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Plants for Rock Gardens

When selecting your plants, make sure they are right for your climate and exposure.

When selecting your plants, make sure they are right for your climate and exposure.

When planting a rock garden, select a variety of plants so as to have a constant show of colour — unless you want to make a spectacular display in a particular season.

Plants for the rock garden should need a minimum of care while tolerating harsh growing conditions. First, dwarf evergreen shrubs may be used to give a permanent quality to the rock garden. Hardy native ferns, perennial flowering plants, succulents and spring-flowering bulbs add interest and colour. Avoid the use of large masses of plants or those with oversized blooms. Annual flowers should be used sparingly, especially such common species as petunias, or the large-flower varieties of aster, marigold, or zinnia, many of which will self-sow and may squeeze out other plants.

In subtropical areas (of South Africa and elsewhere) you can use any of a wide range of flowering plants, ferns and cycads that need warmth and humidity.

In temperate regions, almost any plants will thrive in a rock garden, provided they do not grow too large.

Among the popular plants that are frequently used in rock gardens and informal rockeries in South Africa and other areas having a Mediterranean type climate include aloes, gazanias, proteas, pelargoniums, cacti, ericas, portulacca varieties, small conifers and many of the indigenous bulbs.

The table below contains a list of about 70 plants deemed to be appropriate for rock gardens. As the followers of gardeningisezee.com are spread from Japan in the East to California in the West it would be wise to see this list as a starting point for developing your own planting list. Check what is appropriate for your own climate or zone. Ask local garden clubs and nurserymen for guidance. Start building your plan around plants that are known to thrive in your area. If possible include plants that are native to your area. Don’t be afraid to include the many ornamental grasses or even low growing local grasses that can add interesting colours or textures. However, these may need lots of management to prevent them from spreading or strangling other plants.

Succulent plants in a South African rock garden.

Succulent plants in a South African rock garden.

Plant Name Exposure Soil Preference Flower Colour Remarks
Ajuga reptansCarpet bugle Shade to part shade Well drained Blue, purple Spreading ground cover.
Atropurpurea Shade to part shade Well drained Violet-blue Bronze-purple foliage.
Burgundy Glow Shade to part shade Well drained Blue Pink, white and green foliage.
Chocolate Chip Shade to part shade Well drained Blue Wavy, chocolate-brown foliage.
Alyssum montanumMountain alyssum Sun Dry, rocky Yellow Gray foliage.
Arabis caucasicaSnowcap rockcress Sun Well drained White Abundant white flowers over gray foliage.
Arctostaphylos uva-ursiKinnikinick Shade to part sun Acid to neutral, high in humus, well drained White-tinged

red

Spreading evergreen foliage; red fruits.
Massachusetts Shade to part sun Acid to neutral, high in humus, well drained Pink-tinged Spreading evergreen foliage; red fruits.
Armeria maritimeSea Pink

Sun Dry, well drained Pink, white, purple Grass-like foliage; several varieties.
Victor Reiter Sun Dry, well drained Pink Small mounded plant.
Aubrieta deltoideaPurple Gem Rockcress

Sun to part shade Well drained Purple Mounded to spreading; shear after bloom.
Aurinia saxatilisBasket-of-gold

Sun Dry, rocky Yellow Grayish-green foliage; shear after bloom.
Campanula carpaticaCarpathlan harebell

Sun Well drained Blue-Lilac Bright green foliage.
Blue Clips Sun to part shade Well drained Blue Compact mound of bright-green foliage.
White Clips Sun to part shade Well drained White Compact mounds of wavy, bright green foliage.
Campanula poscharskyanaSerbian bellflower Sun to part shade Well drained Blue Prolific flowers.
Campanula rotundifoliaBluebell Part shade Well drained Blue Bell-like flowers on slender stems.
Cerastium tomentosumSnow-in-summer Sun Dry, well drained White Aggressive; shear after bloom.
Ceratostigma plumbaginoidesPlumbago

Sun to part shade Well drained Blue Foliage turns red in autumn.
Coreopsis auriculataNana

Dwarf Coreopsis

Sun Dry, well drained Orange-

Yellow

Dense compact spreading mounds.
Delosperma cooperiPurple ice plant Sun Well drained Purple Succulent foliage
Delosperma floribundumStarburst ice plant Sun Pink with white centres Succulent leaves, clump form.
Delosperma nubigenumYellow ice plant

Sun Well drained Yellow Succulent foliage turns reddish-purple in winter.
Delosperma x KelaidisMesaVerde ice plant

Sun Dry, well drained Salmon pink Succulent leaves, carpet-like.
Delosperma x John ProffitTable Mountain ice plant

Sun Pink-purple Succulent leaves, carpet-like.
Dianthus deltoidesBrilliant

Brilliant Maiden Pink

Sun to part shade Well drained Crimson Dark green; carpet-like habit.
Dianthus gradanopolkanusFirewitch

Sun Well drained Deep pink Gray-green grass-like foliage.
Spotty Sun Well drained Rose-red with white spots Grey-green grass-like foliage.
Tiny Rubies Sun Well drained Deep pink Pin cushion growth habit with double flowers
Dianthus plumarius Cottage pink Sun Well drained Red, pink, white Several varieties.
Eriogonum umbellatumYellow sulphur flower Sun Dry, well drained Yellow Umbrella-like flowers; evergreen mounds of foliage turn reddish in fall.
Gazania krebsianaTanager Gazania Sun Dry, well drained Orange May need some winter protection.
Geranium x cantabrigienseCambridge Cranesbill Sun to part shade Well drained Bright pink Spreading, mounded form; foliage turns wine red in autumn.
BiokovoBiokovo Cranesbill Sun to part shade Well drained White-pink Trailing groundcover, foliage turns red in autumn
Geranium cinereumBallerina Grayleaf

