With proper and creative planning, you can create your own rock garden—there are literally thousands of plants that can grow in it, but only if you make sure to give them the right conditions. Moreover, rock gardens have that distinct physical condition that makes it compatible with a wide array of garden furniture, such as wind chimes, statues, fountains, and water features. Creating and keeping your rock garden in bloom may be a constantly challenging task, but the reward is priceless—aside from the admiration of friends and acquaintances, the nice impression you make on anyone who sees your garden, you also have your own “private Idaho.”
What are Rock Gardens?
Contrary to what someone who hears the words “rock gardens” might conclude, it is not actually a garden featuring nothing but rocks, although rock formations do figure largely in the whole setup. Simply put, rock gardens are a clever (and beautiful) way of utilizing otherwise idle resources. Credit the ancient Chinese and Japanese for being among the first ones to realize and exploit the potential and use of rocks in beautifying their home environment. Historical accounts vary, but rock gardens in the Chinese and Japanese context are not only decorative in purpose, but symbolic as well— certain rocks held special meaning concerning religion, wisdom, and life itself, which is why even now rock gardens have a deep special place in their culture.
In England in the 1800s, many exotic botanical treasures were being imported from the far-flung reaches of the British Empire, and people wanted to grow these treasures locally, if only to impress their friends. In 1919, Reginald Farrer’s two-volume book ‘The English Rock Garden’ was published, and it subsequently became a sensation among professional and amateur gardeners. Fast-forward to the present, the modern application of rock gardens may be regarded as essentially Japanese in influence, but it is actually more a blending of different cultures, philosophies, and aesthetic sensibilities. For example, the rock garden you may find in an average American home represents modern ideas about beauty, as well as its success relies on the botanical knowledge pertaining to the kind of plants that can thrive in any rocky environment.
Special Rock Garden Plants
Not all plants can grow in a rock garden, and even those who do still require a lot of care and soil preparation to ensure their health. A rock garden stands on a well-planned bed that considers durability (the rocks should not roll down the slope), stability (it should not fall down like a stack of cards, or, well, rocks), and good soil drainage, while not altogether chucking aesthetics aside. Only when these basic matters are taken care of can you choose the plants that will call your garden home. Among the most common choices include succulents, such as sedums, hens and chicks, and agave. Alpine perennials are also excellent choices, such as dianthu and campanulas.
Playing with Colors
Another exciting aspect of rock gardens is how you can play with colors. Depending on their mineral composition, rocks come in various colors, such as bright red, orange, black, white, gray, slate, and others. You can use the natural colors of rocks to create the look you want to achieve. Under the guidance of a color chart and what you understand about color theory and harmony, you should choose the color of rocks according to whether you want your rock garden “warm” or “cool.” Red, orange and yellow and any color based on blends of these colors are warm; blue, purple and green are cool.
Of course, not everything depends on the rocks alone. You can also select specific plants that serve your chromatic purpose. For example, if red sandstone is your main feature and you want everything else to work with it, you should use plants and garden fixtures based on red, as well as transitional colors that are derived from red. And to further enrich this setting, you can add a musical dimension by installing wind chimes in the right places.
Building a rock garden—even small ones at the corner of your existing garden landscape—is a delightful challenge. But if done correctly, it can be an immensely rewarding experience.
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