Beautiful Back Yard Landscape With Stones And Evergreens

Inspiring Rock Garden Ideas For Your Backyard

Michelle Giorlando7-mInute read
June 17, 2022

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Creating a rock garden in your outdoor space is an excellent way to add some low-maintenance character. Whether you add a tiny, simple rock feature or a sprawling, multilevel garden, your yard will level up in interest.

Let’s look at different rock garden ideas to consider and then dig into the steps on how to make a rock garden.

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Rock Garden Landscaping Ideas And Designs

Rock gardens are low maintenance and drought tolerant, making them a good choice for nearly any climate. Adding a rock garden to your existing flower beds can add a pop of visual interest! There are tons of rock garden landscaping ideas and design elements, and you can tailor every one of them to your space and the level of effort you’d like to put into it.

If you don’t know where to start, think about connecting with top-rated landscaping services in your area. These professionals can help you get started on designing your dream rock garden.

Here are some popular design ideas to consider as you plan your landscape.

Traditional zen rock garden.

Find Your Zen

Japanese rock gardens, also called Zen gardens, are a simple, impactful feature. They tend to be highly stylized spaces that evoke a sense of calm and nature. They are intentionally austere and are intended to create a sense of tranquility and peace. They’re designed to imitate parts of nature, such as curved paths of sand to represent the movement of water. It’s important to understand and respect the aspects, meanings and intentions behind this type of garden design to avoid cultural appropriation.

Modern small rock garden.

Try A Modern Look 

A simple, minimalist, modern rock garden might be the right choice for you, especially if your outdoor space is small.

A big aspect of a minimalist modern garden is clean edges. Define your modern garden space to keep it contained and simple. Consider materials like stone, wood and steel for your borders. Mixing textures is also a fun aspect that adds visual interest.

For your plants, consider different levels, such as pairing evergreens with moss. Modern garden design thrives on balance, so consider planting in groups of two, three, five or seven. Because a minimalist garden has fewer elements, choose each element with care, and look for that balance and mixture of color and texture.  

Rock lined pond in a garden.

Turn On The Water Features

Add some tranquility to your rock garden with a water feature! These not only provide soothing water sights and sounds, but the local birds will thank you:

  • Pond: whether you’ve got a minimal, modern garden or a wildly natural rock feature, a pond could be a welcome addition. You can buy pond kits and dig your own or have them professionally installed. Consider lining the outer edges of your pond with sturdy stones to give it a more natural look.
  • Koi pond: If you want to add the responsibility and beauty of pets to your garden, level up your pond with some koi. Your koi pond should be at least 3 feet deep, and you should consider adding a waterfall to circulate oxygen to your fish. You may also want to add water plants to help oxygenate the water.
  • Waterfall: Used in conjunction with a pond or by itself, a waterfall adds a lovely sight and sound to your garden. Pondless waterfalls will usually have a bed of gravel covering a basin to catch the water to recirculate it – it’ll fit right in aesthetically!
  • Water fountain: These come in a huge variety of designs and materials, so you can look for one that fits your garden’s vibe. You can add one to a pond or use it on its own to complement your space and add a little visual and auditory interest.
  • Bubbling container: This feature is the water fountain’s baby sister. Bubbling containers are small, making them a perfect addition to a smaller space. You can buy a pump and fountain and insert them into any size container. It’s moveable, too, so you can move it around till you find the best spot for it.
  • Bird bath: Add a specific place for birds to lounge in your garden. A good bird bath will be no deeper than 3 inches and have a non-slip surface. Consider adding rocks to the bottom of the basin to give the birds something to stand on and to blend in with the rock garden surroundings.
Rock garden with different sized rock slabs and small waterfall.

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Design With Different Shapes And Sizes

Designing with different types of rocks and pebbles will give your garden lots of visual interest. Flagstone and slate are flat, making them excellent additions to a pond’s edge, and they stack beautifully for waterfalls. Rounder rocks of varied sizes add dimension, and small, multicolored pebbles can fill in the gaps and add a variety of color.

Small rock garden interspersed with large boulders.

Build With Boulders

Rocks bigger than 10 inches in diameter are considered boulders. Using boulders in your garden design will give you a great base to work with. You can use them to line your garden beds, to define different areas, and to build a slope in your rock garden. Consider grouping boulders together and filling in the gaps with pebbles. You can also partially bury boulders for a more natural look.

Stone stairs lined with hedges and shrubs in a rock garden.

Climb Stone Stairs

If you’ve got a slope in your outdoor space, you may want to install stone stairs for practicality and aesthetics. The look and texture of stone will fit in seamlessly with a rock garden. The design is fairly flexible and can follow the natural slope of the ground. Stone stairs and steps are a good project to hire a professional to install – the weight of the large, flat stones alone makes them hard to maneuver, and a professional will know how to properly and precisely measure your space.

