In the intensely sunny landscape of northern Arizona, plants thrive near rocks. During the day, rocks shield plants from the wind and prevent moisture in the soil from evaporating. On cold nights, rocks hold heat to protect plants from freezing. Perennials planted in a bare space often move gradually closer to rocks over time, drawn by the moisture, warmth, and shelter they provide.
Rock Garden in its first year
Rock gardens add texture, color, and dimension to a landscape throughout the year, and can serve as focal points in a small space. They offer welcoming, low-maintenance microclimates for plants with different requirements. Although alpine plants are often featured because they need little soil or moisture, most plants do well among rocks. In places where the existing soil is poor or hard to dig, building a rock garden can be less work and more successful than planting directly in the ground.
Willow Bend's little rock garden was created where the soil was hard-packed clay contaminated with weed seeds. Volunteers decided to build up, not dig down. About half of the garden is shaded by a cottonwood tree, while the rest is in bright sunlight.
Natural rock gardens are typical of high elevation mountains, as in this photo, near Durango, Colorado.