Selecting Plants for a Rock Garden


When planning a planting scheme for an alpine or rock garden, take some time to find out the range of plants that will suit your soil and climate. If possible, visit an established garden or specialist nursery to study the features of the plants; the form, shape, overall growth habit and colour of fruits, stems and foliage is often just as important as the flowers.

With careful planning, your rock or alpine garden can become a feature that will provide interest all year round.

Providing Seasonal Interest

Always try to plan for as much seasonal variation as possible. For example:

  • Crocus (Crocus laevigatus 'Fontenayi') - flowers December
  • Iris (Iris histrioides 'George') - flowers February
  • Hardy cyclamen (Cyclamen hederifolium) - flowers August to October
  • Winter daffodil (Sternbergia lutea) - flowers September to October
  • Hinoki cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Nana Pyramidalis') - evergreen with golden foliage
  • Common juniper (Juniperus communis 'Compressa') - evergreen with compact grey green column

Adding Texture

Choose plants that vary in form and height and have unusual stems or leaves to add structure and texture to your planting scheme. Mixing dwarf shrubs or trees with trailing and spreading, cushion-forming alpines can create a great deal of visual interest. For example, try combining the stunning, deep blue flowers of mat-forming Chalk Milkwort (Polygala calcarea) with the silver, sword-shaped leaves of mountain daisy (Celmisia coriacea). Including plants that have contrasting leaf textures can be particularly eye-catching, such as the delicate, feathery leaves of Pulsatilla species against any of the fleshy, rosette-forming plants.

Match the Plant to its Position

You will also need to think about where you intend to position your plants. Some, such as the Himalayan Fleece flower (Persicaria affinis 'Donald Lowndes') thrive in terraces between rock strata, whilst others (e.g. spring gentian - Gentiana verna) prefer deep pockets of well-drained, gritty soil. Species such as lewisia (Lewisia cotyledon) are particularly well-suited to gravelly corners and nooks, especially the narrow crevices between vertical stone faces.