The concept of Rock Gardening was something I learned at an early age. Our backyard was situated on a sandy dune on an island between the Mississippi and the Black Rivers. On the highest point of our yard, facing west, there was a very large pile of rocks, tossed there by the neighboring farmer, cleared from his potato field.
My Mom and Dad decided to take advantage of the rocks, constructing beautiful rock gardens which combined artful grouping of rocks with slabs of limestone from a local quarry. Planted among the rocks were the rock garden plant choice of the time (it was the 1970’s), creeping phlox. Phlox crept within and over the rocks and made a nice carpet of color in spring, and was followed by low growing perennials including herbs such as mint, creeping thyme and oregano, and a few brave annuals tucked into pockets of soil in between the rocks.
Flash 40 years forward, and I have a similar spot on a slightly sloping, south facing hill on our property. We have decided to transform a portion of this spot into a rock garden this year, making use of drought tolerant native plants from Prairie Nursery. Unlike the limited plant choices of the past, I have so many amazing native plants to choose for my new rock garden!
Due to the shallow soil that will be present among the rocks choosing native plants that are drought tolerant is the first step. Choose shallow rooted plants that can be tucked in between the rocks, or used in groupings around the rocks. Among the species we hope to use are Prairie Smoke, Lanceleaf Coreopsis, Ivory Sedge, Lavender Hyssop, Brown Eyed Susan, Prairie Blue Eyed Grass.
We plan on piling the rocks across the middle and base of the hill, to take advantage of water/moisture that flows down the hill after a rain. Rocks will be strategically placed to not only form the base for our garden, but to help hold the soil in place. Pea gravel will then be spread to add interest around the rocks.
A few other native species that will tolerate the dry, lean, shallow soils:
Sharing links to several great sites with tips on constructing your rock garden, thanks to Garden Brief and E-How:
Rock gardens using native plants chosen for drought tolerance, require very little care; perhaps a little weeding, and possibly adding soil over the years if needed. Rock gardens can be constructed on any scale; a small front yard garden, or an expansive back or side yard. It all depends on how much space, time and energy you can devote to the project. A rock garden, regardless of size, adds structure and beauty to any landscape!