By REBECCA SLOAN
For many gardeners, a flower bed just isn't worth a dime unless it's got a few rocks for aesthetic appeal.
If you have always thought of incorporating rocks into your flower gardens but weren't sure where to start, Phil Gargoline of Phillips Duncan Lakkes in Liberty, a business that specializes in rocks and garden accessories, gave this advice: & quot;You're limited only by your imagination. Don't look for anyone else's OK. Your rock garden should be a reflection of you, & quot; he said.
For example, Gargoline said some people think a rock garden should only be constructed on a piece of sloping land that receives sun from the south or the west, but this isn't so.
& quot;You can make an attractive rock garden on flat ground, and if you don't have a piece of sloping land, you can create one by bringing in some dirt, & quot; he said, adding, & quot;It's true that drought-tolerant, sun-loving plants do very well among rocks, but you can also build rock gardens in the shade and plant ferns, moss or ivy. & quot;
The size of the rocks you choose will also determine the types of plants that will look best.
& quot;Smaller rocks need low-growing plants with small flowers. Bigger rocks look just fine with larger, taller plants, & quot; Gargoline said.
He recommends choosing your stones first and then choosing plants.
& quot;Go for the kind of stone that first appeals to you. There are many, many kinds to choose from - fieldstone, sandstone, granite - we even sell slag from old blast furnaces. It looks sort of like a meteorite, and the little nooks and crannies are great for planting hens and chicks in, & quot; he said.
Mark Delliquadri of Delliquadri Lawn Maintenance and Landscaping in Liberty said limestone is another type of rock with lots of little indentations where moss and lichens can be planted.
& quot;Limestone is also very porous, so it allows water to seep through, & quot; he said.
The cost of stone varies by the size, variety and the amount purchased.
& quot;Prices can range from 10 cents a pound to $8 per foot for larger stone, & quot; Gargoline said. & quot;Some people are scared off initially, thinking they can't afford a rock garden, but you can build a really nice little rock garden for $100, or of course, you can build a really big rock garden for thousands of dollars. It just depends on your budget and what you want to create. & quot;.
Delliquadri said rocks that are native to the area are often easiest to come by and less costly.
& quot;Fieldstone and sandstone are pretty common around here and can often be purchased at a cheaper price, but sometimes sandstone is pretty expensive if it is cut in large chunks and is the kind that was used in old barn foundations, & quot; Delliquadri said.
Once you scout out an ideal spot for rocks and choose the stones that fit your fancy, actually building a rock garden is the next step.
If you will be hauling in your own rocks and soil, it's a good idea to start small because the job might be larger than you think.
& quot;You can always add on to a garden as you go, & quot; Gargoline said.
A good plan of attack is to set the rocks in the lowest, front part of the garden first and work upward. Dig shallow holes, and pack soil around rocks to anchor them firmly.
After the rocks are in place, allow the soil to settle a few days before adding plants. This also gives you time to make sure you really like how you positioned the rocks, so if you want to move one, you can still do so without much difficulty or rearranging.
What to plant
There are hundreds of types of plants you can choose from, but for sunny rock gardens, Gargoline recommends low-growing perennials or annuals.
Remember to choose plants that will bloom at different seasons so you don't have an explosion of color in July and August and nothing else the rest of the year.
Gargoline said planting dainty springtime bulbs, such as crocus, snowdrops and petite daffodils, is one way to ensure blooms all season long.
& quot;Bulb flowers look great with rocks, & quot; he said.
Maintaining a rock garden will entail cutting back leggy plants, keeping weeds from taking root between crags and crannies and relocating plants that become root-bound or too large for their space, thus hiding decorative rocks.
Slugs might be a problem because they enjoy the cool shelter found under rocks.
If your rock garden is on a slope, plants will get more exposure to the elements during winter than if they were planted in level beds. To keep plants snug, apply a layer of heavy mulch before the first freeze.