Introduction to Rock Gardening

In his book Garden Construction, published in 1923, garden writer Thomas Geoffrey Henslow wrote: ‘To own a lovely garden or beautiful estate and not possess a rock garden is more than being out of fashion; it is the loss of a joy that might easily be ours at small cost and little trouble. We are not called upon to climb the Alps for rare plants or to search the Andes for the latest novelties, since this has been done for us, and most of our English nurseries supply collections large enough to please the most exacting.’ Almost ninety years later, things have changed somewhat on the garden scene and rock gardens are not the hot item in garden fashion they once were. However, alpine and rock plants still have a certain cachet, especially if you grow the cushion-forming sorts as specimen plants in sink gardens, and there are still plenty of nurseries to satisfy demand.

Today’s gardeners want to grow a wide variety of plants in their gardens, which, in most cases, are usually an easy-to-manage parcel of land, hardly the place to install the traditional rock garden of tonnes of raw stone heaved into a semblance of an alpine rock face. Do not despair though, in this website you will see that it is possible, without too much work, to have a lovely rock garden.

Rock constructions have featured in gardens for centuries, but the rock garden, or rockery, really came into its own in the mid-1800s. People undertaking the Grand Tour often included a walk in the Alps and, marvelling at the plants they encountered and the beauty of their setting, sought to recreate a corner of this environment. By the early 1900s, there were many garden design firms all advertising their ability to construct superior rock gardens.

Nowadays, a rock garden is bound to be a more modest affair assembled by the garden owner rather than a garden contractor. This is not necessarily a good thing, because it is all too easy to make a rock garden which looks more like a pile of rubble rather than a carefully constructed landscape feature.

You must be prepared to invest in proper rock, quarried for the purpose, as a rock garden cannot be made from chunks of broken-up concrete paving or heaps of clinker. One other aesthetic rule to bear in mind, for even the slightest bit of authenticity, is that a rock garden needs to be built into a slope, so that the imitation rock outcrops don’t look like a mineral carbuncle on your private landscape. Since most of us have flat gardens this can be rather difficult, but can also be overcome. You can excavate to alter the levels of your ground or you can erect low, dry stone walls to make raised beds. The most successful alternative, in my opinion, is the scree bed, which is an emulation of the free-draining gravel and broken rock that accumulates at the foot of a rock-face. A flat carpet of stone, sprinkled with rock garden plants, upon which pots and pans of choice alpine can be stood, is also an exceedingly pretty sight.

In the United Kingdom, the most highly-prized rock for gardens is the limestone of Lancashire. Derbyshire and Cumbria, but a recent report highlighted that there are less than 2500 hectares of this limestone left, with less than three per cent of this amount remaining undamaged by dealers quarrying it to supply the demand of rock garden fanciers. All responsible gardeners, no matter where they garden, will appreciate how wrong it is to despoil an area of natural beauty for the sake of something as transient as a garden. If. However, you are determined to have a rockery. Try to purchase materials that you know are quarried by license or are otherwise eco-sound.

26. February 2012 by Dave Pinkney
Categories: Alpines, Featured Articles, Plants & Trees, Rockery Garden | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Introduction to Rock Gardening


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