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History of Rock Gardens Review


Landscape history can be defined as the study of the ways in which mankind has tried to change the physical appearance of the environment. It is also referred to as landscape archaeology. The discipline was first discovered as a distinctive area of study in the 20th century and has used evidence and approaches from various areas of studies and these are archeology, architecture, ecology, aerial photography, local history and finally historical geography, (Brooks, 1987).

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The history of gardening can be said to be as old as 4500 years when man during that time experienced early civilization. The paintings in the Egyptian tombs of the 1600s BC are examples of the earliest physical evidence of ornamental horticulture and landscape designing. These paintings depict lotus ponds being surrounded by symmetrical rows of acacia and palms. Another example of ancient gardening tradition is that of Persia. During the reign of Darius the Great, he was believed to have a paradise garden and the hanging gardens of Babylon were greatly viewed as one of the wonders of the world, (Rogers, 2001). The Persian gardens had the aspect of symmetry about the axis and were very much organized. The Persian influence was passed over to post Alexander’s Greece. During the ear 340BC, existed gardens at the Academy of Athens and Theophrastus inherited a garden from Aristotle.


A rock garden can be defined to be that kind of garden in which rocks and plants that grow on those rocks form the main components of the landscape. Rock gardening can be seen to be a specialized and intensive method of gardening which for its survival needs specific conditions for both growth and survival. The vegetation that survives in rock gardens actually grows naturally at very high altitudes or under subarctic conditions like alpine gardens, (Brooks, 1987).

Rock gardens have become characteristically popular in the contemporary world because of inadequate availability of space for the medium garden. People with great interest in gardening and have inadequate space can alternatively use rock gardening to indulge their likings for plants. Starting rock garden is quite challenging but at the same time gives someone a sense of fun. The rocks on the rock garden give various fissures and furthermore niches in which specific plants can be grown.

History of rock gardens

The contemporary rock gardens traced their roots from countries like Japan and China. The rock gardens from those regions had a distinctive appearance that characterized them but the designers of those rock gardens had little attention on the kinds of plants that occupied the rock. A close account of history shows that rock gardening actually started in the British Isles. This was depicted by huge influx of visitors who came from as far as Britain to have a glance of Switzerland country and the mountainous regions of the vast land of Europe. These visitors were quite fascinated on the look of beautiful alpine plants and they went forward to carry the idea back home, (Adams, 1993).

In 1919, Reginald Farrer went a head to write and publish a book on the title English Rock Garden. The book was revered by people all over the world because it exhaustively covered the topic about rock gardening. This meant that rock gardening had to become the area of specialization and concern in horticultural farming in Great Britain during the twentieth century. As the popularity of rock gardening increased in Great Britain, it eventually spread to the United States. The rock gardening however did not pick substantially and this can be explained by the fact that for it survive it required some specific conditions which was necessary for the alpine plants to actually grow.

Rock garden

The rock gardens when observed at a glance are appealing and since it is part of horticulture give a stimulating effect to people living in the area. Rock garden can be viewed as an art appearance that entails the use of rocks in landscaping. The natural presence cliffs, outcropping of rocks and the availability of similar physical features stimulate the formation of beautiful rock gardens. The rock garden does combine the fragile gorgeousness that plants and flowers possess with the ruggedness of the rocks. Rock gardens tend to encourage the process of studying and cultivation of plants and wildflowers that normally grow amidst the rocks, (Adams, 1993).

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A rock garden requires much attention because it is delicate to maintain and therefore needs a closer supervision by the gardener. The initial process of constructing rock garden may tend to be time consuming and quite demanding and furthermore the process of maintaining the rock garden is also a quite challenging task. The advantage with the rock garden is that it accommodates quite a number of plants in that limited area, (Ashton, 2002). The management of such gardens becomes easier to the gardener because of its size and will also be quite accessible by the viewers in general.

