Garden Photo of the Day

Mother Nature’s Rock Garden

Beautiful wild scenes from Tennessee

Jeff Calton sent in these beautiful images of a wild rock garden on one of his client’s properties. It is made up of huge limestone outcroppings covered with a rich green carpet of native plants. A great reminder that the ultimate teacher of garden design is Mother Nature… after all, she’s been at this a lot longer than any of us.

Though most of us don’t have giant limestone boulders in the garden, this natural scene could be easily recreated in a shady garden area by adding a few stones, understated perennials, and letting mosses establish themselves.

These beautiful mosses creeping over dramatic rocks are drought tolerant, pest free, deer proof, evergreen, refined, elegant and perfect. A good reminder that a garden doesn’t always have to be about dramatic burst of color. A little moss is sometimes all you need.

Three leaf stonecrop (Sedum ternatum, Zone 4 – 8) is one of the great, under-appreciated sedums. Native to a broad stretch of the Eastern US, it is one of the few sedums that actually thrive in shade. If you love the look of succulent foliage but don’t have much sun, or have a difficult dry shade area, this is the plant for you!

Pleopeltis polypodioides (Zone 6 – 9) has the common name of resurrection fern because if it gets too dry, the fronds turn brown and curl up on themselves. Then, when rain returns, they open right back up and carry on as before. That’s my kind of plant! It is found most often in the wild where it creeps over rocks as in the photo above, or, sometimes, it grows right up onto the trunks of trees.

Another view of the resurrection fern among the mosses.

One final dramatic shot looking up at a tree that has managed to find a root hold and thrive on the limestone boulders.

View Comments


  1. user-1020932 03/13/2018

    Thanks for identifying those plants, Joseph! I had not a clue as to their name

  2. grannieannie1 03/13/2018

    Love rocks! Can't get enough of them. And seeing mosses etc on them is a bonus. Thank you for posting!

    1. user-1020932 03/13/2018

      I love them too and have been hauling rocks home now for years

  3. wittyone 03/13/2018

    These rocks really rock!

    Here in limestone county lots of limestone is readily available. I have large rectangular rough cut stones lining a bed in the shady back corner which will look wonderful with some of these ferns, mosses and stonecrop softening them.

    Thanks for the names!

    1. user-1020932 03/13/2018

      I have some cut stones here brought home from a jobsite,,,,,they always look great in place but gravity is NOT my friend when working with stone

  4. User avater
    Tim_Zone_Denial_Vojt 03/13/2018

    Those are wonderful outcroppings, Jeff. Makes me wish I had rock outcroppings in my yard (although I know myself well enough to know that then I'd be complaining that didn't have enough deep, rich soil because of all of the rocks.......)

    1. user-1020932 03/13/2018

      Tim, I thought of you when I was photographing these outcroppings. They sit right at the edge of at least a 200 foot bluff over Reedy Creek

  5. janeeliz 03/13/2018

    Such beauty.!..Mother Nature has so much to teach us.
    Thank you, Jeff, for seeing it, taking such awesome photos and sharing with us. That last photo is so dramatic!

    1. user-1020932 03/13/2018

      Jane, Mother Nature is full of surprises when we slow down enough to take notice. We are all too busy nowadays

  6. User avater
    LindaonWhidbey 03/13/2018

    Nice post, Jeff. Living on an island called “ the rock” means that our soil is just as Tim described, full of rocks. The upside is that we have many large rocks occurring naturally, no outcroppings as large as these, but plenty of moss. It’s such a beautiful part of nature.

    1. user-1020932 03/13/2018

      I never paid much attention to moss until the last few years. I think I have finally grown up and have become more observant

  7. cheryl_c 03/13/2018

    HI, Jeff, thanks again for sharing such amazing pictures! Yes, Tim, those of us who do have these outcroppings in our yard complain even as we delight in how they give such permanence to our design. I was able to get some dwarf iris started in the rock outcropping just outside our kitchen window, and would also recommend that plant to those who have similar 'difficulties' in their gardens.

    1. user-1020932 03/13/2018

      I bet there are some iris growing around in this location. Trillium are just breaking ground here and soon all the Jacks will be up. It's always a race starting April 1

  8. schatzi 03/13/2018

    Beautiful post, Jeff. The moss covered boulders are magnificent. And thanks for the plant ID's and info on the fern, Joseph.

    1. user-1020932 03/13/2018

      All the moss is a welcome sight of green at this time of year

  9. Maggieat11 03/13/2018

    Great photos, Jeff!! Love the foliage and growth habit of the resurrection fern but can't grow it here in Zone 5. Your last photo is especially wonderful! Thanks for sharing!

    1. user-1020932 03/13/2018

      I didn't know resurrection fern even grew around here this is the only colony I have ever seen but sure there is more out there.

    2. Chris_N 03/13/2018

      A very similar looking fern is common polypody, Polypodium virginianum. It is not as drought tolerant but will readily grow in cracks between stones and on cliffs. Or if there is moss, it will grow through moss making great sheets on the rocks. It is found into Canada and does fine in Zone 5.

      1. user-1020932 03/13/2018

        This one has thick leaves would that be another ID factor?

  10. User avater
    meander_michaele 03/13/2018

    Awesome sharing, Jeff. The compatibility of the rocks, their crevices, the moss, ferns and sedum is magical and mesmerizing. What a special experience it must be to work around and in such a beautiful setting.

    1. user-1020932 03/13/2018

      and I never knew any of this was on the property and I have worked there for years

  11. User avater
    treasuresmom 03/13/2018

    Love the look of bark & boulders. Thanks for sharing your pics!

    1. user-1020932 03/13/2018

      I wish I could magically transport this spot to my own garden,,,,,,,,,probably not gonna happen

  12. Meelianthus 03/13/2018

    Great photography Jeff!

    1. user-1020932 03/13/2018

      Thanks, Meeli! phones are so very handy and easy to carry around to catch what surprises us

  13. user-7003263 03/13/2018

    As always, Jeff, you and your camera knock the ball out of center field. Beautiful pictures of Mother Nature doing her wonderful thing. Thanks for sharing.

    1. user-1020932 03/13/2018

      Thanks, Sonya. That last photo looking up into the tree,,,,,,the wet leaves slipped and there I went sliding downhill toward the precipice. I will always be thankful for that hickory tree for stopping me

      1. Chris_N 03/13/2018

        I've had a couple of trees stop me like that, Jeff. Always a bad idea to slide toward cliffs.

  14. Chris_N 03/13/2018

    Great photos, Jeff. I love cliffs and natural rockeries and all the plants found there. There's another interesting fern in the photo with the sedum. Asplenium rhizophyllum, walking fern is only found on limestone boulders and outcrops. Rather than the typical cut fern leaves, they have long lanceolate leaves. There is one with the tip of its leaf touching down among the closest sedum and a clupm near the right edge of the boulder. They're called walking ferns because wherever a tip touches the moss, a new fern can grow. Sometimes you will see a group of them, all 'walking' away from the mother plant.

    1. user-1020932 03/13/2018

      Thanks, Chris, next time I am there I will be checking this out more closely. I didn't know you were a fernhead! :)

  15. flowerladydi 03/13/2018

    Great photos Jeff! I LOVE moss!,, it is so ' earthy ' -:),,, How fabulous to have these majestic rocks to enjoy!

  16. bsavage 03/13/2018

    Love this so much! Moss on rocks... perfect!

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