An Easy-Care Rock Garden—Designing With Durable and Delightful Perennials

Rock Garden
  1. Aurinia saxatilis 'Citrina' (basket of gold)
  2. Cerastium tomentosum (snow in summer)
  3. Dianthus gratianopolitanus (cheddar pink)
  4. Phlox subulata (moss phlox)
  5. Sagina subulata (Irish moss)
  1. Sedum telephium ssp. ruprechtii 'Hab Gray' (stonecrop)
  2. Sempervivum tectorum (hens and chicks)
  3. Sisyrinchium angustifolium
  4. Yucca filamentosa (Adam's needle)
  5. Zauschneria californica (California fuchsia)

Rock-garden plants have a way of capturing the imagination with their delicate features and subtle adaptations to harsh—usually alpine—environments. Beautiful flowers, interesting foliage, and unusual textures make them irresistible additions to the sunny, well-drained garden. Because of their small size, they are also ideal candidates for the urban garden, giving city gardeners the option of growing a wide range of plants in even the most confined of spaces. Once established, many rock-garden plants are also quite drought tolerant and help gardeners conserve water and cut down on labor.

Yet alpines often fail to thrive in climates with hot, humid summers or even very cold winters. They can be frustratingly hard to grow. Sometimes choice (and expensive) rock plants will survive for a few seasons, only to be done in by a week of high temperatures. Of course, many rock-garden enthusiasts welcome this challenge and spend long hours re-creating ideal alpine conditions and nursing their favorite plants through unfavorable periods. But for many gardeners attracted by the scale and feeling of a rock garden, something more resilient is called for.

Above is a simple design for a rock garden featuring tough, long-lived, and attractive perennials. All these plants can tolerate a wide range of soil conditions and temperatures. Nonetheless, lots of sunlight and a fast-draining soil are essential to their survival. For seasonal interest, plant bulbs such as miniature narcissus (Narcissus species) and species tulips (Tulipa species) and annuals like Argemone mexicana (prickly poppy) among the perennials.

Megan T. Ray is curator of the Rock Garden and Plant Family Collection at Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

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