Rock garden plants

Rock gardening entails the activity of growing mountainous plants that have the ability to resist severe winter cold. The development of rock gardening is also viable in regions with tropical and subtropical climate for the areas tend to have warm temperatures.

Various rock gardens characteristically feature myriad types of vegetation.

Terrestrial plants

These kinds of plants are found in the warm climates and therefore differ greatly from those grown in cold regions. Cactuses and other succulents found in deserts and semi-deserts look appealing when in association with the rocks, (Ashton, 2002).

Alpine rock plant

These types of plants are mainly found on mountain tops and often are dwarfed with ostentatious blossom. The good thing about these kinds of plants is that they don’t require much soil. These plants perform well in an environment that has such elements like sand, gravel and significant amount of organic matter. In addition alpine plants are used to the kind of cool climate and require minimum amount of sunlight.

The regions with characteristic humid and warm climate are inhabited by various kinds of plants that can be put into proper use in the development of rock garden. The plants inhabiting these regions are namely ferns, begonias and other available plants. The above listed plants are found in areas surrounding the cliffs and other rocky places. The other plants that can be planted in the rock garden are the types like ferns, lichens and varieties of water plants and moss. If however the existing conditions don’t allow the growth of some alpine plants, one can grow other kinds of plants and then blend them with cliffs and rocks in the garden.

Soil for rock garden

It is always advisable to carefully select plants that grow in the available soil instead of trying to change the soil to suit the plant. The good thing about the rock garden is that they require very small amounts of soil to thrive. The boulders undergo erosion and therefore in the process produce soil that has vital nutrients that can be used to improve the texture of the soil thus improving the appearance and ultimately the growth of the rock gardens. Indeed to improve the rock gardens, organic and compost manure can be used instead to increase the nutrients availability of the soil in the rock gardens. It is also advisable to use fertilized soil that is light in texture in order to facilitate water drainage (Ashton, 2002).

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Rock garden designing

A rock garden is either designed by a professional or amateur and certain principles govern the basics of effective garden design thus creating gardens that meet the needs and desires of the users or owners of the gardens, (Ashton, 2002). The elements of rock garden incorporate the arrangement of the things like paths, walls, visible water features and other important physical things like sitting places and decking. Plants are also the elements of rock gardens for they fulfill the horticultural requirements of the rock garden. Consideration needs to be given to the maintenance of the garden incorporating the time and funds available for regular maintaining of the garden. These can adversely affect the choice of plants for it will relate to the aspect of rate of growth, spreading and or self seeding and many other vital characteristics of the plants. The most important points to be considered when designing a garden is the purpose of the garden, stylistic genres and the garden space that will link to homes or surrounding areas. Thus the above are subject to limitations of the funds, (Gothein, 1928).

In the process of choosing the location of one’s rock garden, an individual needs to evaluate the slope that will facilitate easy flow of water for the trapped water in between the rocks can bring about the rotting of plants. Excellent drainage system, presence of light, air and fertile soil are important ingredients for the designing and construction of rock gardens.

It should be noted that plants need to be arranged in such a design that they may appear natural. The rocky terrain with wild plants if is keenly observed can be seen to have low lying plants that cover large tracts of the space that is available. Hence the areas lacking rocks will afford relief to someone’s eyes and various kinds of plants can be grown in those gaps, (Gothein, 1928).

The construction and designing of the rock gardens need not be necessarily symmetrical, for symmetrical aspect in size and distribution will not make the rock garden appear natural in design. It is imperative to note that in the rock garden designing it is not necessary for the rocks to be distributed evenly and one needs to ensure that the arrangement of the rocks appears natural. The designing of the rock garden will look attractive if the size of the rock garden is bigger compared to being smaller. The composition of the rocks for rock garden should be of various sizes come from the same source.

One should be careful and avoid placing the rocks in a definite pattern. It is regarded that the positioning of rocks and plants in the rock garden is a great art indeed.

