With most kinds of gardening or landscaping, the gardener may exercise a rather wide range of choices when it comes to treatment; he may make his planting formal, informal, natural, highly decorative, or more picturesque.
With a rock garden however, formal treatment is precluded. Neither the materials used in the construction of the rock garden nor the plants which will occupy it, lend themselves to any formal arrangement. Straight lines, regular angles or curves, the trimmed plants, statuary, fountains, and all that sort of thing are so foreign to the whole conception of the rock garden that any attempt to introduce them would appear ludicrous. A rock garden is the most natural kind of garden there is, chiefly designed to be constructed with materials that are already present. A lot of fuss is just not appropriate or necessary.
One may, however, choose between a naturalistic treatment and what may be termed “the Japanese style,” the chief difference being that in the Japanese style an effort is made to reproduce a miniature landscape. This requires an excellent sense of proportion and a knowledge and use of a wide variety of plant material. The satisfactory execution of a Japanese rock garden is much more difficult than that of a rock garden which will appear satisfactorily natural looking. Unless the services of a landscape architect are available, it is better to try the simpler form first.
It will become apparent that in planning a rock garden even a simple one, that the gardener will be presented with the choice of a number of different types. It is a sensible route to take to plan what type of rock garden that is desired beforehand so that time, resources, and materials are not wasted.