How to build a rockery

A rockery makes a great way to display small plants, or ones such as alpines in a natural type of setting for their species. As an added bonus, rockeries are relatively low maintenance!

Prepare the spot

Choose the area carefully

Once you build your rockery, you can't easily clear the area, so avoid covering manhole covers, or water or power cables that may need work in future.


Start by preparing and clearing the area

Remove any plants, grass, garden furniture, tree stumps and roots. It's a good idea to mark out the area for your rockery by defining the edges of the area with a spade. Now think about improving drainage.


Drainage issues?

If drainage is a problem in the area, try removing a spade's depth of soil, digging the trench over and then filling it in with a material such as gravel that will drain well. Then restore the removed earth.


Weed issues?

If weeds are present, lay some weed resistant horticul tural fabric down, or several layers of cardboard. Both these materials will let water penetrate but weeds can't grow through them.


Build the rockery

Choose rocks that will form the basis of the garden. A collection of both big and small rocks works well and looks natural.

Aim to use rocks of a similar colour and rock type as this also looks natural.  

Make sure your rockery is very stable: you may need to support larger rocks in place by partially submerging them or using bricks, mortar and smaller stones to hold them in place. You can use an outer edge of rocks to define the edges of the rockery, but this won't look quite as natural.

Also consider the textures and shades of colour in your rocks.

Visually, a rockery can work well if there is a single raised point slightly to one side of the structure. This could be a raised tall rock or a taller plant, such as a vertical alpine, acer (Japanese maple) or palm tree, or even a piece of driftwood. 

Another tip is to ensure your rocks are at least partially buried—this gives a much more natural effect than laying them on the surface.

Once you've built the main structure and it's structurally sound and safe, lay top soil over the entire rockery and let it fill all the cracks.

You may be surprised how much soil this takes. Drainage is important in a rockery so consider adding grit to the top soil for added drainage.

If you aren't confident that the top soil is weed-free, use a weed killer before you plant up the rockery.

Give the structure a good soaking with a garden hose and leave it to settle for a few days if you have time. 

Read more: Get the garden watered right


Plant up 

Rockeries tend to retain heat from the sun, and will dry out fast, so avoid plants that dislike strong heat or dry soil.

Low-growing, clump-forming, and wide-spreading plants work especially well in rockeries. Remember to incorporate some evergreens so your rockery will not be completely bare through the winter.


Best plants for your rockery


Abrabis procurrens

Abrabis procurrens 'Variegata'


Aubrieta varites

Aubrieta varites


Leontopodium alpinum

Leontopodium alpinum




Armeria juniperifolia

Armeria juniperifolia


Lithodora diffusa

Lithodora diffusa





Rockery garden



Campanula cochlearifolia

Campanula cochlearifolia


Linaria alpina

Linaria alpina



Gentiana x macaulayi

Gentiana x macaulayi


Cylamen hederifoliu

Cylamen hederifolium



Crocus leavigatus

Crocus leavigatus


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