People should be careful not to cause scars on the rocks that are intended to make rock gardens. Perfectly designed artificial rock gardens often appear natural and will be hard for one to notice the joints between the rocks hence the removal of the rocks won’t be that easy. The person tending the rock garden should ensure that the soil is firmly packed and that the rocks have been placed in fitting positions. In the designing of rock gardens the lighting system should be laid out strategically. The designer should employ various techniques that are classified with respect to height. Under this classification we have safety lighting, uplighting and last but not least the downlighting. However safety lighting is the most preferred in rock garden designing. It is imperative to determine the quantity and type of lamps and fittings needed for creation of desired effects, (Gothein, 1928).

The amount of sunlight, another important element of rock garden design is normally controlled by the gardener. The amount of sunlight penetrating the rock garden is a vital factor that determines the kind of plants to be grown. Sunlight is a factor that significantly affects the characteristics of the rock garden

Rock landscaping is an art in itself. It is of utmost importance in the construction of rock gardens that much attention should be awarded to the cultivation of plants within the gaps of the rock. The world leading rock gardens that are quite popular among the people are the alpine design rock garden, Zen rock garden and the Japanese rock garden.

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Types of rock gardens

The initial stage in the creation of rock gardens is the evaluation of the area with regard to terrain and availability of the rocks. The reason behind this is the fact that rocks originating from the same place tend to be very compatible, they blend naturally into the garden. Places like river banks, sloppy regions and small valleys give a natural distinctive outlook to the rock gardens. The existence of natural features like pools, streams and waterfalls give rock gardens a sense of beauty and charm. Well experienced rock garden designer prefer to construct artificial rock gardens in areas that lack native rock formations. It is in this regard that artificial rock garden give the designers challenge so that they can utilize opportunities for better development of rock gardens. Most of the artificial rock gardens that have characteristic natural qualities are found in Europe and United States of America.

The constructions of rock gardens need to be carefully planned before execution takes place and mostly the rocks that are used in rock gardening are often than not very porous. Rocks that are hard and not porous like the granites should not be used in rock gardening but however hard sandstone is perfect. The tendency of using limestone which is a soluble compound, in the rock garden need to be avoided. The water worn limestone rocks are very attractive to the eyes when used in rock gardening but they have limitation in that they cant be used in rock gardens that have acidic plants for they wont provide conducive environment for the acidic plants to flourish. Plants like heaths and heathers will have some difficulties in surviving in such conditions for requiring acidic environment. To boost growth of some plants in rock gardens soft and lightweight porous limestone could be used for it is quite congenial to varieties of plants.

The presence of hard rocks means that they won’t suitable for rock gardening for the process of weathering in those rocks is very slow. Since the presence of hard rocks inhibit the process of weathering plants like mosses and lichens will not survive in such harsh conditions. It is encouraged to get extra materials for construction of artificial gardens from old stone walls. Huge stones that are sources of raw materials for construction of artificial rock gardens will have to be reduced into smaller size so as to fit perfectly well in certain areas of artificial rock garden. To give a natural outlook to the rock garden, the boulders have to be partly buried and partly exposed.

Care of rock garden

Higher management is required for the rock garden. The vegetation found in the rock garden is so delicate that they perform dismal in the times of humid summer and cold winters. Therefore the tendering of the rock plants in the rock gardening is very crucial for its survival. It is advisable to have a nursery for those plants so that they can be replaced incase they fail to survive in the rock garden because of the harsh conditions. The cultivation of plants in the rock garden is something that is approached and done in a myriad ways. The month that is recommended as a convenient season for planting plants in a rock garden is September for it is this month that plants will grow because of the prevailing conditions.

Zen Rock garden

The characteristic that is exhibited in this kind of rock garden is such that it puts a lot of emphasis on the form, vegetation and the structure. The Zen rock garden is kind of rock garden that is quite simple and very serious unlike the western rock gardens which their main concern are the ostentatious flowers.

