Plant Talk | Science Talk

Reimagining Rock Gardening

Esther Jackson is the Public Services Librarian at NYBG’s LuEsther T. Mertz Library where she manages Reference and Circulation services and oversees the Plant Information Office. She spends much of her time assisting researchers, providing instruction related to library resources, and collaborating with NYBG staff on various projects related to Garden initiatives and events.


Rock GardeningRock Gardening: Reimagining a Classic Style is the newest book from Joseph Tychonievich, published with Timber Press. Tychonievich has previously authored Plant Breeding for the Home Gardener: How to Create Unique Vegetables and Flowers and The Complete Guide to Gardeners: The Plant Obsessed and How to Deal With Them. Organic Gardening Magazine has called him one of “six young horticulturists who are helping to shape how America gardens,” and those who move in the horticulture social media world may recognize his charming and relatable comics about plant geeks.

Rock gardening is back in vogue, according to this new book. For those who live in the greater NYC and Westchester regions, it may never have left entirely. Because of the rocky terrain that our region boasts, “The art of growing alpines and other miniature plants in the company of rocks to recreate the look of rugged mountaintops” is a savvy and beautiful use of space. Beyond beauty, an additional utility can be found in creating drought-tolerant plantings for water-wise gardens. Rock gardens have the potential to be sustainable and low-maintenance while still providing great color and texture. For gardeners looking for an introduction to rock gardening, Tychonievich’s book is a great start.

The author writes:

“…Rock gardening is a part of a long aesthetic tradition that starts with scenes that anyone who hikes around mountains or cliffs or stony ground will know well: a ridge, cliff-face, or big boulder with plants tucked down in a crevice between two stones, in the soil behind a rock, or even in a shallow pocket of leaf mold collecting in a stony depression. The visual effect of a delicate, beautiful flower set against the hard austerity of stone provides a dramatic contrast…”

Rock Gardening is divided into three main sections. “Gardens” offers inspiration to the home gardener, featuring profiles of different rock gardens throughout the world. “Techniques” deals with questions related to garden design and construction. “Plants” presents a plant palette organized by plant type (e.g. cacti, campanulas, etc.). For those who are hooked by rock gardening after reading Tychonievich’s book, some supplemental reading may be helpful.

The Rock Garden Plant Primer: Easy, Small Plants for Containers, Patios, and the Open Garden by Christopher Grey-Wilson, a 2009 book also from Timber Press, specifically focuses on rock garden plants.

Rock Gardens by John A. Kelly provides helpful how-to illustrations for rock garden design and installation.

Rockeries and Alpine Gardens: A Complete Practical Guide by Mary Moody includes some suggested planting designs featuring rock garden plants.

Rock Gardening is a new look at a classic style, and if you’re not quite sure what to do with that rocky part of your property, it may offer an elegant and beautiful solution. For those without a yard, there is no need to feel left out. Why not make a rock container garden? Either way, rock gardening offers water-saving, environmentally friendly, and sustainable options for home gardeners.

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