Alpine Rock Gardens

Talk to any gardener and, aside from the fact that it contains rocks and plants; you’ll find they all have different definitions of what a rock garden is. In reality there is no set definition of a rock garden - it can be whatever you want it to be! Rock gardens have several advantages over the more traditional colour gardens, rose gardens, and perennial gardens. Because of the effect that most rock gardens strive for - an alpine or northern look - plants in them tend to be small, compact, and relatively easy to maintain. This means less watering, less pruning or deadheading, and, if the plants are kept strong through good care, there should be very little weeding involved. Generally a well-built rock garden requires only an hour or two a week in care! The other great advantage of a rock garden is that, if planned carefully, it can provide a beautiful showpiece even in the winter. Using grasses and the height of the rocks themselves a rock garden might be the perfect way to break up that dull carpet of snow.

There are innumerable books on rock gardening so instead of specifics this brochure will help you with the general considerations, as well as give you advice on what plants will do well in Calgary’s unique climate. If you decide to build a rock garden you would be well advised to buy a book specifically on rock gardens as it will usually answer most of your detailed questions.

Things to Consider

Many people are afraid of doing a garden as complex as a rock garden. They believe that they do not have the room for a rock garden or that they cannot move the rocks to build it. Wrong. Rock gardens can be built anywhere from containers a few feet across, using small 20-pound rocks, all the way up to covering part of an acreage, using 10 ton boulders. In addition, rock gardens do not have to be built with slate, fieldstone, or rundle rock. They can be built with lighter materials such as sandstone or tufa rock. You have a huge range of options when building a rock garden, so go wild!

When choosing a location for a rock garden, something to keep in mind is that many rock garden books are written by authors in more hospitable climates then ours. Many will say a full-sun exposure for your rock garden; however you may want to reconsider. Generally speaking, a full-sun exposure here in Calgary is far more intense then a full-sun exposure on the coast. Always keep in mind the needs of the plants you are putting in your garden, some will not do well in a full-sun area.

The other thing to consider when choosing a location for a garden is access when you are building it. Rock is heavy and you want to be able to get your rock pile as close as possible to where you are putting it in your garden. This will make building the rock garden much easier.

There is a large selection of plants suitable for rock / alpine gardens.
Rock Stars is a line of rock garden plants Sunnyside is proud to carry. Consisting of specific plants proven to grow well in our climate and look great in the rock garden. You’re sure to find the right plant for you!

Here are some charts that will help you choose the right plant for your alpine garden:




Alpine Aster

Alpine Columbine


Arctic Campion

Artic Iris

Arctic Phlox

Basket of Gold (Alyssum)





Cranesbill Geranium

Creeping Baby’s Breath

Creeping Phlox

Cushion Spurge





Hens and Chicks

Iceland Poppy

Japanese Columbine

Maiden Pinks

Moss Campion

Mountain Avens




Sea Pinks

Shooting Star



Stella D’Oro Daylily




Dwarf Shrubs and Vines

Crispa Spirea

Crispa Spirea

Crispa Spirea

Ground Clematis

Ground Clematis

Ground Clematis




Dwarf Evergreens

Horizontal Junuper

Blue Chip Juniper

Prince of Wales Juniper

Calgary Carpet Juniper

Birds Nest Spruce

Columnar Blue Spruce

Dwarf Mugo Pine