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How To Build A Rockery - Part 1

Dec 6, 2007
A poorly designed and constructed rockery looks like a pile of stones. A good one is a combination of stones and soil deliberately constructed to recreate rocky outcrop usually found in mountainous areas. To complete the effect, brightly coloured alpine plants and shrubs are planted in the tiny gaps between the stones. A carefully built rockery should require a little attention once it has been planted out, except for occasional weeding.

In these forthcoming articles I'm going to give you some great individual tips

The ideal site for a rockery is on a slight gradient - don't choose and area which is too steep otherwise the soil could easily be washed away by the occasional down pour. It should be open to the sun and in a position which protects in from prevailing winds. And if you can keep it well away from trees, especially the deciduous variety which shed their leaves in winter, so much the better. If you have a location in the mind that fits none of these criteria, don't despair; one the most attractive features of a rock garden is that it can be constructed almost anywhere.

The basic building technique is deceptively simple. First a shallow hole, the same size as the rockery, is dug out to provide solid foundations. The hole is then filled with alternating layers of stone and a carefully graded mix of topsoil and gravel. However, don't be fooled into thinking that all there is to rockery building is piling one stone on top of the other and then scattering some soil around. Great care must be taken, both in providing the site with adequate drainage and in positioning the rocks to create the desired 'rocky outcrop' effect.

Planning the Rockery

The rockery I built is ideal for a small or medium size garden plot. Built to a wedge shaped pattern, it is roughly three metres wide with its highest point 400mm above ground level.

If you want a different size of rockery, you can easily adjust the basic plan and consequently the amount of each materal required. Indeed, you could have a rockery of practically any size. The only governing factor - for stability as well as appearance - is that it should not be too high. As a rough guide, total height (measured from ground level to the highest point) should never be more than half the diameter of the base.

Good drainage is essential for a successful rockery, especially if the ground is flat. A light sandy soil on top gravel is ideal: any surplus rainwater will quickly be carried away underground. If you want to build on a thick impervious soil like clay there is more of a problem. These soils do not drain freely and you could find that your rockery becomes a sticky, unmanageable mess after a rain strom.

Summary

Hopefully I've got you started thinking about how your going to plan your rockery, and with a little luck your not going to jump right in and start plonking down stones. Next time we'll continue to look at soil types and on how to obtain all the materials you require.
About the Author
Johan Nickson is an expert in gardening at Makita Power Tools.
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