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Rock Garden Ideas and Design Tips

By Axis Fuksman-Kumpa January 29, 2024

small pebbles and rock for a low maintenance garden design

Creating a rock garden in your yard is an easy and effective way to add visual interest to your outdoor space. Rock gardens can add depth and dimension to your yard and are a low-maintenance alternative to other garden types. Plus, they offer year-round interest!

The benefits of rock gardens don't stop there, though. These gardens evoke earthy, rugged beauty and can help connect your manmade landscape to the natural world. They're also a great option if you're looking to reduce your lawn space and water consumption.

Before we start sharing our favorite rock garden ideas, we're going to cover a few of the most common questions our design team gets about this type of garden.

How do you Make a Simple Rock Garden?

Your rock garden doesn't need to be fancy or elaborate to create visual appeal and add beauty to your yard. Sometimes, simplicity is best (you can even DIY it)! A bit of soil, rocks and a few plants of your choosing are all you need to create a stunning rock garden.

Don't overcrowd the space and stick to just a few colors of plants and flowers.

small pebbles and rock for a low maintenance garden design

What do you put in a Rock Garden?

Feel free to get creative with the rocks and stones you use in your garden to create a design that looks best in your space. We love a mix of big boulders and larger rocks, smaller pebbles and gravel.

After you decide what rocks and stones you're going to use, you also have to choose the right plants. Drought-tolerant plants, such as succulents, are a great addition to any rock garden. Incorporating native plants into your rock garden design is also a smart move if you're concerned about conserving water.

Drought-tolerant foliage isn't your only option though. You can also add flowers, such as some pretty perennials, shrubs, ornamental grasses and other foliage to your rock garden. Your rock garden plants can be as diverse and unique as you want. It's your garden after all.

If your rock garden is on the larger side, consider adding some stepping stones to make it easy to maneuver through the space.

rock river with shrubs and ground cover surrounding it

How can I make my rock garden look nice?

Your rock garden design should add interest to your yard and feel cohesive with the rest of your landscape. Adding perennials and other plants will beautify the area and create a nice contrasting texture with the rocks and stones.

green rock garden with perennials and flowers

How do you arrange rocks in a rock garden?

Your garden should include rocks of contrasting sizes. Start with a few large boulders or stones, and then add smooth pebbles and smaller rocks in the background to create layers.

Or, arrange everything in random groupings for a more natural appearance.

Now that we've covered the basics of creating a rock garden, it's time to share some examples for inspiration! Here are a few of our favorite ideas you can easily implement in your outdoor space.


Rock Garden Ideas

Create a Hillside Garden

If you have a sloped area in your yard that you aren't sure what to do with, consider turning it into a rock garden. Layer rocks, stones and foliage to make an otherwise wasted area a highlight of your outdoor space.

hillside flowers

Zen Garden

Turn your backyard into a relaxing sanctuary by building a zen garden. Also known as Japanese rock gardens, zen gardens are known for their simplicity and serenity. We recommend using a water feature as a focal point and adding your desired plants and rocks around it. A stone statue, such as this Buddha figurine, is another excellent option that will make a statement.

You can even leave space — perhaps an area covered with gravel — for a yoga mat.

zen gardens

Small Rock Garden

If you have a tiny yard or are only able to dedicate a small space within your yard to a garden, don't worry. A compact rock garden can still have a major impact.

Choose plants that will fit within the tiny area and try small stones instead of larger rocks and boulders. Add a pop of color with some pretty perennials.

front yard landscaping

Add a Water Feature

A water feature, such as a pond, can be a fun addition to your overall landscape design. Fill it with fish and lily pads, and surround it with river rocks and smaller plants.

A waterfall flowing over a bunch of large rocks is another great feature that will transform your yard into an outdoor oasis.

water feature in a yard

Enhance Your Pool Area

Have a pool? Make it feel like a more cohesive part of your backyard design by surrounding it with rocks and foliage. Or, pile a bunch of stones on top of each other and build a waterfall that flows into your pool.

backyard pool area

Repurpose a Dried Out Creek Bed

Fill a dry creek bed with rocks and line it with plants, flowers and other foliage for a fun focal point that reduces lawn space but adds major personality to your outdoor space.

plantings along a path with grasses and moss

Line Your Driveway

Your backyard isn't the only place to put a rock garden. Consider planting one that runs along one side of your driveway to enhance the landscape of your front yard.

Similarly, you can use a row of stones or gravel as edging for a sidewalk to separate it from your lawn.

driveway and front walkway

Dwarf Conifers Rock Garden

For a unique rock garden idea, try creating a whole garden with dwarf conifers tucked between rocks. Or, select one or two plants and surround them with small rocks to make them stand out.

If you want to add a bit more visual interest, try incorporating a water feature or some stone steps.

succulent rock garden with dwarf conifers

Play With Texture

If the idea of sticking to just one type of plant in your garden seems boring, shake things up and incorporate lots of texture and color. Plant perennials, succulents, shrubs and more for a natural, wild-looking aesthetic.

rock wall diverse garden design

Add a Seating Area

An outdoor seating area creates a space where you can sit back and enjoy nature. We love the idea of incorporating a stone table and benches — like the ones pictured here — into your rock garden design. Not only will it make a statement, but it also feels like a natural part of the landscape.

If a stone seating area doesn't feel quite right in your space, try a wooden bench or a bistro table and chairs. You could also opt for a lounge chair or hammock for an ultra-relaxing setup.

stone seating area

Bring Your Rock Garden Ideas to Life

We love rock gardens because they require little maintenance but deliver a huge impact. They also offer plenty of room for creativity. Incorporate whatever rocks, stones, plants and flowers you desire.

a small backyard area

We hope this roundup of rock garden ideas and information has inspired you to start your rock gardening adventure and create the backyard landscape of your dreams. If you need help coming up with a design that fits your outdoor space and personal style, Tilly's team of expert designers is here to help.

yard landscaping ideas, small rock garden ideas for backyard with a rock wall waterfall

About Tilly

Tilly’s easy online landscape design process has been embraced by homeowners across the country and in Canada. Tilly breaks packages into the Front Yard, Backyard or your Full Yard. We match you with a professional landscape designer who is familiar with your region to create the perfect custom plan for your outdoor space.

To start our process you’ll fill out a questionnaire about your property that helps our design team understand your goals, needs and existing landscape. You can add 3d renders, lighting plans or side yards to your design package. You’ll then meet with your designer on a video call, show them your space and discuss your priorities.

Whether you are just looking to add some curb appeal or transform your entire backyard - we have a team for you!

Read more about: Landscape Design Tips, Gardening Tips, Sustainable Design