Low Maintenance Gardening (Part 2): Rock Garden

2 Materials
5 Days

Part two of Low Maintenance Gardening describes another phase of our dry creek bed project.

I very briefly talked about the sustainability of tearing out the grass and replacing it with a dry creek bed in Part 1. Building a rock garden continues with our goal to reduce maintenance and increase sustainability in our yard: the plantings are all drought tolerant and don't require added watering to keep them thriving. A rock garden is a great way to put water conserving into practice!
Once we had the dry creek bed in place, the corner of our garden where the fences intersect needed some interest. I didn't want to fill in that corner with cedar or evergreens as I'm not too fond of them. Instead, we built a rock garden to complement the back corner of our tiny back yard.

To get a sense of the area we had to work with, here's an overhead shot of the corner of the yard where we built our rock garden.
To start construction, we first built backer boards to be placed against the fencing to contain the soil to the height we wanted to raise rock garden. Hubs decided to build it in one piece in the garage and then move it into the backyard as one unit. He used galvanized metal strapping and corner braces to hold it all together (in addition to glue).
Hubs buried the backer board below the fence line and drove some wooden stakes in front of it to keep it secure, making sure it was level. He didn't screw it into the fence itself because it backed onto two of our neighbours' backyards and it needed to be independent in case they ever decided to repair or replace any of the fencing.
We dry stacked boulders in a semi-circular pattern spanning from one corner of the backer board to the other (you can see the shape on the overview of our plan below).
Then we stacked on the second row of boulders. We recessed this second row further into the rock garden than we placed the first row by adding soil underneath to support it along the back edges. We wedged the boulders together like a jigsaw puzzle, however we didn't use any glue. We weren't too fussy with the esthetics of stacking the stones because we wanted it to look rustic and time worn. We filled in the entire space with dirt (keeping below the level of the backer board).
In between the cracks in the rocks, we packed in more dirt so we could plant some succulents.
We planted a miniature Ginko tree and the rest of the plantings went in (all low maintenance and drought resistant plants). Surprisingly, the Ginko tree is drought tolerant after the first three years too!

As you can see in the bottom picture below, the succulents filled in the crevices between the rocks beautifully, but some of the other plants spread too much and crowded out the others. The white billowy culprit you see below is called 'Snow in Summer'. It looks beautiful spilling over the edge, but only in moderation so each spring I have to pull most of it out to scale it back.
Over the years, I've experimented with switching up the plants as well as the 'decor' in and around the rock garden. One year I added a sitting frog on a concrete base to give a bit of height interest. You can also see the chair planter nestled over the fern to the right of the rock garden.
To help keep the 'Snow in Summer' at bay, I introduced these creepers. They also spill over the edges to soften the hard rock.
Once the rock garden was done, we turned our attention to finishing the dry creek bed (as you saw in Part 1):
Rock garden complete; now onto the dry creek!
The south east corner of our backyard went from a lonely patch of grass to this lush green space.
The dry creek bed and rock garden have really added a wow factor to the garden! For more wow factor, be sure to check out my other garden posts at Birdz of a Feather. Here's a sample of just a few of our posts: I'll show you how to build trellises and privacy screens; and
A coordinated mirror and shelf to expand any small outdoor space and planter ideas (search for Mirror Mirror on the Fence and Creative Planter Ideas, respectively at my blog link):
For more photos, visit our blog (link under this post where you see our logo).

UPDATE: If you haven't heard our news, Birdz of a Feather has been nominated for an Amara Award in the Best DIY & Home Improvement (International) category. Voting is open until September 19th, 2018. Show us some ❤ by  casting a vote! Your vote will help get us to the shortlist :)

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Suggested materials:

  • Boulders  (Stone yard)
  • Cedar  (Big box store)

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Want more details about this and other DIY projects? Check out my blog post!


Have a question about this project?

3 of 13 questions
  • Lori
    on Aug 11, 2018

    I love the corner rock garden. I have an area just like this that needs some work, however, it's a shady corner. What plants did you use?


  • Hope
    on Aug 15, 2018

    Hi. Can you tell me what kind of software/program you used to make your Garden Plan..? I could really use something like that to help me design areas around our house.


  • Anna Ibarra
    on Aug 15, 2018

    Can this rock garden be done in a shaded area? My whole back yard is practically shaded.

    • Birdz of a Feather
      on Aug 15, 2018

      Yes, definitely Anna! You would be surprised how many drought tolerant shade plants there are out there. You could plant some mini hostas (large ones would just take over!). Bugleweed is a lovely ground cover - we have that in our own rock garden now spilling over the front and it produces a lovely purple flower in spring (see the pic attached). Others are Spurge, Columbine, Coral Bells (another favourite). I could go on and on, but the choices are many; do a google search or ask your local nursery expert to help you choose :)

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