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THE DIRT ON GARDENING: Rock your landscape, create interest with details

Rock gardens may occur naturally or they may be someone’s brainstorm, but no matter which, they create interest in a landscape.

Hillside landscapes may provide the perfect opportunity to create a rock garden because this type of garden may also become a retaining wall to control soil erosion and aesthetically create a layered look to ease the homeowner’s maintenance chores.

Numerous lakeside properties afford this opportunity because homes are sometimes elevated a great distance above the actual water level so layering is a natural rather than steep banks to mow or trying to contain the erosion with simply plants and shrubs.

There are so many opportunities to create these rock formations in a landscape and with a bit of artistic skill you might surprise even yourself. You see them all the time in landscaping magazines and admire them so why not design your own masterpiece.

Rock gardens, other than the rocks themselves, can contain almost anything. However, some things work better than others because they provide a more natural look. Ground-hugging plants are perfect because they like to creep into crevices as well as crawl.

An example is sedum of most any kind because it is a natural in rocky formations. Stonecrop sedum with its tiny yellow flowers or sometimes pink or white are good examples as well as Dragon’s blood sedum with, as its name implies, is a deep purple/red.

Creeping phlox is another ground-hugger that will provide a “spring flush” of colorful flowers and then retain a mounded green for the duration of the year. Some low growing junipers that get no taller than an inch or two and spread and root into cracks and crevices is another choice.

Don’t overlook individual plants that work well in a rocky setting, including ice plant with its delicate pink flowers or forget-me-nots to add a touch of blue.

Of course, everything doesn’t necessarily have to be low growing in a rock garden and shouldn’t be. Small dwarf trees like some of the Japanese maples are a good example that creates height and an interesting focal point, as well as certain ornamental grasses that can be contained without overwhelming the garden.

There are several varieties of creeping thyme that will mound and spread throughout the rocks and for more color add a wine or copper colored Huechera (Coral belle) or a bronze Japanese fern that get no taller than 2 feet.

Try to pick plants that will add interest not only through the blooming season but through the entire year. That’s why different colored foliage is important so that everything isn’t simply “green” after blooms have disappeared.

Annuals may work well as a perimeter plant, but probably not so well in the actual rock garden. It is better to use plants that are permanent in the garden itself like perennials or woody plants.

The pond that I installed in my back yard was somewhat a “rock garden” on the mounded side because I circled that side with rocks and covered the mounded area with coral rock. Plants and grasses were planted among the rock including ice plant, forget-me-nots, cardinal plant, fountain grass and crested at the top with four Little Princess spirea.

That which is tantamount when installing a rock garden is control of the weed population, especially quack grass. A selective application of weed control using a stream instead of a spray would be advisable.

Tom Yoder is a Master Gardener and can be reached by phone at 533-0172 or by e-mail at

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