauty of the stones in my rock garden.
Where Rocks Grow, Plant a Rock Garden
I'm convinced that the rocks on my property are socially active, with no conscience at all. They reproduce in broad daylight, in alarming numbers, as evidenced by the small stones appearing in the garden just hours after I've carefully removed every one in sight. They must also invite neighboring stones over for a visit because I often find fist-sized rocks partially buried in freshly tilled soil where no stone was evident the day before.
After years of collecting the rocks from garden beds and casting them in a corner of the yard, I now have a rather impressive stockpile of stones in assorted colors, shapes, and sizes. I've tried really hard to give them away, but no one seems the least bit interested. Faced with a growing collection of rocks, I've decided to put them to work -- on my terms -- by building a rock garden.
Choosing the Site
Rock gardens are usually thought of as dry, hard, cactus-filled areas. But rock gardens can also be damp, and in shade or full sun or somewhere in between. The key to success is to consider summertime sun exposure and to work with the rocks to bring out their inherent beauty.
Building a rock garden on a natural slope is the easiest approach, but you can create a slope with garden soil and then begin building. Set the rocks in the lowest, front part of the garden first and work upward. Shovel enough soil around each rock to anchor it firmly and provide growing room for plant roots. You may need to bury half or more of each rock to anchor them securely. After the rocks are in place, let the soil settle around them for a few days, then take a look from a distance to be sure you like the layout before adding plants.
Planting the Garden
Autumn is an excellent time to create a new rock garden or redo an old one. Fall's abundant rains will help young plants extend their roots and older transplants make the transition with ease. Plants can be grouped, set in drifts, or planted as single specimens. A combination of plants will add variety. I resist the temptation to plant vigorously spreading plants. They may cover quickly but can become invasive, creating lots of work when you try to eradicate them.
Bulbs are good choices for fall planting. Crocuses can add color to very small areas. Anemones, ranunculus, and grape hyacinths also work well in snug places. When foliage fades, they can be covered with annuals for summer and fall color.
Creeping plants are naturals for growing in and around rocks. Phlox, sedums, thyme, and lamium are easy to grow and useful for filling nooks and crannies. Campanulas add a delightful blue and spread easily. Heathers are also good choices for rock gardens. Their mounding habit can be maintained with regular pruning when flowering is finished.
For shady sites with reasonably moist soil, old-fashioned violets are quite at home between rocks. Their deep-green, heart-shaped foliage contrasts beautifully with off-white or gray-brown stones. Primroses, readily available from November through March, can add brilliant accents in a rainbow of colors, and they will brighten up the garden during the winter months.
As with any landscape design, plan ahead and try to incorporate a variety of plants with attractive foliage textures. Include those with different flowering seasons and you'll create interest in your rock garden all year-round.
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