This kind of rock garden gives an impression of a landscape of islands in the ocean, and it involves cautious selection and placement of island stones. The Zen rock garden has clean gravel that surrounds the island stones and this gives a kind of look that resembles ocean waves and currents. The Zen rock garden appears unique in some aspects because of the different forms and materials used.

Japanese Rock Garden

This type of rock garden can found in a private place that is in homes, the city parks and in the neighborhood. It can also be seen in the historical places like Buddhist temples and old castles. The most known types of the Japanese gardens are two namely the rock and dry garden found in the west and within the Japan environs. The culture of gardening in Japan is deep rooted thus making it to be a highly recognized art that is linked with the arts of calligraphy and ink painting,(Rogers,2001).The Japanese rock gardens tend to built on the basis of distinctive designing principles. The Japanese postulate in their beliefs that people should avoid as much as possible the creation of something artificial in nature. Just like no one has ever seen a square pond in the wild; so you should not be making a garden of that type. People are also encouraged to substitute fountain with waterfalls for waterfalls appear natural for it does exist in the eyes of people. The aspect of balance is a very important parameter in Japanese rock gardens.

People always try to create a bigger landscape even in a relative smaller space; hence the components have to be carefully chosen. For example a ten-ton boulder may look right at home in the five acre stroll garden but one will imagine the illogicality in a relative smaller courtyard. The element of balance should always be something to be aimed for. In the process of designing, mountains can be represented by rocks just like pools can represent lakes. The ocean can take the form of a small stretch of raked land. Therefore the aspect of less is more explains the Japanese rock gardens. The parameters of most importance in Japanese rock gardens are space and time. The Japanese rock gardens have many hollow portions and thus emptiness is an important element of designing in Japanese rock gardens. Space acts as a defying factor and is significantly expressed by the elements surrounding it. The spirits of Japanese rock gardens are generally characterized by specific stones and combinations, (Rogers, 2001).


Rock gardening gives the beautification and satisfaction of creating and maintaining quite wonderful landscapes. Rock gardening in addition helps in creating and developing an affection that is full of caring for the plants planted in those rock gardens.

It is therefore prudent that rock gardening is taken as a joyful hobby rather than an excessively demanding duty on the part of the rock gardener.

Designing of the rock garden is significant for a part from adding beauty to the area; it makes a place conducive for settlement in that it can be used as a source of income by indigenous population, (Ashton, 2002). People coming from different parts get attracted to those sites so that they can learn on issues pertaining to different environmental aspects and on return to their home country they can apply what they have learned. Creating a conducive for habitation of plants means that some species which risked extinction could actually be carefully taken care of. Rock gardening helps to shape the thinking aspect of people. The art of rock gardening requires a lot of imagination coupled with creativity. Creativity means that resources that could have been regarded of no use can be manipulated into making things that generate income for the people.

Rock design improves the cultivation skills of the locals through making some experiments on the kinds of plants to be planted in those rock gardens, (Rogers, 2001).


Adams,.1993. Grounds for change: major gardens of the twentieth century. Boston: Little, Brown and Co.

Ashton, M.2002. Landscape architects. Mexico D.F., Mexico: Atrium Internacional de Mexico.

Brookes, J.1987. Gardens of paradise: the history and design of the great Islamic gardens. NY: New Amsterdam.

Geoffrey, M and Jellicoe S, 3rd Ed.1995. The Landscape of man: shaping the environment from prehistory to the present day. NY: Thames and Hudson.

Gothein, M.1928. History of garden art. NY: Dutton.

Mosser, M and Teyssot, G,.1991. The History of garden design: the western tradition from the Renaissance to the present day, London: Thames & Hudson.

Philip, P and Volkmann, N, 2nd Ed.1999.Landscapes in history: design and planning in the Eastern and Western traditions. NY: John Wiley & Sons.

Rogers, E.2001. Landscape design: a cultural and architectural history.NY: Harry N. Abrams.

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