Some Nearly Final Words On Boulders

Not all boulders are alike.

The Asian Section

Some even have titles of their own – “Shibumi Rocks” dot Japanese landscapes like these impressive doyens of timelessness who corner the market on Time itself. Many times, these gorgeous billions-of-years-old guys actually are the landscaping. These are the understated attention-getters who supply some peaceful perspective on those who pass and which abide in their Eternal reliability. Unless they fall over, of course. 😉

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Other ‘rocks’ also fill this bill but in a far more bio-morphic – almost human way. Maybe even more to the point – in somewhat monstrous and unusual ways. The Chinese have perfected the art of placing boulders which are amazingly evocative. These things gather impressions for the more active parts of our imaginations as we get riveted by their near supernatural shapes. They probably most resemble those wild forms in the clouds we so often imagine resemble something we relate to. One can see shapes and guises for all sorts of imagined creatures and things in these amazing stones. That they fit so well into landscapes makes it even weirder somehow. The picture below is a “softened effect” as we see where the balance of plant and rock makes a fine compromise.


Somewhere else inside the Portland Chinese Garden, we get a different take or two. These suckers are plain bizarre:


These incredible stones and their distinctly unusual messages come naturally for them. There are formations which feature these sorts of stones and which occur in Nature there. The Chinese who send for these are the exporters for very specific and limited environments like these gardens which they themselves construct.


I could look at these all day:


But that is China and Japan. In both cases, they are able to work with what they have in their natural geologic environment. I recall, having worked on this garden, the stockpiles of these stones as they arrived and as they were put into storage. I was eager to see how they expected to use them in the garden. I now think their placement was perfect.

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Through a hole they look sweet – not the first hole, either!:



The North American Section

Over here, we deal with a range of rocks and boulders which are really every bit as diverse, if not quite as weird in the same ways. We do have remarkable Shales and Limestones in the Eastern US which give us innumerable creative outlets. The stratified nature of limestone lends it to stacking and to flat planes. These are particularly impressive when used for water features, as these pictures from the corporate headquarters of Papa John’s Pizza illustrates – one of our favorite local Louisville walks.

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Stacked, they make wonderful rockeries and informal walls for the surrounding foliage to fill out magnificently:

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Here is a fabulous example of tasteful placement:

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I’ve always loved this perspective of the sets of waterfalls at Papa Johns’:

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Moving towards Jeruselum………………….we encounter another perspective………as the sounds of thousands of gallons of water plummet over rocks and fall……

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Until we come to that place where we see what the ruccus is all about:

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It’s way well worth the walk:

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I’ll have to dedicate an entire post to this place soon.

Meanwhile…………..this guy is trouble with a Capital T:

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Hopefully, it will be a while until he gets the key to my boat:

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My brother Tom would be mad:   😉

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More On Rocks and Boulders – Part 2

How can one take a postage stamp-sized back yard and landscape effectively? The image below is of a home with a 15 foot by 60 foot rear yard. Grass was out of the picture, owing to allergies and a sense of water-conservation on the part of the owner. Glaring sun was another factor – relentless and hotter than heck with still air a factor from the high fencing.

Use rocks!

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A mix of perennials, some grasses, a shrub or two and a Decomposed Granite walkway gives us something which is at least interesting. This picture is about 2 months following installation and I can definitley say that everything grew remarkably well.


This property below was featured  in the post I made most recently. I just recently re-discovered these pictures I had misplaced. Here is how the Lunar Landscape evolved. Note the different types of rock. I used a river rock type in the creek bed, drainage swale and the more pretty igneous types in the rockery/bed. From these humble origins –


To this:


From This:


To this:



Below is the bare bones of a water feature project – among other facets of a complex operation – near a porch where we utilized Reno’s “rock assets” liberally. We “mined” a few of these and ordered up the more rounded river rocks. It can seem weird, featuring such a sun-burnt, crispy lichen-covered boulder such as this in the middle of a water feature, of all things, but the surprise element, mixed with its stunning color and texture was too much to pass up.


Honestly, using the river rocks is probably one of my favorite pastimes, in their billions of applications. As my companies have matured and individual “specialists” formed, it always seemed I would have one guy who took as much interest in making artificial creek beds as myself. Many projects would find me and “that guy” busy building little naturalistic creeks while the other slugs were off planting plants or making paver systems work. 😉

It’s a weakness.  Hey!   Look!  Here’s a specialist now!


Mixing can be as fun – after all a certain shamelessness never hurt in design and installing one’s own particular set of rules and non-regulations.


There are times when mixing a blend of volcanic rocks with the smoothed-out Granite, river-washed look can be effective:


The Use Of Boulders And More on Rocks and Stones

We revisit a favorite topic of mine and one into which I have invested hefty energies, through the years.

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Stones. Rocks. Boulders. And even their smaller children, if such a thing can be said.

