Choose your site: Most rock garden plants need at least a half day of sunlight to thrive, as well as fast draining soil, good air circulation around the plants and some shade from the hottest sun of the day. Eastern or northern exposures are generally good sites for a rock garden.

Mimic the natural geology: Place flat sedimentary rocks such as limestone in horizontal layers, and bury rounded conglomerates like pudding stones, exposing just a portion. Build ledges and clusters. Use rocks to form multi-layer ledges, or random clusters of round stones with pockets of soil interspersed for planting.

Think Heidi: The best plants for a rock garden are alpine in origin with deep, fleshy roots; small moisture-conserving leaves; and large, colorful flowers. Primroses, alpine geraniums or columbine are prime candidates, as are dwarf and trailing evergreens, hardy spreading herbs like thyme, oregano and marjoram, and various succulents. Even small flowering bulbs can be at home in a rock garden.

Enjoy: Maintenance is minimal. Most rock garden dwellers are easy to care for, needing very little fertilizer or pruning. Pulling weeds as they sprout is the most important thing. Protection from cold, drying winter winds may also be needed.

Stella Otto is the nationally recognized author of The Backyard Orchardist and The Backyard Berry Book.