Rock garden ideas – 10 DIY ways to create a rockery

These rock garden ideas are suitable for outdoor spaces big and small. Create your own rockery on a lawn or even on a balcony with just a few materials.

A rock garden with terracotta pots and alpine plants
(Image credit: Nadtochiy / Getty)

These rock garden ideas will inspire you to create your very own – and there are many reasons why rockeries are so attractive.

Rock gardens are easy to build even if you have very little gardening experience. They don't have to cost the earth because all of the materials are very affordable. Rock gardens are suitable for smaller backyards, including urban courtyards and patios. And, finally, a rockery is an oasis of calm that easily goes with almost all modern garden ideas

All of these ideas for rock gardens can be replicated on a DIY basis. All the materials can be bought from your local garden center or even building supplier. 

Top expert tips for building a rock garden

Not sure where to begin with building your rockery? Paige Anderson, a landscape design architect at Nitido Design (opens in new tab), gives the following easy DIY steps: 

  1. Making room in your lawn or yard for your stone garden.
    Rock gardens, on the whole, are elevated above the ground, so you'll need to start by laying a foundation of rocks and dirt, then build on top of that.
  2. Lay down the bigger rocks first, making the outline of your rockery.
  3. Rock gardens need well-draining soil. This means you'll likely need to mix some sand in with your soil to improve drainage.
  4. Make a smaller circle with smaller rocks inside the larger one. 'When creating the smaller circle of the rock garden, make sure the second circle is small enough to give enough space between the first circle and itself.'
  5. Now add your plants. 'Look for plants with different leaf textures, heights,
    and sizes. This creates a more natural-looking visual impression. Sedum,
    succulents, and phlox are all attractive plants for rock gardens.'

1. Build tiers in a sloped garden

A tiered rock garden with alpine plants

(Image credit: Gardening Express)

Incorporating rock gardens into sloped garden ideas is a great idea to add interest to uneven sites – use stones of roughly the same size to create a spectacular tiered display, filling the spaces between the rocks generously with rock garden plants of different heights and sizes. 

2. Use a natural planting scheme in a large rockery

A rockery with masses of pink, red, and yellow flowers

(Image credit: Amazon)

If you have a lot of space to cover, you may find it easier to scatter a seed mix over areas you'd like to be carpeted with flowers, rather than attempting to plant up the vast space manually. A rock garden doesn't have to look formal – a natural planting scheme reminiscent of Alpine flower meadows will look stunning in a large space.

This rockery uses the Annual Rockery Plant Mix Seeds (opens in new tab)  from Amazon.

a large backyard with rockery and alpine flowers

(Image credit: Amazon)

3. Rock garden ideas for small spaces: plant in containers like Monty Don

A closeup of rock garden style container plants

(Image credit: Unsplash/Scott Webb)

Even a tiny garden can still have a rockery – you can easily start one in containers. Simply choose rock garden plants – succulents, cacti, miniature bulb plants like small daffodils and iris – and sprinkle the soil around the plants with pebbles. Then, display your miniature rockery on a garden table. Beautiful. 

Pots on the table outside the potting shed Monty Don (opens in new tab)

A photo posted by @themontydon on Jul 22, 2020 at 5:13am PDT

Monty Don has created his rockery on a table in containers and we’re sharing (above) because we think you’ll love it as much as we do. It would look fabulous reproduced in any garden, but one of the things that’s brilliant about it is that even if you have the smallest of exterior spaces, you could pull it off, too. 

4. Use rocks and pebbles for easy maintenance rockeries

A rock garden with gravel and perennial plants

(Image credit: Miles Stone Ltd)

If you prefer a clumped planting scheme for your rockery (where plants are dotted in groups), add texture and interest by filling the spaces between the plants and large rocks with smaller pebbles. The result will be more interested and polished than if you leave the soil between plants bare. And, of course, it will mean fewer plants, fewer weeds, less work – and less money spent on rock garden plants.