A pebbled pathway in the middle of a rock garden.

Walk On Pebbled Pathways

Gravel is a relatively inexpensive way to create defined paths in your outdoor space. You can keep them straight for a minimalist, modern look or curved to fit a more natural aesthetic.

Gravel or other small pebbles also make a great top layer for your rock garden itself. They fill in gaps between rocks while still allowing plants to grow. People often use gravel or pebbles as mulch in their rock gardens as well.

Rock garden with small succulents.

Save Room For Flowers And Succulents 

Add color and life to your rock gardens with different types of flowers and succulents. Depending on your climate, you can add cacti, mosses, succulents, sedums and flowers. Plants that spread are an excellent choice. Plant them in an orderly fashion for a balanced look, or scatter them about naturally. Flower beds within rock gardens add a pop of color. You can add mulch or pebbles to complete the look.

It's important when planning and executing your rock garden to leave space between rocks so that plants can grow! And if you plant perennials, make sure they have enough room to grow bigger year after year.

Xeriscaped rock garden.

Consider Xeriscaping Your Garden

Xeriscaping, aside from being an excellent word to say, is the practice of creating a garden that needs little to no outside watering. Choose drought-resistant plants for your rock garden that thrive in your climate without additional watering. You can also choose a spot in your yard that receives natural irrigation, such as a low spot. Mulch will also help conserve water.  

Modern flower bed with rocks next to porch.

Decorate Using Rock Flower Beds

If you don’t want to, or can’t, design a rock garden, you can still apply the aesthetics to your flower beds. This could be as simple as using pebbles for mulch instead of wood mulch. Consider lining your flower beds with a rock border to help define the space and add some visual interest.

You can also use rock flower beds to add character in otherwise plain spots, such as around the base of a tree. Make a circle around the trunk, plant your pretty blossoms, and add mulch. It’s a pretty way to elevate your space without a lot of work or money.

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How To Make A Rock Garden

Now that you’ve thought about all the different low-maintenance aspects and features that a rock garden design can add to your landscaping, it’s time to build it!

Step 1. Pick A Location

Your first step should be to decide where you want your rock garden. Do you want it in your front yard or backyard? In the sun or shade? Little features scattered around or one big garden? This will help you determine what plants you will add and how big you’re able to make it.

Once you determine your location, you can move on to the design.

Step 2. Decide On A Design

Your location will affect the design of your garden, so take that into consideration as you plan. Choose which features you’d like to incorporate and figure out which kind of design aesthetic you’d like to evoke. Do you want a minimal, austere garden or a wild scattering of rocks and plants in different levels and sizes?

Step 3. Gather Materials

Much like cooking, you’ll have an easier time if you gather all your equipment and materials before you begin. In terms of tools, you’ll need a shovel, trowel, wheelbarrow and tape measure at the very least.

For your materials, gather the rocks, soil and plants you’ll use, plus anything you’ll need to install any water features. You can buy rocks, soil, pebbles and plants at local stores or from landscaping companies, and landscaping companies will often deliver right to your driveway, which will save you a lot of backbreaking work!

Another place to source materials from is your local social media’s gardening group or marketplace. You’ll likely be able to get inexpensive or free plants and stones from folks who are renovating their own gardens.

Step 4. Prepare The Area

Get your garden area ready for action by removing any grass or existing plants. A cheap and easy way to suppress any future growth of unwanted grass or weeds is to first add a thick layer of newspapers or cardboard and cover it with new soil or mulch. This will block sunlight to the area and help avoid any future growth. The newspaper or cardboard will naturally decompose. You can also use weed blocking fabric to the same effect. 

Step 5. Install

Now it’s time to install your garden itself! This will vary by your design, but below are some common tips.

  • Start with the bigger, less attractive rocks as a base. Lay them down in whatever shape you choose.
  • Add a second layer of rocks to give it some height. This is where you can use the prettier rocks you want to feature.
  • Add soil in between the rocks to give your plants something to hold onto.
  • Add in your plants. Creeping varieties will spread, and choosing various hues will look great when paired with stones.
  • Add smaller pebbles to fill in the gaps.

The Bottom Line

Whether you want a tiny, simple feature or a sprawling, complicated rock garden, you can design one to suit your needs and the confines of your outdoor space. Rock gardens can create a sense of beauty, creativity, calm and tranquility, and they require little upkeep. Interested in more gardening tips? Check out our tips on environmentally friendly landscaping.

Fund your renovations with a cash-out refinance.

Get approved online now!

NMLS #3030

Michelle Giorlando

Michelle Giorlando is a freelance writer who lives in metro Detroit. When she's not writing about homeownership, finances, and mortgages, she enjoys performing improv, gardening, and befriending the wildlife in her yard.