Erinus alpinus

How to make a rock garden

A guide on how to build a rock garden and which alpine plants will work best

Before planning your own, take a look at some great rock gardens, such as the Tromsø Botanic Garden, Norway or the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. Wherever possible use local materials for your rock garden so your design harmonises with the landscape and don’t use rocks sourced from endangered habitats.

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Roses are gathered early in the morning before the sun burns off the essential oils.
© Andrew Montgomery

After clearing the site for the rock garden leave it for six to 12 months before planting, to eradicate perennial weeds. Create planting pockets of different compost mixes and sizes to increase the range of plants you can grow on your new rock garden, and plant slightly proud to allow topping with a 5cm layer of grit around the plants, which will act as a mulch.

Rosette plants need winter protection from rain with a pane of glass or cloches; cushion plants are particularly susceptible and fallen leaves, which cause rotting, should be removed from the rock garden. Watering is rarely needed.

When restoring a rock garden, decide early what you want to keep and what you want to remove. It is easier to start with a clear area, but sometimes leaving an established tree or shrub in place can lend a sense of history and stop everything from looking too new. Remove roots, dig over the soil and add copious volumes of grit. Reposition and reset sunken stones and create planting bays, then use old planting lists if they are available, remembering that newer cultivars are often better performers.

For more about alpine plants head to our feature on Kevock Garden Plants near Edinburgh. 

Best alpine plants that are also good for a rock garden

1

Dianthus ‘Nyewoods Cream’

Dianthus 'Nyewoods Cream'
© Jason Ingram

This compact, late spring-flowering alpine bears exquisitely perfumed, creamy-white blooms that turn blush pink before they fade. Ideal for the edge of raised beds or retaining walls. 7cm.

2

Saxifraga ‘Ailsa Ruth’

Saxifraga 'Alisa Ruth'
© Jason Ingram

A prolific flowerer, with subtly arching stems, this plant is named for Kevock Garden Plants nursery’s founders David and Stella Rankin’s granddaughter. 40cm. RHS H4.


3

Erinus alpinus

Erinus alpinus
© Jason Ingram

Forms a low mat covered with pink or white flowers, well suited to growing in narrow gaps between plants or in a stone wall. 10cm. AGM. RHS H6.

4

Helianthemum x sulphureum ‘Cupreum’

Helianthemum x sulphureum 'Cupreum'
© Jason Ingram

With bright-orange flowers, this alpine plant is at its happiest in a sun-baked position in a rock garden, or at the front of a raised bed. 20cm. RHS H4.

5

Saxifraga ‘Kath’s Delight’

Saxifraga 'Kath's Delight'
© Jason Ingram

Named for the exceptional alpine grower Kath Dryden, it forms a wonderful silvery mound with cascades of white flowers. Grown en masse, they create a beautiful, ethereal waterfall. 20cm. RHS H4.

6

Lewisia Brynhyfryd hybrids pink-flowered

Lewisa Brynhyfryd Hybrids
© Jason Ingram

A pink-flowered selection from a hybrid group with flowers in shades that range from coral, through violet pink and magenta, to pale lemon and white, these drought-tolerant evergreens need protection from winter wet. So bear in mind if using for your rock garden. 20cm. RHS H4.

7

Sempervivum ‘Kramer’s Spinrad’

Sempervivum 'Kramers Spinrad'
© Jason Ingram

A tiny succulent with green, red-tipped leaves that are covered in spidery webs and form neat clumps of rosettes that looks great in any rock garden. 5cm. RHS H5.

8

Oxalis ‘Ione Hecker’

Oxalis lone Hecker
© Jason Ingram

Its beautiful foliage is a perfect foil for the inky throated flowers that close when the sun goes down. 5cm. AGM. RHS H4.

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Plants were chosen from Kevock Garden Plants in Edinburgh. Read our feature on the nursery.