Let's rock 'n roll
It seems to me that the idea of a "rockery" has come to be thought of as a bit old fashioned; I must admit in recent years I have rarely considered a rockery as a design solution.
Despite this, creating a rock garden can be a great way to tackle a sloping site, after all the whole idea behind a rockery is to recreate the look of a planted mountainside so maybe it is time for a rethink.
It may be that your garden features a slope with an angle that would benefit from some terracing to graduate the descent and make it more accessible. Place a number of large rocks together backfilled with soil to create an informal, natural looking terrace.
The effect will work better if the stones don't fit together perfectly and are quite irregular in their size and arrangement producing random gaps throughout.
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Digging out or shaping the ground for the rock to sit snugly into will give them a stable and firmer base but it is important not to think of using this method for retaining walls with a height of more than approximately eight inches (20cm), as it would not be strong enough.
A variety of large rock types are available, producing many different effects ranging from bright white Cotswold limestone to the dark purple shades of slate. Whichever look you opt for, use the same stone type throughout to unify the scheme and maintain a natural appearance.
Alpine plants are the perfect choice for this type of scheme and come with many benefits. Alpine species originate from high altitude mountainous regions that have adapted to suit those conditions. They are used to very poor, free draining soil, so you don't have to worry about improving your soil. Alpines have also adapted to survive the harsh weather found above the tree line. Many species have evolved into slow-growing and compact cushion or matt-forming habits. This minimises exposure to freezing mountain winds and damage from the weight of a deep winter snow cover.
Alpines are also used to growing in the full glare of the sun all day and have tailored themselves in various ways to accommodate this. Many plants feature small, hairy and silvery leaves to minimise water loss through evaporation or are kinds of miniature succulents storing water within the leaves. As a result, once established these kinds of plants are very easy to care for, requiring little to no watering or pruning – the original "low maintenance" garden.
An added bonus is that many alpines are types of groundcover which will spread over the ground to form a natural carpet of foliage, ideal for a weed suppressant.
Saxifraga "Peter Pan" is one such alpine; a compact, mound forming evergreen perennial with tiny grey-green leaves arranged in rosettes. In spring it is covered with single, small rose-pink flowers with yellow centres. Sedum rupestre "Angelina" is another great alpine with a trailing, mat-forming habit, also evergreen with pointed, golden- yellow leaves and upright, leafy stems bearing clusters of star- shaped, yellow flowers in summer.