A rockery revival is under way. A new generation of gardeners, inspired by Instagram images, are once again buying boulders to build rock gardens that had until recently been written off as an old-fashioned idea.
Garden retailers and designers are reporting a comeback for rockeries, which are viewed as low maintenance and a welcoming environment for garden wildlife.
On of what is predicted to be a “dream” Easter long weekend for garden centres, the Wyevale chain said sales of heathers, alpines and mini-conifers had surged 156% in the first three months of 2019 on the back of the emerging trend.
Rockeries first became popular as part of the 18th-century landscape garden movement and designs were later influenced by Victorian explorers who brought alpine plants to the UK, leading to outlandish projects such as the mini-Matterhorn, complete with tin mountain goats, created at Friar Park in Henley-on-Thames by the eccentric Sir Frank Crisp.
Over the years, the trend filtered down to less grandiose gardens and by the second half of the 20th century the rockery was a common sight in suburban gardens. However, by the 1970s they had often become what garden designer Joe Swift described as “currant bun” rockeries – essentially just a mound of earth with rocks on top and random plants grown in the gaps.
Then came the “outdoor living” trend, with outdoor space decked and paved over to accommodate sofas and barbecues – and old rockeries often providing the hardcore.
But with many gardeners short of the time required to keep on top of weeds, wheelbarrow loads of rubble and boulders are back in demand, thanks to a rehabilitation programme that has seen rock gardens feature at the Chelsea Flower Show – a green light that eventually filters through to the high street – and a newfound passion for gardening among millennial Instagram users.
“Gardeners have increasingly busy lifestyles and appreciate the low maintenance and Instagrammable aesthetic [of a rockery],” said Wyevale’s head of horticulture, Mark Sage
Projects can be adapted to suit nay budget, he said: “Heathers dominate today’s rockeries. They are great for colour, foliage and are extremely low maintenance throughout the year as well as being fantastic pollinator for garden wildlife.”
Picture-sharing websites such as Instagram and Pinterest have pages dedicated to rock gardens and the Royal Horticultural Society said it is possible to incorporate one into all sizes of plot. However, it adds that establishing a well-designed rockery still takes time and effort.
The four-day Easter break, when Britons traditionally start getting their gardens ready for summer, is a key trading period for garden and DIY specialists. The Garden Centre Association (GCA), which represents 180 outlets around the country, said sales of outdoor plants surged 60% in February and March, although some of that increase is the result of poor sales last year as a result of the “beast from the east” and its freezing storms.
With the weather in some parts of UK forecast to be hotter than Corfu or Mallorca, retailers were also preparing for the first barbecue weekend of the year. John Lewis says its stores have seen a 20% increase in sales of big grills, priced between £1,000 and £1,500.
Colin Dale, the head of plants at the family owned Notcutts garden centre chain, said the sunshine was setting up retailers for a “dream Easter weekend” with demand for summer bedding plants such as geraniums, petunias and begonias already strong: “Gardeners are going crazy to ensure that their gardens are fresh and colourful this spring.”