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How to Build a Tufa Rock Garden


 

 

Tufa rock garden

Tufa is a type of calcium rich rock used by rock gardeners to grow lime loving plants.   The goal for this garden was to pack the rocks as tightly together as possible to create narrow planting crevices and to maximize the surface area of the tufa for planting directly into the rock. 
 


Prepare the site

    Prepare site

We prepared the site for our new rock feature by putting down ground cloth to prevent root penetration from adjacent trees.  We then added 4-5" layer of crushed rock to provide a solid base for our rock structure.  These barriers will discourage rodents from causing damage to the plants and also prevent earthworm activity which would cause a mixing of the native soil into the garden over time. 

 


Lay out the available rocks

    Tufa rock garden construction

We laid out the available rocks to begin the design process.  This allowed us to select the best rocks for each section.  As always, we received constant and close supervision from our Border Collie Lucy. 



Build from the bottom up

 Build a tufa rock garden

We laid the bottom course of rocks, burying them into the crushed rock for stability.  We then added our soil mixture into the middle area to stabilize the structure as we placed the next course of rocks and built upward and inward toward the apex of our little tufa mountain. 



Use a free draining soil mix

 Tufa rock garden

Our soil for this project was a scree mix consisting of equal parts coarse sand and 1/4-10 crushed rock amended with compost for slow release of nutrients over time.  The scree provides a very stable platform on which to place the tufa.  



Create micro climates

Another view of tufa rock garden

Here is another view of the structure.  Notice that we designed it for easy access and close up viewing from all sides.  The irregular shape of the tufa rock garden creates many micro-climates with varying amounts of sun and shade as well as exposure to the elements. There are some overhangs where plants such as Primula marginata can be tucked and protected from winter moisture.

 

Plant the crevices

Hori Hori knife to plant crevices

We worked plants into the crevices between the rocks, selecting plants from either limestone regions or areas with low fertility, alkaline soils.  I found it helpful to use my Japanese hori hori gardening knife to create the planting voids and help insert plants. Where soils seemed unstable, we wedged small pieces of tufa between rocks to hold plants and soil in place.  

In the crevices on the more protected and cooler north and east sides we planted Primula allionii 'Airemist', P. auricula hybrids, P. marginata, Campanula cochlearifolia, Leontopodium sp., Saxifraga cartilagenea, S. x burnatii, Asplenium scolopendrium, Androsace sarmentosa 'Chumbyi', Telesonix jamesii, and Heuchera pulchella.

In the more exposed and warmer southern and western facing crevices, we planted Veronica oltensis, Cheilanthes argentea, Gypsophila aretoides, Linaria alpina, Aethionema glaucinum, Draba condensata, Antennaria alpina, Pinus aristata, and Penstemon davidsonii v menziesii.


Topdress with Grit
Tufa Rock Garden


Finally, we topdressed the garden with screened tufa gravel for a cohesive look.  The tufa rock garden has the warm, sun drenched color of some of the beautiful limestone buildings in Europe.  The dimensions of the completed garden is 9 feet long by 6 feet wide by 3 1/2 feet high.
  


Next

How to drill and plant in tufa 

 Learn more about tufa and its unique properties in our Tufa Blog.


 


 

 


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