Rock gardens have a rocky history with this gardener

I have nurtured a rock garden on a sunny slope near my back door for the past three years. It was beginning to fill in and become something that reflected the effort I had applied.

That was then. Before broken pipes, before busted concrete, before removed decking boards, and before plumbers, not gardeners, dug into my rock garden.

This spring, I will start all over again.

I’m lucky. I have the rocks. When starting from scratch, they can be expensive to purchase. Look around before buying – you might find a spot that is being cleared, and the owner would happily share stones.

Remember, they can be heavy. This is the time to recruit help or split the project over several days.

When placing the stones in the ground, I like the alpine approach. This means the rocks look as though they have appeared naturally after soil has washed away over time. This also means the whole rock is rarely exposed. Ideally, it will look as though just a tip of the stone is exposed, and the rest is underground.

Using rocks or stones that have the same feel or are in the same color family will also add to the natural look. Remember to mix up the stone sizes.

Chances are, you will need to add soil to the rock garden. Most plants that thrive in a rock garden like an organic well-draining soil mix. I used garden soil mixed with a soil additive to ensure healthy plants.

Now for the fun part. Picking plants to grow in your new alpine garden.

The spot where my rock garden is located gets direct sun most of the afternoon. I need hardy sun-loving plants. I had success with lavender planted near the edge. After many tries in several locations, it was happy there with lots of sun, and because of the rocks, the soil stayed dry. I will plant it again.

I also had creeping blue spruce planted near the top. It was beginning to cascade down over the stones. This evergreen gave the garden color all year long. To keep the color blue in other spots of the small garden I added a clump of blue fescue. The 12-inch high spiky grass was a fun contrast to the low creeping spruce.

Hens and Chicks are a nice addition to rock gardens. Tuck them into crevices, and they will be happy. The hens will produce chicks that will grow to ramble through the spaces. Sedums will also thrive in the well-draining soil.

This time around, I will add creeping phlox. The late spring blooms can be blue, pink, purple, white, or red. The color will last up to three weeks and attract butterflies and hummingbirds.

I’m a big fan of creeping and woody thyme. Both of these should work if planted with the rocks. Over time, the plants will grow to cover rocks and the spaces in between.

Of course, there are many other plants to consider for the alpine rock garden. I might even add lamb’s ear. Herbs could also be added to give the space a pleasant aroma and help keep pests away.

The aftershocks of my late December plumbing palooza will continue well into the summer. My garden shed is a disaster, with everything shoved into a mountain in the far corner. Indoors, despite months of cleaning, I am still finding surfaces covered in construction dust.

The calendar says April, and after a few tears and sleepless nights, I am ready to begin anew. With energy and time, this year’s spring cleaning and planting will bring about a fresh start in the storage areas and in the rock garden.