Rock Garden Ideas - Creating a Rockery Garden
Rock Garden Ideas
A good rockery garden is fascinating and rewarding. Alas, it's not easy to make. A pile of stones — often made as a means of getting rid of them — is no rockery garden and is likely to be a perpetual disappointment. If you want a lovely rock garden you must be prepared to spend time and trouble.
Every rockery garden must be constructed to suit its surroundings and its owner's taste. The aim, I think, is to provide such a natural effect that all rock really seems to have become revealed by the weather denuding the soil from above it. To achieve this natural effect each rock must be very carefully placed, with lines or strata on each piece running in the same and natural direction. It is, in fact, a labour of art and ingenuity.
Often, when for example you are excavating for a pond, a rockery garden landscape seems to follow naturally. The soil can be thrown up to make a mound facing southeast or south west — the ideal aspects for rock gardens — and also to give protection to the pond life from the north. A site facing due south can become too hot and dry, and one facing due north too cold. However, it is possible to find rock garden plants that will suit these aspects, too.
A rockery garden should not be formal or of a precise shape. It should be placed in some spot where it will appear to merge happily with its surroundings. Although it should be sheltered (alpines are not necessarily happy in cold situations) it should not be dominated by trees or shrubs which may drip, or walls or fences which will cast heavy shade.
Most rockery garden plants are sun worshippers. You may have an area which is uneven, banked, or contoured in some way. Most rock gardens look prettiest on a slope and are often the answer to a garden problem, but you can also make them on a level site. If you are making a small garden, keep the shape simple. If it is to be fairly important, decide early on whether it is large enough for paths, stepping stones or steps.
Soil for a rockery garden must be very good, for once made it will not be easy to refresh or replenish it. Drainage must be good but the soil must not be dry. Small stones will come in very useful for a rubble base which can be built up, then topped with soil. Finally, the good rocks can be placed to "grow" from the good soil. This means that your plants will have a good start. The best soil is loam. If you know you are going to make a rock garden on some part of your lawn, remove the turves from the area and stack them in a neat pile grass-side downwards. They will soon rot and leave you with a heap of wonderful loam. No manure will be necessary. If you have no loam mix three parts soil, one part peat, leafmould or homemade compost and one part sharp sand.
The most expensive item is the rock itself. Local types of stone always look best. Obviously the nearer your source of stone the less money you will have to pay for transport. Limestone is a favourite. This is really beautiful and weathers well and attractively. Types include Westmorland, Derbyshire, Cotswold, Mendip. Sandstone, though soft and moist becomes flaked by frost. (So does certain limestone, so be sure to take advice from your local dealer.) Quarried Westmorland sandstone is popular and good but it often looks "new" for many years. Rock is heavier than one realises. A hundredweight of Westmorland limestone may sound a lot, but it could only measure about eighteen inches by twelve by six. Usually a ton of stone contains about ten to twelve good pieces: Lightweight tufa stone is ideal and more easily handled than most other types.
A true rockery garden gives the stone a chance to be seen and admired. Natural rock gardens, which one finds on mountains and hillsides, show only a little of the stone on the surface. This is the effect to aim for when placing the stones in position. Even if only a small area is below the soil there must be enough buried to anchor the rock securely. Most stones have a good face, so see that the most attractive side is placed outwards. When you "seat" them tilt the rocks backwards so that rain will be directed to the heart of the rock garden and the roots of the plants.
Save stones you dig when clearing the garden to tilt, wedge and pack the rocks in place. Take care that no empty spaces are left at the back of the rocks or a plant may die of thirst. Little plateaux and pockets of soil made in front of a rock must always be in contact with the bulk of the soil. Remember that a flat stone is more likely to serve as a sun parlour for a plant than an upright one which often looks ill at ease.
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