We need to rethink rocks. We despise them, especially in our gardens. We hate moving them around and finding a way to dispose of them. I don’t know how many gardeners have carped to me, “All I’m growing is rocks.”

We need to rethink rocks. We despise them, especially in our gardens. We hate moving them around and finding a way to dispose of them. I don’t know how many gardeners have carped to me, “All I’m growing is rocks.”

Our ancestors built rock walls, streets and drainage ditches. They viewed rocks as a gift, not a bane. Give rocks a job, and they never fail you.

I had a problem area along the driveway side of our front shrubbery. The built-up dirt and mulch was eroding down the drive with every rainfall. I paved the bank with stones; problem solved.

Rocks are plentiful here in Ohio, but most are not native to our soil. They are transplanted. The great glaciers rolled them down when they scraped out the Great Lakes. Our sticky, clay soil buried them. Freezing and thawing cause them to move, offering the impression that they are growing out there. We get a new crop every year.

So you can curse rocks, or you can find ways to enjoy their natural beauty. I have made walkways with them; raised vegetable beds and one birdhouse (glued together, a mistake, too heavy for any tree). My backyard retaining wall is native stone. Rocks hold in my perennial bed at the back of our garage.

When I find good rocks, I pile them out back. I know I will eventually find a use for them. All this, I might add, is free.

Stones have become design elements. It’s to the point where you can buy them, yes, with money, at garden centers. They are craved for those ponds and waterfalls folks are installing everywhere, real naturalizers.

And then we have that great consumer of ambient stone, the rock garden. These are utilitarian in excessively rocky areas. Their model is our mountains, where rocks hold in the soil and plants thrive between them. (A tipoff that a perennial is suitable for a rock garden is “alpine” in its name, such as Alpine Aster).

Start small with a rock garden. You can always expand it as you find more stones. Prepare the bed by tilling. Then place a few layers of newspaper over it to block weeds long enough for your plants to take over. Next come the stones, and then fill in between them with soil.

You will find rock-garden perennials at garden centers. They usually are very hardy and need little care beyond planting and watering. All of them spread fast.

These gardens can be utilitarian. Many herbs such as oregano, thyme, sage and rosemary are happy amid rocks. A friend of mine grows watercress in stones lining a drainage ditch.

ROCK GARDEN PERENNIALS

Dwarf Yarrow
Carpet Bugle
Rock Jasmine
Windflower
Cats foot
Rockcress
Sandwort
Sea Pink
Alpine Aster
Alpine Pinks
Basket of Gold
Snow in the Summer
Hens and Chicks
Spurge
Oregano
Thyme
Sage
Mint
Phlox
Primrose
Stonecrop

Jim Hillibish writes for the Canton Repository. Contact him at jim.hillibish@cantonrep.com