15 Rock Garden Ideas That Prove Your Yard Could Actually Benefit From Less Plants

Rock gardening was introduced during the industrial revolution to bring beauty to the degrading European countryside. At the time, there was one dominant practice, whereas now rock garden ideas abound. No matter the form, rock gardening emulates natural habitats and brings visual interest into landscaping. Though at first thought this garden design may seem stuffy and formal, in reality it is practical and fun—and is currently having a major resurgence. Level up your routine with the following rock garden ideas and create one of your own.

What is a rock garden and why would I incorporate one into my landscaping?

In the most basic sense, a rock garden is an area of landscaping that combines rocks, pebbles, or boulders with plants. Joseph Tychonievich, editor of The Rock Garden Quarterly, explains that rock gardens have two main functions. The first is to create well-drained conditions that mimic different plant habitats; and the second is aesthetic. “Rocks are beautiful, and there is something magical about delicate-looking plants growing and thriving in the spaces between harsh, austere rocks,” says Tychonievich. Functionally, rock gardens can be a thoughtful, low-maintenance way to work within the parameters of your outdoor space, using the landscape you already have.

Similarly, Panayoti Kelaidis, senior curator and director of outreach at the Denver Botanic Gardens and president of the North American Rock Garden Society, expresses how “rocks are nature’s sculpture: They are durable, permanent features of an often ephemeral landscape.”

What is the history of rock gardening?

Kelaidis explains that the earliest rock gardens can be traced to the first millennium in China, where they were the centerpiece of the landscaping. This type of gardening can be seen in the great gardens of Suzhou to this day. Japanese rock gardens followed and morphed into a more “meditative and almost religious setting, with less emphasis on plants for their own sake,” he says. The type of rock gardening that’s mainly practiced today came about as a reaction to urbanization during the industrial revolution as a way to bring nature into the blighted landscape and give people a connection to the natural world.

What are the benefits of a rock garden?

One big benefit is that rocks and stones can be placed in a way that aids a landscape. For example, rocks can provide a solution for a yard with a steep incline by creating a way to plant flora on a slope. Rock garden design can also help with drainage in perennially wet areas, and these gardens can shelter homes from roads or neighbors.

On a more cerebral note, Kelaidis points to the term “biophilia,” which references the innate connection humans have with nature. Since rock gardening came about as a way to reconnect people to the natural world, installing these gardens can provide a deep sense of spiritual satisfaction—so consider situating your rock garden in plain sight, right near the kitchen window.

How do you design a rock garden?

Every rock garden is different. One might feature large rocks covered with mats of colorful ground covers, whereas another could have succulents freckled between large boulders. A completely different rock garden might incorporate greenery like dwarf shrubs, conifers, and ornamental grasses.

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