Here are a few more examples of the placement of rocks, boulders and even smaller rocks used as mulching in a few of the landscapes I have designed and installed. The primary virtue of boulder use is in their sense of permanence over time. Plants and lawns evolve, change into something more – sometimes too much more – and form the mutable and changeable side of a landscape. No one would have it any other way, either. We are talking life – imperfect, sometimes rampant, sometimes even ill-chosen, just like the lives we all live.
(click images to enlarge)
The fact is, the intentions of most applications on plant design plan on about 15-20 years at best. Naturally, the environment they exist in is geared to be more permanent. Some plants have literal life spans. Others exhaust the nutrients and the available root space owing to the confinements of their planting mediums and locations. Other become overly shaded by larger plants and trees and suffer from sunlight deficiencies – in fact, there is an entire book on what can “go wrong” when, in fact it is simply part of the evolving nature of a natural garden. And this is particluarly the case with the smaller residences I have dealt with, historically.
Residential landscaping requires some fairly immediate satisfaction. Clients can be most patient to wait a year for things to develop, especially inasmuch as they probably had something highly unsatisfactory prior – or else – as was the case in many of my Reno designs – they had dust. The sheer satisfaction of the change can be rewarding enough. But they will thence be studying what they have in hopes of seeing something develop that will please them and their neighbors to a much larger degree. Unlike commercial projects who either have huge budgets and who can plant larger specimens right away or they have the wherewithal to wait for the development of their plants over time, residential customers want to get happy sooner but with less budget.
So the result can be dramatic and even far more fun. With this expectation goes a intense desire to satisfy – a fact which is especially important for the informed but newer business. Satisfying customers leads to abundant new leads as their friends and neighbors cast about for someone to address their new landscapes. With these sorts of expectations, one is impelled to make it work just that way, producing plants that develop rapidly in a mix with those who have a more permanent and slower development. It becomes, at its very best, dramatic, in the end.
It can go, for example, from this:
To this, in a year.
The use of just a few larger plant specimens (such as the more mature Tanyosho Pine above at the top of this picture) can be mixed with the more profuse and rapidly growing perennials, as was the case here, to provide dramatic color and growth over a relatively short period of time. What appeared “boney” as we call it in landscaping (with rocks, rocks and then a few more rocks and a few struggling little plants, can become something else entirely.
Or from this:
To this: (in 2 years)
The basic fact is, once we discover this tactic and approach, it is a net gain for everyone. The other super cool benefit is that we become Hot Dogs:
The point remains, regardless of how it all works in the end – rocks form the basic structure of a landscape. It is why I wax long and hard about the sense of absoluteness involved in setting boulders. Once set, they are not going anywhere. The effort to lodge them into place – many of which can weigh up to two tons – was far too rigorous to allow for changing. Once in, always there. Therefore getting boulders “right” is not a question – it is a demand – and often makes the difference between a successful landscape and a miserable one.
Where boulders are numerous, such as Reno, Nevada and Portland, Oregon – where I have plied my trade – they become additional options for things such as merely special effects to catch the eye such as the grouping of 3 up at the top of this entry (one of which is a “bubble rock”, bored with water running through it and trickling down). They can also be used as seats – as in the picture above – clustered around a fire pit.
In fact, the mixture of boulders and pavers makes a particularly interesting combination. Both are completely permanent but they come from such radically different origins – the bricks manufactured painstakingly by the most modern equipment, geared for precision and the boulders, made by God, shaped by water and weather, and maybe a billion years old apiece – just a tad more “experienced” than the brick pavers. I often insert them in the lines bordering patios and walkways, just to break things up and to remind one of Nature Herself during the course down the edges. The hard and disciplined lines of walkways and patios find some intruding naturalness this way.
These are a few of the ways we “naturalize” a modern landscape project. I have always held that boulders serve the “softer” function of intruding Nature into our retentive business. I can assure you this – that won’t change.
Next, mulches and some other unique roles played by rocks and stones.