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29, Sep
How to make a rock garden. Creating an alpine hill

This article will be useful for beginners plant growers and all those who want to understand the classification of rocky gardens. If your dream is an alpine hill with your own hands on the garden plot – in this material we will “go all the way” step by step: from the choice of location and type of stones, to the nuances of caring for the plants. Let’s talk about the possible problems when decorating the yard with a rock garden.

An alpine rock garden is an imitation of a corner of the rocky landscape of the Alpine mountains. This type of landscaping emerged as a base and natural backdrop for collections of alpine plants during the era of the Romanticism appeal and the heyday of English landscape parks. Indeed, the delicate greenery and subtle froth of flowers look very poetic surrounded by massive stones.

Until recently, an alpine hill was virtually synonymous with the concept of landscape design. Recently, the terms “rockery”, “rockery”, “rock garden” have appeared in the wishes of customers. And while these garden elements are far from new, fashion periodically brings one of them to the forefront.

What is the difference between these types of landscape decor and how strictly is it?

In fact, all of these concepts are quite vague. And that’s a good thing. It is much more interesting when there is room for creativity. However, the difference between the types of slides and other stony elements of landscape design still exist.

  • A rockery is a broader concept. It combines garden compositions built on the basis of stones – large boulders of different sizes and small pebbles. Depending on the composition, scale and shape, on the stones and plants used, there are other types of rocky compositions.
  • Rocky hill – a small relief composition of stones and plants without reference to specific species.
  • Mountain slope and ravine – usually they are created on natural relief, supplementing it with decorative stones and combining them with plants.
  • Terraces – more often created on a natural slope, usually quite extensive. In this case, the stones are used to form tiered platforms, rather large in size. Each of them is used to create a separate plant composition, and all together they form a complete relief picture.
  • Dry creek is also a type of stony landscape feature. Uses a variety of scale and shape of stones – from flat stone slabs and small pebbles to decorate the channel to massive boulders that serve as accents on its banks.
  • Cascade – a composition that combines a relief rock and a water feature. Imitates a natural waterfall. With sufficient luck, the cascade may not be an imitation, but a decoration of a quite real stream on a relief site.
  • A cascade is a stony object of vertically buried thin slabs of stone with small gaps between them filled with earth. The result is a structure that reproduces the image of layered rock landscapes. Such compositions have come to us from the Czech Republic, and are therefore often referred to as Czech rocks.
  • Ruina – a structure imitating a partially collapsed, time-touched building, supplemented as if naturally braided with plants. Unlike the other compositions listed above, the ruin bears a visible man-made appearance, but it is also natural in its traces of time and the triumph of natural elements. Usually this construction requires space, but similar elements can also be used in very tiny gardens. An example of this is in the photo.
  • A rock garden is a composition of several large stones, pebbles and sand, sometimes supplemented with plants, going back to the Eastern philosophy and Japanese traditions of landscape art.

Again, this is not a strict classification. Features and characteristics of different types can be combined in a general composition. The main thing is that most stony landscape objects usually imitate the natural terrain, creating a corner of a mountain or rocky landscape on the site. And hence, when creating them, you can refer to the features of closer and more native natural landscapes, using the topography characteristic of them, stone and plants.

In addition, on a rocky site you can avoid imitation at all. Simply make the best use of the available resource. Often on such sites there is already a slide or slope, studded with massive boulders. You only have to adjust the composition and complement it with plants. Alpine hill with their own hands – why not?

Where to make an alpine hill

Natural slopes and ravines – an excellent basis for a composition of stones. In this case, the nature of the relief itself determines the position. Under him it is worth adjusting the placement of other objects on the site – so that they provide an overview of the composition.

If you create relief artificially, you have more freedom in the placement of the stony flower garden. Alpine slides and other rockeries look great on a flat plot that requires variety. They can be placed on a wide lawn, but so that the slide does not look alien, it is better to make it not rounded and symmetrical, and slightly elongated and even curved shape.

Think carefully about the scale – a rocky hill should not suppress, but also turn it into a pile of forgotten stones is not necessary. Since it is a stony flower bed that brings relief to a flat area, its lines should be complex and interesting. Provide for differences in height, tiering, and be sure to introduce a few accents – with the help of stones or plants. Alpine hill (photo above) imitates a natural landscape, so it is better to do it asymmetrical, and the stones are placed as naturally as possible.

