What plants grow best in a rock garden?

Planting a rock garden is one of those projects that really allows the gardener to become an artist.

cyclamen in rock garden

Texture and color are paramount when planning a rock garden, and beyond a few conventions, the yard becomes an uncarved piece of marble, bracing for the sculptor’s creative touch. The touch must be sensitive, however, because the objective is to simulate an alpine environment. Alpine ecosystems exists in the outcrops above the tree line in mountainous areas. The air is too thin to support trees, and the alpine plants thrive in this cool rocky environment. One cannot create the thin atmosphere, but alpine plant life, rock formations, and soil conditions are within the range of the home gardener’s spade.

The choice of rock largely depends on local availability, and for the sake of thriftiness, local rock is the best choice. Porous rocks like sandstone and tufa are preferred by the plants, limestone works well in rural areas, but will bleach in the more polluted areas near cities. The stones should be of various sizes up to about 60 lbs.(27 kg). The plants will not like anything smooth like granite. According to conventional standards for aesthetically pleasing rock gardens, one never mixes types of rock or uses broken concrete (concrete will also be more susceptible to environmental conditions).


There are a few things to consider when choosing alpine plants for a rock garden. If the intention is to have a garden feature that is interesting throughout the seasons, plants chosen must bloom at various times and provide color when others have faded. Choosing shrubbery and small trees with interesting architecture will ensure that a rock garden is interesting even through the bleakest winter. The trees and shrubs will affect the overall look, providing height and shape to the rock garden. The flowering and carpeting plants will add most of the color.

Early in winter, Helleborus will be the reliable source of color, but as winter winds down, Iris, daffodils, and crocus will start to peak out from behind the stones. Choosing spring plants requires moderation and keeping in mind the overall objective of an architecturally interesting feature– clematis and ramonda are great spring flowers for the rock garden. The summer offers similar abundance of choice, but low-growing bright flowers like phlox and dianthus work best. For fall, carpeting plants, cyclamen, and early crocus plants do really well.