Rock Gardening with Miniature Plants

Nature loves to fill any void. We see her grass in sidewalk cracks and her wildflowers in the crevices in rock faces. 

In time, Nature fills in. But we may not want to wait for Nature to adorn stone walls and stepping stones on our property. If we yearn to green up an area or get a certain specimen to take hold, we must help things along. For rock gardening, ideal adornments are miniature plants—typically ones that like to keep their feet dry. 

I am fortunate to have garden beds raised by stone walls. These walls have become home to a host of miniature plants. This started with… well, you know… Nature herself. A wildflower crept between the stones. A weed crept in. And then some Stonecrop spilled over from a bed, and realization hit: I had been wasting space by not doing any rock gardening on these walls, so ideal for adorning with miniature plants

I took more stems of Stonecrop, protected their “corn silk” roots, and placed them where two or three rocks met. I inserted a plug of soil to anchor the stems. At first, these miniature plants hung precariously. But Nature stepped in, and the Stonecrop began to spread, almost without soil. It now throws up flowers each growing season—healthy, strong. 

Hens and Chicks are miniature plants even more attuned to rock gardening. These succulents can be placed amid stones or in cracks in a rock face in granular soil added by a gardener’s hands. Again, there is a precarious start when working on a near-vertical plane. But these strong miniature plants—little “pincushions”—take hold. End result: geometric rosettes peeking from the rocks, as if in tiny caves. And to charm the gardener further, these rosettes send out tiny versions of themselves—sweet babies to add to the beauty.

I do not cover all the rocks with plants. Instead, I punctuate them with life and color. I have added varieties of Moss to my part-shade/part-sun walls. With some varieties, I cut a piece, place it on a stone with minimal soil underneath and slight anchoring between rocks, and its carpeting habit does the rest. This is Moss that loves shade, and with that gift, it will spread. I also plant Irish Moss specimens, sun-tolerant miniature plants, in clumps where there are rock voids that permit more earth to be inserted. Even these plants crave moisture, so I water my rocks regularly—a funny but important practice. The rocks typically ensure good drainage, so plants’ feet do not stay wet.

For planting between stepping stones, members of the Thyme family are fragrant picks. Elfin Thyme works in drier areas. Strong enough to be tread upon, and fragrant when underfoot, it enlivens the senses when planted amid pavers that form a garden path. With a miniature plant’s politeness, this Thyme will not interrupt the stride of someone walking in the garden. And miniature-plant forms of Creeping Mint along a path… well, need I say more? 

This flat-planed rock gardening done along a pathway is simpler when it comes to securing plants. It showcases carpeting and clumping miniature plants that greet human footsteps with perfumes that bring back a memory and bring forth a smile.

No existing stone wall, rock face, or stepping stones? Gather large river rocks and pile them to create a display that is easy to plant into—a container of sorts. Then choose miniature plants to nestle in. Rock gardening with miniature plants is a way to help Nature add life amid the hardscape, cushioning and fragrance along a pathway, and beauty.

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