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.
Hi Steve, what a way you have with rocks! When or if I ever relocate and begin another garden, I would want you to come and place the boulders, you have the artist’s eye for placement. I especially love the upright verticles in the first shot and believe they could work in a non desert landscape such as we have in hilly TN. Your clients are all very lucky to have you! 🙂
I have seen the rocks of Kentucky and Tennessee and I surely agree that they could make a wonderful medium to work with, Frances. It has come to this – everywhere I go I check out the rocks. It’s pretty simple, really.
What I particularly like about the West is the number of rounded granite boulders, eroded from water effects. While I do like the edgy fractures and exposed quartz and what not from many mineral-rich boulders – and they are here too – I love working with water even more.
Great article. I too love a few well-placed boulders; they add striking rawness to a landscape. I’m also fond of recycled slate etc. that can be used in a style similar to rocks/boulders (example: http://www.yardshare.com/myyard.php?yard_id=628).
Loved your rock performances, Steve, in both posts. It’s clear you’ve spent a lot of time with rocks. Interesting also to ponder the life-length of landscaping; I hadn’t realized it was so short. I’m impressed at the dramatic changes made in those yards in a short time, though I admit it does distress me to see lawns in the desert.
I am in Kentucky. I have collected over 50 local, huge, unusual, watershaped, mostly-limestone boulders. I want to begin selling them. Will you help me to learn how to price them?
They are very unique. Some can be used as “benches” because they are sitting height. Some have little indents that hold water for animals to drink out of. Some have little trees growing out of them. We have photos.
Very Nice boulder placement. We do a major amount of surface boulders here in the Phoenix metro area. Very nice pojects. Thanks for sharing
Arizona Desert Landscaping
Thanks, Ken, appreciate it. Working with rocks is some fun.
Wow, you definitely do have a way with rocks! Sometimes it can be very difficult to balance rock/boulder placement, but you seem to have a natural talent for it. Great work and wonderful pictures as always.
Thanks, Kostas. One of my all time favorites things about landscaping is moving these big guys around.
I loved the footbridge. I live in Ky and have just torn out all of my old fashioned looking shrubs in front. I have fallen in love with a tanyosho pine tree (it may be the new focal point) and am looking for ideas.
I am also a huge fan of Tanyosho Pines! They are a terrific focal point, for real.