Winning background for alpinaries – blind fences and solid hedges. But it would be good to place near them a couple of plant accents to diversify the background, to emphasize the perspective and thoughtfulness of the composition. An excellent place for a small stony flower bed will be all kinds of corners formed by architectural and engineering structures. Feel free to place it near bay windows, terraces, stairs, in the corners of the plot.

Placement of stony, the same alpine, hill or plain rockery determines their visibility. Will they be one-sided, as in a corner or a wall, or circular – when located on an open plane. Based on this, lay out the stones and plant plants.

rock garden

 Step-by-step instructions for building an alpine hill

1. Preparing the basis of the alpine hill

Alpine hill for all its decorative orientation – engineering construction, which requires an appropriate approach: planning, preparation of the base, careful execution of works. Take into account that the basis of an alpinarium – stones – have considerable weight.

In order for the stone composition created by you to retain its decorativeness and conceived form for many years, you need to lay a solid foundation. And in an absolutely literal sense. If this stage is neglected, the stones will gradually go into the ground under their own weight, and the hill will soon begin to settle and turn into a flat composition, not at all as beautiful as you would like it. And this applies not only to rocky slides, but also to flat flower beds with the inclusion of large stones.

It is very important to provide drainage, especially on clay soils and in low-lying areas. When planning an alpinarium on the plot, immediately think about how water will drain off. Relief slides can be an obstacle to natural drainage, and at their base will accumulate water. To avoid this, you need to trace the slope of the surface of the site and lay in the base of the drainage layer.

Having decided on the place of the stony flower bed and its shape, first mark it on the plane. Further action will depend on the type of rockery. For a flat, remove about 40 cm of soil (this figure may be more or less depending on the initial conditions – the nature of the base, the soils and the drainability of the site), lay the base with geotextile, backfill about 20 cm layer of gravel, backfill with geotextile, pour a layer of sand, then lay the ground. It is very important to thoroughly compact each layer. The base should be dense and strong.

When creating stony slides, you will need to additionally create artificial relief (if you do not use the natural reserves of your plot). For this purpose, on a flat plane after the construction of the drainage base is poured hill of the required shape of crushed stone. On top of it, again, it is covered with a layer of sand 10-20 cm and a 20-30 cm layer of soil.

To create a suitable base, it is better to begin the work in the fall. In this case, over the winter, the future rock garden will be able to settle naturally. Shrinkage of the soil is another factor that is often not taken into account. After all, not only stones are subject to the force of gravity. For this reason, an artificial hill should be created about a quarter higher than the planned slide.

2. Selecting stones for the alpine hill

While the base of your alpine hill is standing, choose stones for it. It’s best to use the same kind of stones to preserve the unity of the composition. After all, it is a stone will be a “collecting” element in the design of the slide and the background for plants. This will also give a commonality of colors. No two stones are the same, so your rock garden will not be boring in any case.

The most common rocks for rocky slides: granite, which has a wide variety of shades, basalt, tuff, limestone (softer in density, but also in color) and slate, thin layers of which are perfect for creating rocks. When choosing a stone, consider how it affects the soil. For example, granite acidifies it, which means that for most really alpine plants its proximity will be uncomfortable. If you use natural placers of granite on the site, plant on such a hill lovers of acidic soils.

 The form of the stones should also choose a consistent – with sharp edges or rounded, flat, elongated, pyramidal – it is desirable that the boulders have a common feature. But the size will need a variety – a few particularly large stones as “soloists”, massive boulders as the main filling, smaller stones of several sizes and pebbles or gravel for underlay and decoration.

3. Laying of stones for an alpine hill

Getting to the laying of stones, it is very important to understand what plants you want to plant and where. First, you need to immediately consider their combination with the stones – in shape, color, vertical or horizontal orientation. Secondly, take into account their needs, leaving between the stones the space needed for that particular type of plant.

Start at the bottom of the rockery, at the base of the rockery. Here you should create big, flat stones. Slowly work your way up, piling stones against each other and sinking them into the ground. Leave “pockets” for plants between the stones. Supplement the larger stones with smaller ones. The pebbles will come in turn at the end.

Immediately select a few of the largest spectacular stones, which will be the dominant. They should be installed as accents in the upper part of the alpine hill, but not necessarily directly on its top. There can also be two such accent centers. In this case, it is better to place them asymmetrically and make sure that they are not exactly the same size and shape. They should not enter into a visual dispute.

Install the stones firmly – it is better to spend time on additional tamping and balancing, so that the structure will be reliable. And immediately think about ease of maintenance, especially if the slide is large. You should be able to reach the top plants easily and safely.

