You could earn SmartPoints on this page!SmartPoint Coin

June 11, 2013 at 8:00 AMComments: 2 Faves: 1

Rocking Out the Garden In 6 Steps

By Rachael Steil More Blogs by This Author

We tried. Goodness knows, we tried. But, living in the middle of the woods made keeping a garden nearly impossible. After the first few years of attempting to plant flowers that grew best in the shade, as well as flowers inedible to wildlife, we just couldn't keep the dang thing going. Sure, maybe a dose of laziness in there made it more difficult, but, in the end, we still wanted something besides muddy swamps and green plants... we had way too much green. Whether it was lack of discipline and knowledge on our part, or simply because a garden in the woods proved difficult, we had to change something.

My dad put the most effort into this sorry little garden. Then, one day he cracked.

"That's it, Diane's coming to fix this!" Diane, my dad's good friend from the east side of town, had a jungle of flowers overflowing her small backyard. Yes, it was time for our clueless-in-gardening family to hire her as our garden caretaker.

Help on the Way

That was Plan B. It was supposed to stop there because we really had no Plan C. Each year, despite all of Diane's hard work re-arranging and experimenting with different flowers, even after teaching and showing us the tips and tricks, our "garden" always seemed to fall back into its original form: a graveyard of flowers. The tombstone-esque angel statue in the garden sure supported this image.

And then my dad learned about rock gardens.

"We could get rocks from all over the world on our trips and use them for the garden," my dad said excitedly.

I stared blankly at him. A rock garden? The only thought I had was that fewer flowers meant fewer bees. I hate bees.

Our rock garden is not extravagant, especially since we are lazy people when it comes to backyard beauty, but it does the job. And it's a heck of a lot prettier than the wilting, diseased, or half-eaten flowers we saw desperately trying to sprout up again each year.

Building Your Own Rock Garden

Even if you do not live in the woods, rock gardens are great for grassy areas and awkward slopes in the backyard. Plus, it's low maintenance--exactly what my dad wanted.

But, creating a rock garden wasn't as easy as throwing a few large rocks on an area of dirt. The task involved researching the rocks that provided the most color, actually bringing in the large rocks, and arranging them in their proper place. For the most part, I wasn't much help, so it wasn't until now that I decided to learn how it all works. Who knows, I may want a rock garden when I have my own place, thanks to my laziness with plants (and as mentioned before, my fear of bees). It looks like I've acquired my Dad's lackluster passion for arranged flowers and keeping them alive.

Step 1: The Foundation

We didn't get too extravagant with our rock garden; we simple pulled out what was left of the dead, sorry-looking flowers, laid down a black tarp-like material, and heaved large rocks onto the designated area (I don't even know if I should include "we" in this because I just came home one day and it was there. My dad did well). But, according to the experts, it's best to find a raised area of soil, or slope, and dig three feet down; that is where you start your foundation.

Piling your own mound, or creating a berm, is another option. The berm promotes drainage, so plants that need the most water can be planted near the bottom of this mound, while plants that need the least water can be arranged at the top of the berm. So yes, plants can be included in the garden and maybe add to the beauty. We were lucky some plants and flowers sprouted up around the rocks in our new garden over time just enough to make it look nice.

Step 2: Drainage, Sand, and Soil layers

Well, we probably failed at something as seemingly easy as a rock garden too, because we didn't learn or know to build layers beneath the rocks. Of course, we hadn't planned on including any flowers at all anyway, so the tarp idea probably worked best for that.

I didn't realize how much went into a rock garden besides just laying rocks on the ground. Different layers beneath the rocks help to keep the garden intact; it will probably last a lot longer. So, it's important to start with a drainage layer, which absorbs excess moisture. To fill this layer you can use clunky rocks, concrete or brick pieces, and parts of clay pots. Pack it evenly into the ground, and then add a second layer of sand. Soil is the final layer, which can include topsoil, leaf mold, and small gravel.

Step 3: Choosing Your Rocks

You can check out a home improvement store for rocks, or take some large rocks from your backyard. You will want to stick to one variety of rock in many different sizes (so you thought wrong, Dad; no collecting from all these different countries. How the heck were we supposed to pack and lug these around in our suitcases, anyway?).

Boulder-sized rocks should be dug halfway into the ground so that it gives the appearance that you've always had a rock garden, that you've never slaved away trying to make flowers grow in the shadowy woods full of flower-hungry deer in the first place ("Oh yeah, those rocks were always there!").

Step 4: Flower Power

Once you've got the rocks settled into their new home, you have the option to add flowers. We intentionally never got to this part, but we do find that flowers (or other green plants) seem to pop up among the rocks each year. Anyway, if you are up for adding in the flowers, it's time to experiment. Simply put, some flowers will work among the rocks and some won't; it's up to you to do a little experimenting each year to see what works best for your climate.

Step 5: Low-Key Maintenance

Less flower hassle, just as much beauty! Now, all you have to do is occasionally pull out weeds since weedkillers may be too harsh on rock-garden plants..

Step 6: Enjoy

Relish in the fact that you have a beautiful backyard with less hassle. So far, our garden has thrived for years-on-end. Here's to your new garden doing the same!

More from Rachael Steil Others Are Reading


  • Loved it, I've always liked rock gardens and this is a great how-to :)

  • Great ideas Rachel, my husband is totally the "stone" garden type person, while I love the flowers with wood chips! He always complains about how messy and the bugs/ants you can get with wood chips.

    Last year my neighbor put a bunch of wood chips out around all of her flowers and the rain washed them all away. I felt bad for her - because it is a lot of work to finish your design just to have it gone in a day.

Comment on the Smart Living Network

Site Feedback