Light gray pebbles and low-growing plants in a rockery

(Image credit: Stone Warehouse)

5. Rock garden ideas from Japan

A Japanese garden with a stepping stone path

(Image credit: Unsplash)

Japanese rock gardens are a bit different from Alpine-style rock gardens. Firstly, it will use more shrubs and compact trees such as acers rather than just low-growing plants. Secondly, slate and fine granite chippings are favored over other types of stone. And, thirdly, if you're building a Zen-style garden in the Japanese manner, consider using moss as ground cover and stone garden decorations. Water features, especially water pumps, are also common. 

A Japanese rock garden with water feature

(Image credit: Unsplash/David Martin)

6. Mini rockery ideas

Succulents growing up a wall

(Image credit: Unsplash/Andrew Clifton)

No room for a rock garden, not even for a rockery display on your garden table? You can still create the same effect by planting up a garden wall with succulents. Or, display a pot of Japanese-style moss in a stone-effect planter. These aren't the same, but similar in texture and appearance. 

Pearlwort moss grown in a concrete container on a small garden table

(Image credit: Bakker)

7. Choose the best rock garden plants 

Succulents closeup

(Image credit: Unsplash/Harry Grout)

These are the top plants for rockeries to go for for year-round color and interest:

  • Crocuses
  • Campanula
  • Sedum
  • Sempervium
  • Spring gentian
  • Pulsatilla vulgaris
  • Thyme
  • Saxifraga 
  • Dianthus
  • Miniature daffodils
  • Miniature iris (iris reticulata)
  • Delosperma
  • Ajuga
  • Phlox subulata
  • Euphorbia myrsinites
  • Iberis sempervirens
  • Dwarf rhododendrons
  • Lithodora
  • Silene schafta
  • Sisyrinchium 
  • Japanese maples

8. Build a rockery on the side of a garden path

A sloped rock garden with steps

(Image credit: Exclusive Eden)

Rockeries can work wonders to enhance your garden path ideas. Especially where a path has been built into an incline, a rock garden can add interest and texture to the areas either side of the path. This beautiful rockery has been created by Exclusive Eden (opens in new tab). We really like the way the white rocks contrast with the gray gravel. 

9. Combine formal and informal elements 

A contemporary backyard with rock garden elements

(Image credit: BasieB / Getty)

If you like a polished, contemporary look but want to introduce some natural elements, then building a small rockery can really help to soften the look of a formal design scheme. Here, formal stone spheres have been combined with a more natural rockery scheme, including by the side of a garden pond.

10. Create a screened off Zen area

A screened off rock garden with moss and gravel

(Image credit: Garden Mentors)

Want to create a Zen garden area in your yard that is completely private and separate from the rest of your outdoor space? Installing a screen can make a big difference to how much privacy you'll be getting from your rockery. You can make a living screen from bamboo or use a freestanding room divider (unless you have a covered patio you'll need to protect it from heavy rain). 

How to build a rockery, with Alan Titchmarsh's advice

How to build a rockery: a rock garden by Annie Spratt

(Image credit: Unsplash/Annie Spratt)

Alan Titchmarsh has praised rock gardens as an undeservedly neglected garden trend. In his video (watch it below), Alan explains that rockeries present excellent opportunities for displaying small plants that otherwise won't be very visible in your garden. His top tips for planting up a rockery are:

1. Get several of the same rock garden plant: because alpines and succulents are quite small, you need a few of each type to really make an impact.

2. Plant rock garden plants of the same type in groups rather than spaced out throughout the rockery: the effect will be much more appealing. 

3. Finish the look by sprinkling the top soil with horticultural grit – of the same colour  as the rocks. This will also suppress weeds and help retain moisture. 

Now you're ready to make your own rock garden – it's easy and satisfying, even in smaller spaces. 

Can I build a rockery if I have a very small garden?

Yes. You really don't need very much room at all to build a rockery – you just need a raised area. Even a small table will do. A rockery can be easily created in a container (see our example with potted moss). You can also buy a mini rock garden kit from Amazon (opens in new tab) – these are very compact and you can display them in even the tiniest of outdoor spaces like balconies (opens in new tab)

Anna is Content Editor at Real Homes. She moved to the world of interiors from academic research in the field of English Literature and photography. She is the author of London Writing of the 1930s and has a passion for contemporary home decor and gardening. At Real Homes, she covers a range of topics, from practical advice to interior and garden design. 

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