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How to Design a Sensory Rock Garden

Sidewalk Garden
A rock garden is a classic addition to a yard. Rock gardens come in many styles. While many are naturalistic in appearance, as if they just happened to sprout up from a jumble of rocks, decorative rock can complement any style of garden. However, don't just plant a pretty rock garden - aim for one that appeals to all the senses with this guide.

Choose the Rocks

The foundation of your rock garden is, naturally, going to be the rocks. You'll start with large rocks. Choose an odd number of boulders for the background of your planting bed. Next, choose medium and small rocks. Because it's a sensory garden, look for stones you like running your hands over in addition to looking at.

If you want your rock garden to look more formal, choose even numbers and smoother rocks. The even numbers will give you a sense of symmetry. For a more naturalistic garden, stick with odd numbers and rough-cut rocks. Either way, all your rocks should be consistent with each other in color and texture.

Create the Planting Bed

Even for a naturalistic rock garden, you need to prepare the planting bed. Typically, this requires digging out the top layer of ground and replacing it with topsoil. Choose your largest non-boulder rocks, and create a ring around the prepared soil. Fill the space with more planting soil. Use the next-smaller rocks for an inner ring.

Think about where you'll be viewing the rock garden from. When you place the boulders, choose a spot that will make a beautiful backdrop for your rock garden from that vantage point.

Pick Flowers for Color and Texture

The first sense you're going to appeal to is vision. Think of a color palette for your rock garden. The palette can be the same as other planting beds in your garden, or you can simply choose colors that appeal to you. For texture, choose blooms within your palette that feature different sizes and shapes. For instance, choose small blue morning glories and large blue nigella.

Smell the Roses and Other Plants

Next, consider plants for scent. Naturally, you can opt for roses, which would work for a more formal rock garden. Buff Beauty and Cornelia are roses with especially pleasing perfume. Otherwise, look at other scented flowers such as phlox, sweet alyssum, and dianthus. Remember to stick within your color palette for cohesion.

Add Plants for Touch

You probably didn't think about plants that feel good. However, plants you want to touch are an important part of your sensory rock garden. You can go to your local nursery and allow your fingertips to trail over the plants. Or, choose some popular options like chenille, clematis, and Jerusalem sage.

If you want to add a touch of whimsy to your rock garden, consider planting a mimosa pudica. When you touch it, the leaves curl away as if the plant is shy. However, they return to normal after a few minutes.

Don't Forget the Herbs

While many flowers are edible, for a truly sensory rock garden, you'll want to plant some herbs. The best advice is to choose the herbs that you most love to cook with. Some of the popular options for rock gardens include basil, thyme, lemon balm, lavender, and rosemary.

Add a Water Fountain

Plants don't make noise except for the wind blowing through the leaves, making rustling sounds. A water fountain will do a more consistent job of creating sound for your sensory garden. You can incorporate the fountain with the rocks and plants. If that feels like too much is going on, tuck a small fountain among foliage nearby so you can still hear it while enjoying the rock garden.

Once you've created your foundation with the background boulders and rock-ringed planting bed, you can have fun deciding how to place your plants. Contact The Rock Garden for help with decorative stone for your sensory garden.