Rock Gardens and Rockeries

Purists will tell you that there is a difference between rockeries and rock gardens. They will even look down their noses at rockeries. Ignore them!

The difference between rockeries and rock gardens is mainly scale and the emphasis of rock or plants. In rock gardens, the rocks are very large and that is the main thrust of the installation. Plants are usually quite small and widely spread, put there to stress the size and shape of the rocks.

Rockeries, however, are often small parts of normal size gatrdens, often built next to, or around small ponds and their space is shared with specially chosen plants.

When building a rockery, chose your rocks with care. Place them so that they look as if they were meant to be in the ground there. They need the bottoms covered with soil, so that they, as well as your plants, have grown there. Leave room between your rocks for your plants to expand but not too much room. You don’t really want bare soil between the rocks.

Plants for rockeries are great. You can get so many shapes and colours in a small space. There is a huge selection to choose from, some are only suitable for a position in the rockery whilst others can be used in other parts of the garden.There are even rock versions of much larger plants. Often rock plants are ones which will spread rapidly and rampantly, so the positioning of them is important so that they are contained.

Salix Apoda is a small plant, only 6 inches (15cm) high with a spread of 12-24 inches (30 -6-cm). It is, in effect, a miniture willow. It is a slow growing a deciduous shrub. In early spring male forms bear fat, silky silver catkins with orange to pale yellow stamens and bracts. The leaves are oval and leathery. When they are young they are hairy and become dark green later.

Sedums and  Saxifraga are large families  of plants which are recognisably related and they have varieties which provide interest throughout the year. You could build a rockery using only those plants and it would still be attractive. Check out saxifraga burseriana which have large white open cup flowers in the early spring. It is evergreen, so will look good throughout the winter. Saxifrage ‘hindhead seedling’  is another evergreen but has a hard dome of small spiny blue-green leaves. It has open upward facing pale yellow flowers in spring, whilst saxifrage sancia has tufts of bright green leaves all year with short racemes of upward facing bright yellow flowers in spring.

In summer, the sedums take over, with sedum acre being the most common. ‘Aureum’ is a variety which is evergreen, dense and mat-forming with spreading shots, yellow tipped in the spring and early summer and clothed in tiny fleshy, yellow leaves. It bears flat heads of tiny bright yellow flowers in summer, hence its name. Less well known,but equally showy is seduym lydium. This has reddish stems and narrow, flesht often red-flushed leaves and bears flat topped terminal clusters of tiny white flowers in summer.

There are so many different plants you can choose from for rock garden, it bogales the mind. Check out the Gentians, the campanulas, geraniums and the dianthus families. The thyme family also provides great miniature plants.

The great thing about having a rockery in your garden is that in a quite small space you can have a rich variety of plants which you wouldn’t have room for if you grew varieties in any other positi0n. So ignore the rock garden snobs, go for it and enjoy!