When placing rocks, create isolated pockets for certain plants according to their needs. The size of such natural containers can vary and depends on how many plants you are going to plant, on the nature of their growth and root system, and on the compositional idea.

In addition, such an isolated structure with individual planting places – a special advantage of alpine slides. Thanks to it you can choose an individual soil mixture for those plants that need it. It also helps to greatly reduce competition between plants. Although some groundcovers are not able to stop even large boulders.

Make sure that the “crevices” between the rocks where you will plant your plants have good drainage. Water can easily stagnate in such stone cavities, even though the hill has a drainage base. Make sure the water has somewhere to go.

4. Selecting plants for an alpine hill

When choosing plants for the design of a rocky, including alpine, hill and placing them, you should be guided by the overall style of the flower bed and the image you are recreating.

For an alpine garden in a strict form, that is, a collection of exactly alpine plants, choose species originating from alpine meadows and slopes. When recreating the natural mountain landscape of another chosen region with its characteristic features, also take species typical of those places. They will help accurately convey the character of the relief and its lines, typical color combinations and shapes. Strict and very limited selection of species also requires Japanese rock gardens.

In other cases – such as a simple rockery, other landscapes and plain rockeries – the range of species can be thought of in a more relaxed way. Growing conditions and needs are, of course, worth considering, so mountain plants still make up a large part of stony flower beds. They are used to the limited size of the earth clod and grow well in small rocky crevices.

Take soil types into consideration, too, for the benefit of a rocky hill allows them to vary if necessary. Another feature of rocky terrain is that stones accumulate heat and then release it into the surrounding space. The earth clod of a small volume warms up well, but quickly freezes in winter. For this reason, plants of mountainous places, which are used to such conditions, are best suited for it.

Take into account also the location of the rockery, its sun exposure. Most alpine plants are light-loving, but prefer the shade in the midday hours. Eastern slopes or location in the shadow of large stones are optimal for them. Setting up a rock garden in the shade, choose shade-tolerant species such as hostas, Tiarella, Myosotis, ferns, mosses and some groundcover plants such as periwinkles, Pulmonaria and geichera. Also suitable are clumps of species planted as groundcover, such as maidenhair grapes.

Be aware of the periodicity of flowering. There are many spring-flowering plants among the “alpines”. It is also worth supplementing the alpine garden with species that bloom at other times to make it look decorative all season long.

When selecting plants, think about the relief you want to achieve. Beautiful compositions can be built and on the only groundcover plants, which seem to flatter to the stones, spread out on the hill in colored waves.

Which plants might be suitable?

If you want to create a more diverse, pronounced relief, you can use plants of several groups, differing in height and growth pattern.

  • Dominants are relatively large plants that will help to further emphasize verticality. These are conifers with a vertical orientation, large bushy species – Rhododendrons (Rhododendron), tall peepers (Sedum), chrysanthemums (Chrysanthemum). These species are placed in the accent points of the alpine hill next to the stones or on their own.
  • Lush plants and plants with a horizontal orientation give a pronounced mass of greenery and create a fairly large plant masses. These are creeping forms of conifers and other shrubs, low lush shrubs – spirea (Spiraea), barberry (Berberis), low Japanese quince (Chaenomeles maulei), bushy pentapillary (Pentaphylloides fruticosa), mahonia (Mahonia). It’s a good idea to place them at the bottom of the slide and at several points to create accents in the background.
  • Cushion-shaped plants create spectacular expressive bumps. They often produce fairly tall flower stalks during flowering. These are carnations (Dianthus), Arabis, Armeria, Saxifraga. This can also include varieties of conifers and shrubs with a compact round shape.
  • Groundcovers create a frame of an alpine hill, filling the space with a carpet of green leaves and flowers. Aubrieta, Phlox, Thyme, Genista, Gypsophila are perfect for this purpose. However, be careful: most of them are strong aggressors. Unless you’re creating a slide with only groundcover species, place them so that they don’t crowd out their neighbors. Also, these plants have a tendency to tighten the stones and smooth out the topography. This gives a beautiful texture, but if this process is not monitored, groundcovers can completely obscure the beauty of the stones.  

Remember that decorative rockeries are built on a combination of stone and plant textures – they must complement each other. Watch the balance of the composition: a slide often loses its decorativeness, the stones can be “lost” among the grown greenery. Remember the balance.

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