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What is a Rockery?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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A rockery is a landscaping feature which is made by arranging rocks and plants, often in a way which mimics a mountainous or alpine environment. In the West, rockeries have been popular since at least the 17th century, when they were introduced to Europeans from Asia. In Japan and China, the art of creating rock gardens is over one thousand years old; some very fine examples of rockeries can be seen in these nations. Installing a rockery is relatively easy, although you may want to consult a landscaper who can help you with subtleties of placement and arrangement which will make the rockery more visually striking.

As the name implies, the base of a rockery is rocks. Commonly, a rockery is built on an elevated or rough region of the garden, to emphasize the natural features of the land. When a rockery is built on a flat spot, many gardeners like to build the spot up before placing rocks, to give the rockery differing levels which will create more visual texture. Typically, several very large stones are used as anchoring stones in a rockery, with smaller stones filling in the gaps, and very fine sand or gravel for details.

Once the rocks have been arranged, gardeners select plants. Alpine plants are commonly used in rockeries since they are adapted to dry conditions and they enjoy rocky, sandy soil. Most alpine plants are also small, so while they will flourish and grow, they will not overwhelm the rocks. Some rockeries also feature small trees and shrubs or bonsai, and water features like fountains, pools, and waterfalls are not uncommon in a rockery.

While the thought of a garden of rocks and small plants might seem kind of bland, a rockery can be stunningly beautiful when it is well laid out. The site can showcase local rock and plant species, and it can serve as a place of contemplation and relaxation. The small details of a rockery garden force people to approach it and interact with it if they want to appreciate its beauty, making rockery gardens more interactive and interesting than washes of color from big, splashy plants.

The setting of a rockery garden can vary. Some people like to surround their homes with a rockery garden, especially if they are trying to conserve water, since rockeries lend themselves to low water gardening. Others prefer to install a rockery in a larger garden, typically close to a path or structure so that people can see it. In a big, rambling garden, a rockery can be a pleasant and refreshing surprise, providing a counterpoint to lush greenery.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a HomeQuestionsAnswered researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments
By anon31523 — On May 06, 2009

What are the most common types of rocks used in rockeries?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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