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Rock Work


Rocks can make a garden, and with incorrect handling, break a back.

If you plan to build a rockery; either be sure you are doing it correctly, and know the proper way to handle rocks; or hire an expert to help.

A well designed rockery can be a stunning feature of the garden. It adds a sense of visual interest to the garden and allows you to grow and display small delicate plants to their best advantage.

Why build a rockery?

· On sloping sites, the rocks hold the soil in place, preventing it being washed away.

· It’s cheaper and easier than building a retaining wall.

· It blends in with the landscape better than a retaining wall.

· It makes gardening easier on steep slopes – the rocks provide a stable foothold for planting, weeding, etc.

· The crevices between rocks can be filled with enriched soil for growing delicate plants.

· The rocks, and the mosses and lichens that grow on the rock surfaces, have a rich textural quality.

· On a flat site, it introduces a vertical element to the garden.

Rock work is hard work!

It’s not difficult to construct a rockery but it is hard work and it must be built properly. Few garden features look worse than a badly designed or poorly built rockery. Not only will it look shoddy or out of place, it could be dangerous: the rocks may slip and/or the fill used during construction may subside.

If you’re planning to build a rockery, take your time and do some research before you start. Alternatively, you might employ an expert to build it or to work with you and help you build it.

If using very large rocks; enlist the help of a friend; or even better, hire a machine.

Where to Build a Rockery

Most rockeries are built on slopes. The idea is that the rocks are embedded into the bank, simulating a natural rocky slope or outcrop, complete with mossy lichen-encrusted rocks. The pockets between the rocks are filled with soil for growing bulbs, ground covers and alpine plants.

On a flat site, the rockery needs to be designed very carefully so that it blends in with the rest of the garden. It could be placed in a corner of the garden, against a wall, or behind a natural-style garden pond.


Designing and building a rockery requires a degree of expertise – if you’re hiring a landscape contractor to work for you, make sure he/she has direct experience in building rockeries.

-Check their qualifications and memberships of professional associations (eg. to be a member of a Landscape Contractors Association they need to have had their work inspected and approved as being up to standard by colleagues).

-Ask to see examples of their past work.

-Find out whether they are fully insured.

-Ask for the quote to be given in writing.


Always use machinery to move large rocks into position – hiring a small front-end loader will get the job done quickly and easily.

For medium sized and smaller rocks, you can move the rocks with a heavy-duty wheelbarrow or hand trolley. You can also drag the rocks along the ground with a tarp or slide them across uneven ground with a ramp. A crow bar can then be used to manoeuvre the rocks into their final positions.

If you’re pushing heavy barrows or dragging rocks along wet ground, put down temporary matting or boards to minimise soil compaction.


As you lay the rocks, start at the lowest point and move up the slope. Starting with the largest rock, excavate a flat shelf on which to sit the rock. Tamp the soil firmly before setting the rock down.

As you lay each rock, look at it carefully. Each rock has a natural shape, with a front, back, top and bottom, and it in most cases it is fairly obvious as to which way the rock would naturally be positioned. For stability and a natural appearance, at least 1/3 of the rock should be buried in the soil.

While you work, keep standing back and look at what you are doing from a distance and from all angles.

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