The Form and Occasional Placidity Of Stones – Rock Work

I’m recirculating this post from over a year ago, as well as making substantial changes to it. The density of posts now – and their length – means many of these get lost in the packaging of the entire blog. This is a post about boulders and big rocks – and the joys and intensity of placing them. I hope no one minds……..

Much of what I blog about refers very specifically to what I know. It gives me a certain freedom of expression within these landscaping parameters that I don’t have when speculating on matters I may think about but which I have not, in fact, done. Politics, for example, while I spend ample time considering the greatness of some famous politicians and the lying weasel aspects of others, are a pastime and not something I am utterly competent to speak of. Like most of us, I can complain  a lot! 🙂 I do that pretty well, the fact is, just not in here. But I do know rocks. By golly, I know rocks like a lover knows the curve of a spine or the taste of familiar  lips. But rocks are family too! I have such a long term relationship with rocks, stones, gravel and rock mulch, when I get to Heaven I am positive they will put me in a celestial excavator and dump some titanic load of fractured Glacial Schist for me to make stuff out of. Yesssssss!! ………………………….. “Hey, is that all you got?”  🙂 “Is this Heaven, Man!”

The not very secret fact is, I would be more than delighted. Placing rocks – the art of integrating boulders into a landscape and providing an almost immediate sense of permanency – to me is perhaps the finest form of artistic expression landscaping allows. The intensity of placing rocks lies in their permanence. As one adds boulders into the primitive beginnings to an eventual landscape, the heart always beats a little faster. I always get the feeling of “setting the stage” for everything that follows – plants, paving, the envisioned walkways. It therefore becomes something more than just a few rocks in the ground. These become the spine of the body of work. You tend to think in planes – geometrics. For example, many of my landscape rock placements have flat tops on them, hopefully virtually parallel with the ground itself. This gives yet another plane aspect to what will eventually rear up so vertical in the person of plants and constructions. In fact, it never seems enough. I want every rock to be that plane. (Left Click all images to enlarge) Interestingly, in denser concentrations such as the “rockery” retaining system below, they can be used as virtual steps to climb and deal with plants or just to make one’s way up the hillside. Crystal Springs March 3 09 291 Dropping a rock into place follows some very standard guidelines – typically, you want about a third of it underground. This to insure they don’t roll over and ruin the siding or worse, but also to embed itself so that eventual erosion and winds don’t expose the bottom. Nothing looks less permanent than some gigantic marble in your front yard or patio. Boulders like the ones below – your water-formed, circular and soft-lined river rocks – form a gentle presence stuck into a landscape. I use them here as seat rocks surrounding a fire pit and they serve that function well. The mellow curves and solid appearance of such well-formed boulders makes them an entirely welcome addition, blending as they do with the gentle curves of any landscape. They have a sensual style, nearly anthropomorphic, resembling things like clouds in the sky, rich for imaginations and for their gentle acceptance. Used economically, they can anchor a landscape with permanence and form and provide lines which break up the monotony of paving or otherwise simple constructions. These rounded rocks, showing the effects of centuries of wear and tear – of rolling around on river bottoms and being pummelled relentlessly by rushing water – seem so innocent and placid when in place. But then, all rocks do this, don’t they? We look at a rock and we see our innate vestigal human image of something totally permanent. (Unless, of course, we are geologists.) We see rivers and we see creeks when we see these rounded items – Or more placid settings where the pools formed over centuries are bordered by such well-worn stones – But not all rocks are equal! These cute little round boulders are great for the gentle among us. But there are other stones whose very form challenges us, in the most riveting and jarring artistic ways – These may also be anthropomorphic in their own rights…………what do we make of that hulking beast above? Some daemonic Chinese stone that wakes up at night to prowl our ‘hoods, made to order to scare little kids into making sure they go back to bed? Or we can go contemplative like those tricky Japanese who always mess with us like –


Or something like this big fellow, wise beyond it’s ancient years, standing alone and all-seeing among the plants he watches over, yet still able to evince a wonder at its teetering presence? Rocks speak to us if we care to listen. They come in a pretty stunningly wide variety and they can be placed in remarkable ways by the enterprising landscaper. Some, we put together in combination’s to simply attract attention, almost always in 3’s – (click this one twice to see the water coming out of the medium guy here) Some we bore holes into – all the way down their length – in order to have them perform a water dance while looking gorgeous as is their wont – And some we just plaster together to see what happens – We hang them off stuff, just because they are good-looking – And still others beg us to do weird things with. They plea for an arrangement where they can show off best and give us humans some wonder in our boring lives – Working with rocks and boulders has always been one of the true treats of my trade. I am sure it’s obvious I enjoy working with them and the very obvious truth, as well, is that I like operating machines that move them around! NO – let me rephrase that – I LOVE operating those machines! Honestly, there is something more than a little appealing about arranging these behemoths in a morning and have a client come home and see 30 huge boulders set in place. For example, we did this (at least the rocks) in about one day – he was pretty shocked. But aside from my personal inclinations, rocks themselves are a marvelous adjunct to any landscaping enterprise. They can provide lines that interrupt or they can supply lines in a landscape that emphasize a certain quality of horizontal or even vertical planes. Oh – almost forgot – they can also provide seats! These are particularly interesting inasmuch as they store heat during sunlit days. It takes hours for them to cool down, too. It makes sitting on them during cool evenings yet another experience entirely. I have often said “Warm butts, warm hearts!” 🙂  Well, OK, but I said it a few times. In short…………………Rocks rock! Crystal Springs March 3 09 271-1200

5 thoughts on “The Form and Occasional Placidity Of Stones – Rock Work

  1. Hi Steve,
    I love rocks in the garden, and I love what you have shown. The pool is so effective, and the stream bed looks so inviting. The Chinese scholars rocks are fantastic. Those have always been a favorite of mine.
    I appreciate what you said about one third being buried.
    I also like that the rocks you incorporate into the garden are part of a drought tolerant garden. It seems that all the plantings seem well adapted to the climate, and the rocks create such an atmosphere.
    Very best regards,

  2. Thanks, Mike. We bored and attached angle iron to those boulders, then cemented them in place, long before the gunnited pool was made.

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