Cranesbill

Sun to part shade Well drained Pink-purple Deeply divided bright green foliage.
Geranium daimaticuniCompact Rose Cranesbill

Sun to part shade Well drained Rose-pink Dense spreading foliage turns red in autumn.
Gypsophila repensCreeping baby’s breath

Sun Well drained White or pink Mat-like habit.
Helianthemum nummulariumSunrose Sun Dry, well drained Pink Mounded habit, silvery foliage.
Wisley Primrose Sun Dry, well drained Yellow Mounded habit, silvery foliage.
Heuchera sanguinea Firefly

Firefly Coral Bells

Sun to part shade Dry, well drained Red Green foliage, bell-shaped flowers.
Snow AngelSnow Angel Coral Bells Part shade Dry, well drained Pink-red Variegated foliage.
lberis sempervirensCandytuft

Sun to part shade Well drained White Evergreen foliage.
Iris x pumilaDwarf Iris

Sun Dry, well drained Blue or yellow Short, stiff clump-forming leaves, several varieties.
Linum flavum CompactumDwarf golden flax

Sun Well drained Yellow Dark green foliage.
Oenothera speciosaWhite evening primrose

Sun Well drained Pink to white Day-flowering.
Osteospermum barberiae Compactum Purple

Mountain Sun Daisy

Sun to part

shade

Well drained Purple Evergreen clumps of foliage.
Osteospermum spp.Lavender Mist Sun Daisy

Sun to part

shade

Well drained White to lavender Evergreen clumps of foliage.
Penstemon caespitosusCreeping penstemon

Sun Well drained Blue Mat-like; dark green foliage.
Penstemon pinifoliusPineleaf penstemon

Sun Dry Orange-red Needle-like evergreen foliage, trumpet- shaped flowers.
MerseaYellow Sun Dry, well drained Yellow Needle-like evergreen foliage, trumpet- shaped flowers.
Phlox subulataMoss pink or creeping phlox

Sun Well drained Pink, white, lavender Several varieties based on flower color
Potentilia nepalensisMisswilmott cinquefoil Sun Well drained Pink to red Strawberry-like leaves on clump plants.
Prunelia laciniataLacy Self Heal

Sun to part shade Moist Pink Dark green fuzzy leaves, mat-forming.
Pulsatilia vulgarisPasque Flower Well drained Blue to purple, red, white Silky leaves appear after flowering, followed by long-lasting feathery seed heads.
Saponaria ocymoidesRock soapwort Sun Well drained Pink Shear after bloom; evergreen mat-like foliage.
Saxifraga oppositifoliaPurple Robe saxifrage

Sun to part shade Well drained Purple Bright green mounds, cup-shaped flowers.
Sedum spp.Stonecrop

Sun Any, well drained Varies with species Some evergreen; some more appropriate as ground covers.
Sedum acreGold Moss stonecrop Sun Dry, well drained Yellow Evergreen leaves, fast spreading, star-shaped flowers.
Sedum spuriumDragons Blood

Sun Dry, well drained Rose red Evergreen foliage with red edge, turns red in autumn.
Red Carpet Sun Dry, well drained Rose red Red, wedge-shaped evergreen foliage.
Sempervivum spp.Houseleek

Hen and chicks

Sun Dry, gravelly Pink to red Succulent, evergreen foliage in rosettes.
Stachys byzantineSilver Carpet Lambs Ear

Sun Infertile, well drained Not important Rarely flowers; velvety silver foliage.
Teucrium chamaedrysGermander

Sun Well drained Purple-pink Evergreen; cut back after- flowering,
Thymus x citriodorusLemon thyme

Sun Dry, well drained Pink Lemon-scented foliage.
Thymus praecoxWoolly thyme Sun Dry, well drained Infrequent, pink and purple Woolly grey foliage turns purplish in winter
Thymus serpyllumMother-of-thyme Sun Dry, well drained Purple Aromatic foliage; mat-forming.
Pink Chintz Sun Dry, well drained Pink Pink flowers over mat-like foliage
Verbena bipinnatifidaValley Lavender

Sun Dry, well drained Purple Trailing stems with deeply cut leaves.
Veronica liwanensisTurkish veronica

Sun Dry, well drained Blue Dense mat of small dark green foliage.
Veronica pectinataWoolly veronica

Sun Dry, well drained Blue to purple Gray, mat-like foliage turns purplish in winter.
Rubra Sun Dry, well drained Pink Can be evergreen.
Veronica prostrataProstrate speedwell

Sun to part shade Well drained Blue Dense mats, dark green foliage.
Veronica repensCreeping speedwell

Part shade Well drained Blue Mat-like habit.
Veronica x hybridaCrystal River speedwell

Sun to part shade Well drained Blue Evergreen, small rounded leaves.
Viola cornutaHorned violet

Sun to part shade Moist Purple Tufts of dark green foliage.
Viola CorsicaCorsican violet

Sun to part shade Moist Purple Tufts of dark green foliage.
Zinnia grandifloraRocky Mountain Zinnia

Sun Dry, well drained Yellow Flowers turn papery and last into winter.