Rock Gardens Ideas


Rock gardens can bring a natural, rugged beauty to any yard, including those with steep hillsides or other difficult growing conditions. Take a look at these stunning gardens for a wealth of color and design inspiration.

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High-Altitude Plantings

rock garden

Common rock garden plants grow naturally on high mountains, where they need to stand up to harsh conditions, including intense sun, high winds, and drought. To create a picture-perfect scene, experiment with wildflowers in an array of complementary hues. For a layered look and all-over color, combine mounded plants and groundcover with various sizes of shrubs for vertical interest.

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Front Yard Rock Garden

Rock garden

Even when your site isn't naturally rocky, you can easily create a rock garden. In this front yard, a stone wall offers an ideal foundation and border for a variety of low-growing alpine classics, including Aubrieta 'Royal Blue,' Phlox subulata, and Potentilla. Gypsophila franzii and Dianthus 'Tiny Rubies' fill crevices between the stones and help to integrate the wall with the rest of the terrace garden.

03 of 19

A Textural Display

Rock garden

For maximum visual interest in your rock garden, play with texture and vary the scale of plants and rocks. A mixture of conifers, shrubs, and perennials works beautifully to create a lush landscape that blends distinctive foliage and colorful blooms. Boulders, Mexican pebbles in a dry creek bed, and bricks in the winding pathway lend natural texture and additional drama.

04 of 19

Smart Hillside Solution

Stucco house on hill with elaborate plantings

Transform a sloping front yard into a streetside showstopper by bringing in locally sourced boulders and a variety of rock garden plants. In this corner lot, creeping cedar, pines, yucca, Japanese maples, ornamental grasses, and cannas create an eye-catching display. Best of all, the yard looks vibrant all year and never needs mowing.

05 of 19

Colorful Planting Partners

Eriogonum, Mojave sage

When designing your rock garden, think of the space as a series of eye-catching vignettes that paint the overall landscape. Here, the orange blooms of Eriogonum umbellatum (sulphur flower) stand out against the gray-green foliage and pink blooms of Mojave sage (Salvia pachyphylla). Both plants are drought-tolerant and thrive with little maintenance.

06 of 19

Year-Round Rock Garden

Rock garden

Extend your gardening season by incorporating fall foliage and evergreens into your rock garden. In this Asian-style vignette, large boulders anchor plantings of Japanese and Siberian irises, which feature foliage highlighted by dramatic tips of gold. A native shore pine in the background shows off a sculptural form in keeping with Japanese garden design.

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Cottage Garden Abundance


Enjoy a lush look in your garden with a bevy of flowering plants that scramble in and over rocks. For a cohesive look, this rock garden features a warm color scheme of pink, red, and yellow blooms. The bed is tightly planted to achieve the carefree abundance typical of cottage gardens.

08 of 19

Color and Texture


Add dramatic impact to your rock garden by pairing striking foliage with colorful blooms. In this composition, the feathery foliage of a low growing juniper offers a lovely contrast to the cheerful pink flowers of candytuft and petunia. An evergreen groundcover like juniper offers multiple benefits: It quickly fills in spaces between rocks, it's drought-tolerant, and it adds year-round interest to the garden.

09 of 19

Sculptural Beauty

Rock garden

As you choose plants and design your garden, consider form as well as color. Pair perennial favorites with dwarf conifers that bring year-round texture and height to the scene. In this rocky site, the bright pink blooms of perennial sea thrift (Armeria maritima) softly enhance the sculptural forms of the dwarf conifers and large boulders.

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Drought-Tolerant Rock Garden

Rock garden

Drought-tolerant plants and rock gardening are natural partners. Many favorites can stand up to harsh conditions and don't require much care. It's easy to achieve a lush look without extra watering by paying close attention your plant choices. Plan to pair plants native to your region with eye-catching favorites like silvery lavender, artemisia, and dianthus.

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A Warm Welcome

Rock garden

This rock garden planted alongside a driveway helps create an inviting entrance to the home. Heat-loving perennials suit the hot, dry climate and showcase intriguing texture and color, while large boulders add rugged character. To create an informal look, drifts of sedum, salvia, yarrow, thyme, and oregano blend together and casually spill over onto the driveway.

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Stunning Dwarf Conifers

Dwarf conifers

Dwarf conifers are an ideal addition to any rock garden. For a cohesive look, vary your foliage textures, but stick to a unified color theme, such as this silvery blue. You can create a whole garden using conifers by tucking them between rocks, or contrast them with colorful blooms. If you're mixing plants, be sure to place the conifers beside or behind the low-growers to maintain visual balance as the conifers grow.

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An Ideal Location

Rock garden

If you plan to bring in boulders or rocks for your rock garden, look for a site that will naturally fit into the overall landscape. For example, a rock garden will probably look out of place in the middle of a lawn, but it looks great on a slope with a backdrop of shrubs or conifers. This berm planted with a variety of low-growers, evergreens, and shrubs appears to have always been a part of the landscape.

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Rock Garden Color Combinations

Aubrieta, Veronica

Create a calming mood by choosing a variety of fast-growing groundcovers in cool, analogous hues, such as blue and violet. In this site, the delicate blooms of Aubrieta 'Royal Blue' and Veronica 'Waterperry Blue' gently flow into each other, covering the stone steps with a soothing cascade of color.

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Between the Rocks


Fill in tight spots between rocks with flowering plants to add a dash of color and give your rock garden a finished look. Saxifraga is an easy-to-grow crevice dweller that appears naturally in mountain regions. Here, its cheerful pink blooms complement the warm tones of the surrounding boulders.

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Creative Edge Treatment

Rock garden

You can design your rock garden to flow seamlessly into the surrounding landscape, or add a border to separate it from nearby walkways or other themed areas. Here, a row of rocks separates the hillside garden filled with a mixture of plants—including purple coneflower, geranium, daylily, and sedum—from an informal pathway. The rocks along the garden's edge lend definition, while complementing its rustic nature.

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Annuals for the Rock Garden


Perennials are common in rock gardens, but annuals can bring an extra punch of color to the site. These petunias look right at home among the rocks and add cheerful color to surrounding foliage. Other annuals to consider for rock gardens include dianthus, alyssum, and vinca.

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Contrasting Hues

Sedum, Heuchera

To inject drama into your rock garden, choose colors opposite one another on the color wheel. Here, the chartreuse of a sedum groundcover offers a striking contrast to the burgundy foliage of Heuchera. The contrasting hues pop against the surrounding rocks and call attention to smaller plants that might otherwise be overlooked.

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Designing with Succulents


A rock garden can give a diminutive succulent a place to shine. Here, hens-and-chicks tucks into a rocky crevice and stands out with its contrasting green and red hues. Although succulents may look fragile, they can thrive in intense sun and do well in dry conditions with little maintenance.

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