Rock Garden Design in the Midwest

at a botanical garden with plants htat have been planted in rocks

The Rock Garden is a common gardening style in the mountainous regions of the world. This style favors a wide variety of low-growing plants growing between boulders, gravel, and natural stone. The plants used commonly have low water needs or are native plants. While not a common style of garden in the Midwest, there is no reason it cannot be done. Soil should be well drained but not overly rich, and traditionally rock garden beds are in full sun.

Rock gardens are planted with a mixture of dwarf evergreens and deciduous shrubs, as well as a large number of perennials and bulbs planted in small groupings. The small groupings allow for a mixture of color, form, and texture.

Dwarf evergreens come in shades of green, blue, and yellow and provide winter interest. The forms of dwarf evergreens vary from conical and upright, like Juniperus communis ‘Pencil Point’, to low-mounding or spreading like Tsuga canadensis ‘Cole’s Prostrate’. The texture on evergreens tends to be fine or medium.

Deciduous shrubs provide interest in their flowers, fruits, leaves, and stems. Dwarf cultivars of Berberis thunbergii have yellow, purple, orange, or rosy red leaves during the summer and red fruit during fall and winter. There are endless forms, textures, and colors of deciduous shrubs that can be used in a rock garden setting.

Perennials and bulbs are the most widely used plants in the rock garden. These low-growing plants provide interest throughout the season, from early spring (like Narcissus ‘Derringer’) to late fall (Sedum ‘Thundercloud’). Groundcovers like Thymus pseudolanuginosus and grasses like Sporobolus heterolepis are right at home in Rock Gardens as well.

If you would like to see a real-life example of what the Rock Garden style looks like, visit our Hillside Garden at Reiman Gardens – opening soon!

By Lindsey Smith – Collections Curator