Particular individual rocks such as the one below from Reno, Nevada are among my very favorites. Igneous by origin, attached with fascinating lichens coloring things up dramatically, these solo rocks are completely entertaining by themselves. There is a nearly embarrassing richness of these in the surrounding hills and valleys of Reno and I would often encounter them just beyond a property line then shamelessly scoop them up for my own selfish decorative uses, I admit. Typically, I would be taking boulders whose lives as natural beauties was on a limited time span anyway – as the neighborhoods developed farther out.  I pretty much stick to a rule of sticking within eventual expansion boundaries, for the record. Anyway – Handling them always presented a big challenge inasmuch as pretty much the last thing one wanted to do was erase the lichens. So rolling them was definitely out. Once again, we thank the Machine Lord for providing clamps and buckets for extracting these rocks in relative pristine fashion. We would even use chains and padding and lift them gingerly with our machine buckets


It was difficult to stay way from a tendency to want to make a totally Lunar Landscape out of this one. The boulders used here were all “on site”, parched and par-broiled in the sun up on the ever-sunny slopes of the foothills in the Caughlin Ranch estates in Reno, Nevada.


The above  was taken at a rather raw phase, soon after installation. It does indeed look quite “Lunar” – which is exactly what the lady of the house said as she watched it develop. Yet, it morphed into something alotgether different as time moved along, allowing a future where pruning and ignoring plants and surrounding effects could determine what look one wanted to cultivate – Lunar or lush?


There are some stunning igneous rocks in this lot. Enlarging this view, below, hopefully some of the color will come out as we check the boulders in the foreground. Honestly, many of these stones told stories all by themselves. It often felt like dealing with literal personalities.


Then we come to the “rolling thunder” edition of “Rockeria” madness and the role and placement of larger, glacial or river-produced stones – rounder and ‘softer-effects’ sorts of rocks. For these, which can also be featured in the right spots, there is beauty in simplicity and plain size.


I’m going to divide this stream of posts up a bit more than usual. I’ll also enter them a bit more often.

Columnar Basalt – Volcanic Crystal in Landscaping

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The above is a picture of my daughter on one of our rambles, back in the day (sniff, sniff) when she was much smaller than she is now. But it has always been a favorite picture, and not just for the obvious fact of a Dad inordinately in love with his own child. What she is standing on is the subject of the day here. That, ladies and gents, is Basalt – your basic igneous rock and one which has developed a huge niche in the desginer hearts and minds of landscaping people.

Basalt – most notably “Columnar Basalt” – is found in great accumulations in the Columbia River Basin, here in Oregon and across the river in Washington state. Other major concentrations are spread throughout the world in places like the Giant’s Causeway (Ireland), Organ Pipes National Park (Australia), Devil’s Tower (Wyoming, USA), Russia, India, Iceland and many other locations. Formed into crystalline formations and often referred to as “hexagonal” – 6-sided – they can actually vary into polygons with anywhere from 3 to 12 sides. From Wikipedia: “Formed by the cooling of lava on the Earth’s crust, during the cooling of a thick lava flow, contractional joints or fractures form. If a flow cools relatively rapidly, significant contraction forces build up. While a flow can shrink in the vertical dimension without fracturing, it cannot easily accommodate shrinking in the horizontal direction unless cracks form; the extensive fracture network that develops results in the formation of columns.”

It then goes on to say that the slower the cooling process, the larger the columnar “crystals”. I have seen some very large crystals in my day – and even used a few. Later pictures in this post will illustrate this.

This is a smaller scale use within the confines a modern landscape and water feature in a retired couple’s small back patio area. Actually, this is a project which may have used the fewest basalt columns of all, but the location of the foreground “seat rock” does present an excellent minor vision of the polygonal aspect, as well as just one of many functions columnar basalt can be put to use for in a landscape. They do not have to be large to be quite effective. Their horizontal lines also present us with the gift of altitude and, therefore, perspective.

Harvested from vast fields of these crystals, as remarkable as we regard them, they are hardly rare, as the production picture from a Chinese Basalt source shows us below. The fact is, their large numbers bode well indeed for landscaping possibilities.

Bored right down their length and with a water pump hidden amidst the lower levels, they make excellent “Bubble Rocks”, for one thing. Bubble Rocks give the more gentle sound of water and bring out the rich color which is hidden in all rocks:

But there are larger and more forceful roles available for columnar basalt. Notice this waterfall the company I was with at the time built for Microsoft’s Campus in Seattle, Washington. Its construction resembles the picture of many basalt sources throughout the world in high mountainous regions. This was a pain-staking project but remains one of my very favorite constructions.

Below are pictures of other uses for this interesting material. These pictures are all taken at the Portland Zoo, a minor landscaping miracle utilizing the local products in novel ways – as seats and as retaining wall effects. This is hard by the zoo’s own bus stop leading to the buildings housing the elevator which takes people down about 500 feet to where they can catch the Light Rapid Transit train.

Hey, I think the theory here was: “If you got ’em, flaunt ’em!” 😉