Rock gardens are experiencing a revival as people look for better low-maintenance garden ideas. The modern rock garden uses rocks to define garden areas but you can also add interest with their varying heights, shapes and sizes.
Plants like ornamental grasses and ground covers can be added around the rocks as well as pots of color to add even more interest. Have a look at our 14 modern rock garden ideas for some inspiration for your next gardening project.
1. Create A Dry Creek Bed With Large River Stones
Outline your dry creek bed with large rocks and then add a layer of large and small river stones in between them. Use low growing perennials planted in between the rocks that can cascade over them as they spread.
You can also use a selection of ornamental grasses around the edge of your man-made creek bed. Then, plant taller shrubs behind the rocks to give a lovely natural look to your landscape. You can cover any exposed soil with either gravel or a lovely natural wood mulch.
2. Use Large Rocks And Light Colored Gravel To Create A Path
You can create a stunning natural pathway through your garden by using large dark colored rocks as an edging along the path. Infill this with light-colored gravel to create a natural path that is both aesthetically pleasing as well as low-maintenance.
Plant some low-growing evergreens behind the large rocks that will soften the border and give the illusion of walking through a forest. This can be made even more spectacular by having some larger trees or shrubs planted behind the low-growing plants.
3. Create A Spectacular Landscape With Large Boulders
Sometimes you just have to “go big” if you want to make a bold statement. Take your inspiration from nature and scatter a few really large boulders around your rock garden. Intersperse these with smaller rocks and then cover any exposed soil with gravel.
Be creative with your planting by choosing local species that will fit in between the rocks. Have larger plants at the back or in the center and then supplement these with hardy ground covers that will scramble over the rocks as they grow.
4. Create A Japanese Rock Garden
You don’t have to have flowing water to copy some of the designs of a Japanese rock garden. The idea of flowing water can be simulated by having a dry creek bed surrounded by large rocks. Add some Japanese stone lanterns and other such items that you might be able to find at your local garden center.
You green landscaping could include lovely trees such as Japanese maples, azaleas and flowering cherries. Ornamental grasses will work well to fill in the gaps as well as low-growing evergreen shrubs such as dwarf spruce or pine trees.
5. Consider A Vibrant Succulent Garden
If you live in hot or mild climate, succulents are the perfect low-maintenance plants for a spectacular rock garden. Remember that most succulents don’t appreciate wet soil. Therefore, you can create raised areas for planting by using rocks that you’ve strategically placed.
And, there’s such a wide range of succulents available, that you can let your imagination go absolutely wild. Consider taller growing Agaves to frame smaller growing Echeverias and Sedums. You can also plant these quite close together because most species are fairly slow growing and don’t mind being crowded.
Don’t forget to cover any exposed soil with some gravel to finish the look.
6. Plant A Cactus Rock Garden
For people who live in a hot, dry climate, a cactus rock garden is the perfect choice. Cacti come in a variety of shapes and sizes and can be used to create the most dramatic landscape. Plant them among rocks of varying shapes and sizes to simulate a desert landscape.
Make sure that cover the soil with fine gravel around the rocks and the cactus plants. Just be careful though because most cacti have very sharp spines. As a bonus, many cactus plants produce the most spectacular flowers usually in spring and summer.
7. Add A Water Feature To Your Rock Garden
Nothing is more relaxing than the sound of trickling water. Adding a water feature to your rock garden doesn’t have to be too difficult if you get creative. It can be as simple as having a stone bird bath with a solar-powered pump placed in it.
Or, you could get more creative and install a small pond and add a pump that circulates the water through a set of bamboo pipes. Even old stoneware planters can be used to send water cascading into your pond.
Of course, you want to surround the water feature with river pebbles, large rocks and even flat pieces of slate to create an interesting display. You can even add some waterlilies or other water-loving plants.
8. Add Some Decorative Interest To Your Rock Garden
You can be incredibly creative with a rock garden, especially if you’re fond of collecting stone or concrete ornaments. Even old earthenware or terracotta planters can be place strategically to provide a focal point in your rock garden.
Surround these decorative pieces with river rocks or gravel so that they stand out. Keep your plants fairly low-growing so that they don’t take the focus away from your garden features. This could also work well in a cottage style rock garden because you could plant colorful annuals that you replace once the season is over.
9. Create Raised Beds In Your Rock Garden
A rock garden doesn’t have to be reserved for just growing ornamental plants. By building raised garden beds and filling them with good quality top soil and compost, you can even grow vegetables in your rock garden. This is one way to deal with rocky ground while still being able to grow some of your own food.
In addition, you can supplement your raised garden beds with large terracotta pots that will look stunning sitting on the light-colored gravel and filled with lovely greens. You can even get dwarf fruit trees that are perfectly happy growing in large pots. Just remember that terracotta pots will dry out quite quickly so you’ll have to water them often.
10. Create A Striking Oasis With Mass Plantings
If you intersperse areas of river stones or large-sized gravel with large rocks of varying sizes, you’ll have open spaces for mass plantings of the same species. This works quite well and gives a more uniform look to your garden.
For some added interest, throw in some low flowering plants to add a spot of color here and there.
11. Create A Tropical Feel
People who live in tropical or sub-tropical climates can add a more tropical feel to their rock gardens with the plants that they choose. Instead of choosing popular perennials and succulents, opt instead for tropical plants such as bromeliads, dracaenas and even rubber trees, however rubber trees can be toxic to cats and other animals.
Tropical plants also come in an array of different colors that can be used to add an interesting effect. There are even some plants that are variegated, like variegated banana plants, to add even more interest. These plants blend beautifully with different sized rocks and a covering of gravel over the soil.
12. Create An Arid Desert Landscape With Drought-Tolerant Plants
If you have an area in your garden that’s hard to water or you live in a dry climate, a desert-inspired rock garden is ideal. Place large rocks strategically around your garden and surround them with gravel.
Discover drought-tolerant plants that are endemic to your region and plant them among the larger rocks. Keep the plants fairly low-growing to duplicate the look of the desert and intersperse with just a handful of taller-growing species.
13. Try For The Minimalist Look
If you don’t have much time to spend in the garden but you still want something that will look attractive, why not go for the minimalist look. Cover your rock garden with large river stones or gravel and then just place the odd small plant here and there.
You can even go for totally clean lines, by strategically placing some large flat paving stones and putting a potted plant on each one. This is the ultimate in super modern and low-maintenance gardening and still looks great.
14. Add Some Stylish Seating To Your Rock Garden
There’s no point creating a modern and stylish rock garden if you can’t sit and enjoy it. So, remember to add some stylish seating to your rock garden area. Choose seating with weather-resistant covers or cushions that you can put away after you’ve finished using them. You can even add a nice storage chest that can hold the cushions when you’re not using them.
A rock garden is the perfect low-maintenance garden for many different landscapes. There are plenty of great ideas for creating a modern rock garden. Depending on where you live, you can use native plants that are endemic to your region to create the best low-maintenance garden that will suit your style and your climate.