Gardening on the rocks

Many Partner Gardens have outstanding rock gardens filled with interesting, unusual and vibrant plants.

The rock garden at BranklynFrom historic rock gardens with links to the plant hunters, to a rock garden you can visit by train, we've pulled together eight rock gardens that make the perfect day out - especially in spring. 

Legacy of the plant hunters 

The rock garden at Branklyn Garden, Perth (pictured above) was originally created by John and Dorothy Renton to provide good growing conditions for seeds they had acquired from plant hunters such as Forrest, Ludlow and Sherriff.

The locally-quarried limestone helps ensure good drainage, shields the roots, and minimises evaporation and weed growth. There is a long season of interest, with treats including alpine primulas, Paraquilegia anemonoides (blue buttercup), Stellera chamaejasme and Rhododendron forrestii.

An evolving feature


Image: Big Drum.The 0.6ha (1.5 acres) Rock Garden at Ness Botanic Gardens, South Wirral, was created in 1898 as a typical rock garden, but has now evolved into a mixture of alpines, herbaceous and woody plants.

Sandstone, raised peat beds, Tufa and limestone give a mix of habitats, from wet valleys to sunny slopes. The garden is at its best in spring, when the central alpine meadow is filled with Narcissi, but summer highlights include irises and late-flowering primulas. 


Visit a rock railway 

The rock garden at Exbury Gardens

The 0.8ha (2 acres) rock garden at Exbury Gardens, Hampshire, is the largest man-made rock garden in Europe, and was largely built by Lionel de Rothschild in the 1920s and 30s.

In March, enjoy Pieris, dwarf daffodils and dwarf rhododendrons; by September, YuccaGrevillea rosmarinifolia and Arbutus x andrachnoides keep the season going. For a bird's eye view, take a trip on the Exbury railway, which skirts the top of the rock garden. 


From conifers to ferns


The rock garden, Wentworth Garden Centre and Historic Gardens

The Rock Garden at Wentworth Garden Centre and Historic Gardens, South Yorkshire, was created within and around an old stone quarry in about 1868.

Elements of the original planting still remain - particularly conifers and acers - but more recent plantings revolve around ferns, hostas, phormiums, hardy geraniums and grasses, complemented by ponds, pools and cascades. 


Spectacular Mount Stuart

Image: Andrea Jones


The 0.8ha (2 acres) Rock Garden at Mount Stuart, Isle of Bute, was designed by the English landscape architect Thomas Mawson in the late 1890s, and is particularly colourful in April/May and autumn.

The series of cascading waterfalls and reflective pools are a remarkable feat of engineering, as the water is diverted from a stream half a mile away via stone drains. The Rock Garden is home to interesting Asiatic specimens including Magnolia doltsopaReevesia pubescens and Stewartia species. 


A Dorset gem


The rock and water garden, Compton Acres

The extensive 1920s Rock and Water Garden at Compton Acres, Dorset, is a patchwork of contrasting shapes, colours and foliage forms with year-round appeal.

Among the naturalistic plantings and features are a stream and pool crossed by rustic bridges, more than 300 different types of rock plants, mature conifers, and a fine bronze of 'Solitaire' the dancer.


Bulbs and bridges

The rock garden, Winterbourne House and Garden


The Edwardian rock garden at Winterbourne House and Garden, Birmingham, took advantage of a natural drop, allowing for different levels, steps and stepping stones. The impressive leaves of Gunnera manicata flourish by the small pool, alongside the bright yellow spathes of Lysichiton americanus

In spring, orange and pink candelabra primulas are preceded by dwarf azaleas, Cyclamen coum and early flowering bulbs on the upper levels. A Japanese-style oak bridge spans the lower rock garden, allowing access to the native woodland area. 


A taste of the fellside

The rock garden, Holehird Gardens

Holehird Gardens, Cumbria, is well known to lovers of alpine plants. Highlights of its large rock garden - part of a broader 0.2ha fellside garden - include many mature dwarf rhododendrons, the showy blooms of Paeonia mlokosewitschii, bright clusters of Primula pulverulenta by the side of the cascade, and a fine specimen of Acer shirasawanum ‘Aureum’.

Find out more about RHS Partner Gardens

RHS Membership

I enjoy a refreshing walk… my membership gives me free family days out as often as I like.

Mrs Giddings, RHS member

Join the RHS

Get involved

The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.