Rock garden ideas – 8 expert tips on how to build a rockery

These rock garden ideas are suitable for gardens big or small: create your own rockery whatever the size and shape of your garden

rock garden ideas: a rock garden by Annie Spratt
(Image credit: Unsplash/Annie Spratt)

These rock garden ideas will inspire you to create your very own – and it's just as well that autumn actually makes the perfect time to start building a rockery. 

Rockeries are easy to build from scratch is just about any garden. And, even if you haven't got the space for an expansive selection of rock garden plants, you can start small in containers or display yours on a garden table. Whether it's Alpine meadows carpeted with delicate flowers that inspire you, or if you take your cue from the sculpted rock gardens of Japan, just keep scrolling to see all our favourite rockery ideas below.

Find more garden ideas at our dedicated page.

1. Build tiers in a sloped garden

Alpine Plant Collection, Gardening Express

Alpine Plant Collection, Gardening Express

(Image credit: Gardening Express)

Sloped gardens present lots of wonderful opportunities for rock gardens – 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. 

See more sloping garden ideas in our gallery.

2. Use a natural planting scheme in a large rockery

Annual Rockery Plant Mix Seeds - 400 Seeds

(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  from Amazon.

Annual Rockery Plant Mix Seeds

(Image credit: Amazon)

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

Container rockery, by Scott Webb

(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

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

Purbeck Rockery Stone, Miles Stone

(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.

Rockery stone from Stone Warehouse

Rockery stone from Stone Warehouse

(Image credit: Stone Warehouse)

5. Rock garden ideas from Japan

Japanese garden

(Image credit: Unsplash)

Japanese rock gardens are a bit different from Alpine-style rock gardens. Firstly, a it will use more shrubs and compact trees such as acers rather than just low-growing plants. Secondly, slate and fine granite chippings are favoured 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. 

Japanese rock garden, by David Martin

(Image credit: Unsplash/David Martin)

6. Mini rockery ideas

Succulents, by Andrew Slifton

(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. 

More advice on how to create a living wall in our guide.

Heath pearlwort moss, Bakker

(Image credit: Bakker)

7. Choose the best rock garden plants 

Succulents, by Harry Grout

(Image credit: Unsplash/Harry Grout)

These are the top plants for rockeries to go for for year-round colour 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. 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. 

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Anna Cottrell
Anna Cottrell

Anna is Consumer Editor across Future's home brands. 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.