4 Rock Garden Themes and Their Characteristics

A rock garden is a landscaped garden seeking to recreate a mountainous region, characterised by an arrangement of rocks, stones and boulders with low growing plants, shrubs and flowers delicately planted in between the stones.

As well as being a garden that requires very little maintenance, they are elegant and impactful, making them increasingly popular.

While most of the landscaping would realistically be outsourced to a specialist gardener, there is much joy to be found in compiling your plant choices and concepts.

“A garden is a grand teacher. It teaches patience and careful watchfulness; it teaches industry and thrift; above all it teaches entire trust” – Gertrude Jekyll

Themed rock garden ideas

Japanese rock garden

rock garden

Japanese rock gardens or Zen gardens are miniature landscapes of carefully placed rocks and streams with some plants, mosses and pruned trees which originally served the Zen Buddhist monasteries in Japan as a place to invoke deep thought and meditation.


Characterised by the white gravel that is carefully raked around the featured rocks or shrines to represent ripples of water inspiring fluidity and contemplation on the meaning of life. As the Zen philosophy is defined by meditation and following one’s intuition, the Zen garden implies individuality, making each one an expression of the interpretations of one’s life by combining the elements traditionally characterising the rock garden.

Alpine rock garden

rock garden

Alpines are plants that grow at high altitude and can tolerate extreme temperatures. Although there are many different kinds, most are evergreen making these an addition to your garden that you can enjoy all year round. Succulents are relatively unusual and are becoming increasingly popular. Also trailing flowering plants like Aubretia come in many colour varieties making it a fun family of colours to weave in between the grey rocks.

Desert garden

rock garden

If your home is geographically in warm, dry and more arid regions, seeking inspiration from your surroundings is a great way of determining what plant species will grow well. Cacti, succulents and other drought-tolerant plants are perfect. Furthermore, in dry regions the natural rock is often being more red in colour, this would lend itself to creating a brightly coloured feature wall as a backdrop.

Tropical rock garden

rock garden

Ferns and palm trees are low maintenance and have a large variety of species making them an intriguing staple to your tropical rock garden.

With the tropics being characterised by lush green overgrown plants and vibrant flowers, the ability to add climbers to a tropical rock garden would suit well. Adding a lily pond, housing koi carp fish, surrounded by rocks and floral perennials, are a great focal point.

Tips when choosing plants for rock gardens

Once you have decided on your preferred rock garden theme, choosing authentic plants would be ideal but if you are diversifying their origin, source small and delicate dwarf varieties of plants to stay true to the purpose of recreating a small-scale mountain range.

Evergreen shrubs, dwarf trees, flowering bulbs and herbaceous perennials come back year after year and as they grow and spread they add to the concept and weather the rocks beautifully.

Ideas of where to create a rock garden

  1. Creating a statement driveway

Designing a rock garden along a sweeping driveway sets a style precedent as you approach your home and an expectation of luxury home decor, with the added benefit of requiring little maintenance and being highly impactful .

Having a flowering tree such as a magnolia or cherry blossom surrounded by rocks is a great adaptation to the traditional rock garden, it serves as a majestic and uplifting focal point, without distracting from the rock garden theme.

  1.  Zoning in large gardens

In large gardens, designing zones for different functions makes it usable for the entire family, not to mention a great entertaining space.

Rock garden ideas and elements to enhance the look and feel of your garden

  • Create a rock garden or dry river bed as edging alongside your lawn or around your house, effectively framing your home with rocks.
  • Larger rocks are great for concealing drainage channels and covers as well as adding elevation to your landscape.
  • Water features such as waterfalls, miniature river streams and ornamental bird baths are a source of tranquility and relaxation.
  • Surrounding your outdoor dining area with a rock garden creates an intimate setting for an alfresco gathering.
  • Garden art brings a level of sophistication to your outdoors.
  • Unify the look by choosing different colours or varieties of the same plant species.
  • Add decorative stone and ceramic plant pots along the walkway

“Gardening adds years to your life and life to your years” – Unknown

Terrariums: bringing the rock garden idea to the indoors

rock garden

Terrariums are glass containers often the size of a fish bowl with soil and plants inside. They symbolise fertility, creativity and hope. These are wonderful projects to do with your children as it is a soothing and therapeutic exercise while bringing life and greenery to your home.

Placing a well-designed terrarium to your dining or coffee table adds a whimsical element to your home. Hanging terrariums are beautiful when hung by a window, while a collection of wall terrariums make a beautiful live feature wall without damaging your interior walls.

“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow” – Audrey Hepburn

To enjoy a beautifully designed garden, regardless of its size is a joy in life to be treasured. To gaze at delicate blooming flowers while the water trickles between the rocks and down the stream is both therapeutic and nostalgic.

Rock gardens allow your mind to wander in the most tranquil of ways. Therefore, take your time when producing this masterpiece, the journey can be as magical as it’s completed state.