Planting a Hillside Rock Garden

Instead of viewing a slope in your yard as a landscape liability, consider it a great opportunity — a place to display a rock garden. Rock garden plants are quite beautiful, and growing them on a slope near a walkway gives you the opportunity to view them up close.

Your rock garden plan could combine plants, steps, and boulders — and can work in the backyard at the edge of a lawn or in front, right off of a sidewalk.

Keep the following in mind for creating this sort of rock garden:

  • The steps are stones. Use stones of different lengths for a more natural look. Choose stones with a smooth, flat surface, and put them in place firmly. Create planting pockets on the steps.
  • Riprap (large chunks of rock) helps the soil. Randomly stacking rocks of varying size is an economical way to retain soil on the slope — the steeper the hillside, the closer together you want the rocks to stabilize the soil effectively. Add planting pockets between the rocks to soften harshness.
  • Boulders add a natural touch. Keep them in scale, not too big or too small for the site.
  • Color and texture come alive. Typical rock garden plants are small and slow growing, offering a variety of textures that are best viewed close up. For color, include blooming perennials, such as lavender, coreopsis, and salvia.
  • Small trees and shrubs add beauty. Potential rock garden trees include dwarf arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis), dwarf hemlock (Tsuga canadensis), dwarf hinoki cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa), Japanese maple (Acer palmatum), and Mugho pine (Pinus mugo mugo). As for shrubs, try bog rosemary (Andromeda polifolia 'Nana'), dwarf heath (Erica), dwarf Japanese holly (Ilex crenata), dwarf junipers, and dwarf Scotch heather (Calluna vulgaris).
  • Small perennials bring bursts of color. Perennials that work well in a simple rock garden include bellflower (Campanula), Cranesbill (Geranium), Moonbeam coreopsis (Coreopsis verticillata 'Moonbeam'), primroses (Primula), thrift (Armeria), thyme (Thymus), and Yarrow (Achillea).
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