Enhance your landscape with this low-maintenance solution.
By Janet Loughrey, Garden Writer & Photographer

Adding a rock garden to your yard is a creative way to add depth and dimension to a flat or mundane space, or to introduce an element of surprise. The rugged appearance of rock adds earthy appeal, connecting a manmade landscape to the natural world.

Rocks can be used to define a slope, act as a substitute for a lawn, or become a solution to an area where little will grow. Different areas of the yard such as walkways and beds can be outlined or separated with an attractive arrangement of rocks, pebbles or gravel. A rock garden can range from a complex large-scale project with many aspects and layers, to something as simple as a small corner adorned with gravel and river stones. Even a container can become a miniature rock landscape.

Rock gardens are low-maintenance and lend year-round structure to the landscape. In order for your finished project to have cohesion, it should be well thought out and designed. Here are some basic principles to get you started, along with a list of recommended plants.

Choose and evaluate your site.

Where would a rock garden look best in your yard? Is the site in sun or shade? Will plants need regular water, or will it be a drought-tolerant landscape? Don’t be afraid to think outside the box. Even a front yard can have a rock garden.

Research.

Gather ideas by looking at photos of rock gardens on the internet and by visiting local gardens. Make an idea board or list with attributes you want to include.

Draw up a design.

Once you have some basic ideas, make a plan and draw a rough sketch. For a bigger project, you may want to consult with a landscape designer. Larger rocks are a challenge to lift and set in place, so it’s crucial to know ahead of time where you want them.

Consider scale.

Use materials that are in scale with your home and yard. Big boulders can overwhelm a small space, while small stones will get lost in a sweeping landscape.

Choose a style.

Rough irregular rocks add rugged natural appeal, while smooth pebbles or clean white gravel lend a more formal appearance, such as with Japanese rock gardens and Zen rock gardens. Create a look that complements your home’s style as well as the rest of the yard.

Keep it natural.

Take a cue from Mother Nature by making the rock garden look like it belongs. This will make the design more visually pleasing and cohesive with the rest of the yard. Random groupings of stones will look more natural than placing them in neat rows or organized patterns. Incorporate a water feature or stepping stones to enhance the natural appeal.