Modern rock garden ideas: 17 contemporary looks for rockeries

These modern rock garden ideas are low maintenance, drought tolerant and perfect for adding interest to spaces big and small.

Modern rock garden ideas with stone path and gravel with bolders and a seating area
(Image credit: Future)

As we are all leading busier lifestyles, modern rock garden ideas tick the low maintenance gardening box in a big way. The ease of rock gardens can largely be put down to their natural drought-tolerance. Tough evergreen grasses, small alpines and perennials will slot beautifully into crevices and thrive with minimal watering. 

Ultra modern gardens don’t necessarily even need established plants. You can create different areas of interest just using rocks of different sizes and heights, and containers can bring pops of planting interest.

The rock garden revival has given rise to a plethora of modern garden ideas which are a far cry from the rockeries of the Victorian era. Running water or a small pool and discreet lighting are often a feature. 

Rather than struggling to improve the soil quality of a gravelly patch, consider that this might be the ideal area for a rock garden in your plot. ‘Rock gardens can add height and interest to a garden and enable you to grow a group of floriferous plants that may struggle for survival elsewhere in your garden,’ says award winning garden designer Kristina Clode 

‘It can be a great way to use rocky material if you are lucky to have it on site, or use up spare uncontaminated hardcore, rubble and soil in the base layers of your mound,’ she adds. 


‘Well made rock gardens are beautiful, natural looking and brimming with colorful alpine plants which are low maintenance and drought tolerant,’ says Kristina Clode. 

The aim for your modern rock garden ideas is to create a sharply drained, sunny growing environment which emulates high altitude rocky alpine slopes where the light levels are high and the winters cold and dry. Our edit of contemporary looks is sure to get you inspired. 


Phuopsis stylosa flowers pop against this light colored aggregate in a rock garden
(Image credit: Steve Taylor ARPS / Alamy Stock Photo)

If you’re incorporating garden gravel ideas in your rock garden, try to use landscaping materials that are similar in color to avoid an incoherent look. One way to ensure that materials you are using look at home in your garden is to shop local. ‘Use local rock, it will fit in better to the local surroundings, look more realistic and is better for your carbon footprint,’ advises Kristina Clode.

‘This will also mean that the materials feel inherently at one with the surroundings and this is key for any rock garden, large or small. Use local stone and gravel and the garden will feel at home.’

The way to use gravel as a modern paving idea in your rock garden is to mulch any bare soil around your plants. ‘This will help to cut down on weeds and water loss,’ advises Angela Slater, gardening expert at Hayes Garden World.


The Warner Edwards Garden, designed by Kate Savill and Tamara Bridge at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2019
(Image credit: RHS/Tim Sandall)

If you have a sloping site then this is by no means an impediment for a rock garden. On the contrary, plants which are suited to rock gardens will require good drainage and raised levels will automatically improve this. 

If you want to create some modern rock garden ideas in a sloping garden, a good way to achieve this is by using terracing. Planting on different levels is a great technique for creating interest in both small gardens and bigger spaces, and this is because the eye is drawn to different levels.

To recreate this look, build gravel-filled, stepped beds. Using sheets of reclaimed metal to keep the terraced levels in place is a great option for how to make a garden feel modern. 

Fill these stepped beds with alpine and perennial plants or combine classic alpines with succulents such as sedum and echeveria. The shape can be designed to fit your garden layout and the material chosen to suit its style. 


Kampo no Niwa’ – the modern rock garden designed by Kazuto Kashiwakura and Miki Santo for the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2019
(Image credit: Sarah Cuttle/RHS)

Why not bring some rock garden elements into your existing patio ideas for an ultra-serene setting? Take this design by Kazuto Kashiwakura and Miki Santo from the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2019. It is inspired by the designer’s island home in the north of Japan, Hokkaido. It’s known for its rugged landscape of mountains and volcanos.

‘The rill with rocks in our ‘Kampo no Niwa’ tried to bring beauty of nature and flux of time into the garden,’ Kazuto told us. ‘The sound of moving water is very beautiful and brings with it feelings of joy and happiness. The stream flowing from the stone wall and through the rocks represents the mineral rich snow melt water bringing nutrients from the mountain. Pond water seeps down through the soil releasing these minerals and nourishing the plants. People harvest these plants and herbs for the beneficial minerals and nutrients nature provides.’

Light-colored rocks and gravel have been used as modern edging ideas for the metal water rill which runs through the seating area. It has the effect of softening the look of the patio and giving it a naturalistic element, which is extremely calming and tranquil.

Article by Teresa Conway writing for:

Modern rock garden ideas: 17 contemporary looks for rockeries | GardeningEtc 

There are 14 more rockery ideas to view by clicking the link above.

Author: Dennis Hickey

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