Rock & Boulder Month – Fractured Basalt

“Fractured Basalt” is essentially another name for rock and boulders who were displaced or dynamited apart to become either the boulders that they are or to become an excellent crushed gravel product, suitable for the bases of roadways the world over. They show a “fractured” appearance because they have been – fractured, that is.

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Obviously, I don’t hesitate to use them in water features of my own as the picture above testifies. Living in the West, we see relatively younger mountain ranges and stone complexes and it is not unusual in the slightest to see this sort of conglomeration. Aside from that, these stones have fabulous color and shapes. They combine well with other types of stones, to add to their appeal for a designing landscaper.

douglas drama

Arriving on a site, these boulders can be intimidating. Local quarries in both Reno and Portland, Oregon deliver this rock in massive, 20-25 yard quantities at the end of these long semi end dump trailers which reach to the sky when dumping. You want to give these guys some flat ground to dump on, trust me. Anyway, once you get a few of these loads, the work of selection gets intense. They come in wonderful and surprising shapes which challenge an orderly mind like few other things.

Arriving at a result such as the one below is weird ……………..when the picture below it is how you began


Pretty big mess…….. 😉   My favorite thing.


Just a bit later – But these stones are obviously not the rolled upon and rounded river and glacial rocks of the former post. These have edges, breaks and – often – fabulous color in their own right.


In yet another water feature, we can get an idea of the deeper colors and the variety of shades these basalt boulders have –

Doug and Ed 099

Some of the shades are remarkably different. Truly, not all fractured rock is “fractured basalt” – one can, in fact, find Quartz in the local mountains around Reno of impressive size and amazingly white or absolutely “clear” quality. There is a “Quartz Mountain” just west of town which has been a garden resource for countless devoted quartz lovers and gardeners. It used to be that people would drive up and just load out whatever took their fancies. Below is an idea of what one of these boulders looks like in its natural setting:


Here is a browner toned basalt piece in Portland we worked into a small water feature.


Split further, they make fabulous stones for walls and for garden path ways. We’ll see much more about the possibilities of garden paths in the very near future.


Back to the fractured basalt, here’s an example of yet another water feature, done in Portland, using the fractured rock.



We now venture back into “bubble rocks”, split or fractured rocks we like so much, we pay to have them cored for water to run over there surfaces.


And another:


I took a chance once using a mulch of this stuff – in a billion different sizes. There was a quarry nearby and the client was game to try something I mentioned I thought might work well. So we used the fractured stones as a mulch, in combination with larger pieces of the same ilk. I knew it would turn out good andf it did – right from the start.


It was a lot of rock!


A year later, it looked as good and remained nice and easy to maintain.


Even the front yard benefited from these interesting stones. I think the mixture of the deep green lawn and those gray-blue rocks are very effective.


More On Bubble Rocks

It’s funny how many people have asked me what a “Bubble Rock” is. I guess, since I have done so many, it just rolls off my tongue like any other noun. I even have a separate category all dolled up in the “Pages” section where you can see them all on their own. It might need some work. Hmmmm.

A “Bubble Rock”, in my lexicon, is a large rock which has had a hole bored through it. Now, what I like doing then is placing a water pump down near the bottom and sending water bubbling up through the top, thus the “bubble” feature. What gets accomplished is that these rocks then get very much featured, as not only the sound attracts attention, but then so do the innate colors and general features of the rock get highlighted as well. It goes without saying that many of these also have small spotlights on them at night – a groovy and very cool feature which adds a new and different dimension to the highlight. (Bear in mind, in many of these pictures – as always – they are taken as we complete projects. Therefore those little plants will look teensy-weensy. Believe me, they grow, later. We just get too busy to come back – or some fool forgets his camera when he does go back – all those things.)  😉

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Their placement becomes important as well. Because of their inherent possible compactness, they can be put into some relatively small spaces. I put many up near entrances to homes, for example, where their bubbling and peaceful sound can be enjoyed by anyone entering.


Lopip BBR

Others, we put out back – in or around a patio, so that the owners can enjoy those same soothing sounds a bit more selfishly.


Terrible photo, but it reflects the sun so well, I had to include it. It spends much time looking very much like this.


A better look, with a better picture, check those tidy “monoliths” out in the distance here:

Doug and Ed 003

These are just a few items of “Bubble Rock” interest. There is always an ongoing urge for the sounds of water in landscaping. These I have found very satisfying to customers, especially with the wonderful new technologies available in coring holes of that length, and through such hard materials. In the end, there is no end of possibilities for an imaginative designer or homeowner. Find a great rock and you’re off to the races, the truth is.


Sometimes we just add to an existing flow of a bunch o’water. This is an extravagance, to be sure, but it sure looks wet!


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!” 😉

Designing Water In The Landscape

Just because we are heading towards a general water shortage – local exceptional climates notwithstanding – throughout so much of the world, the possible impact of a water garden does not need to be ignored. In fact, once a water feature is up and running, the recirculating nature of them all means that the same water is used over and over again. Yes, depending on the location and the size and nature of the water feature, water can be lost to evaporation and need topping off. But I have lived in some beastly temperatures where I installed many of these and I can readily say the loss from evaporation is not substantial whatsoever.

Believe it or not, I often term these as alternatives to lawns.

Here is a look at a larger water feature we installed in the woods. Most of the pictures taken here were taken the day we finally finished the project. There was no hole to begin with – in fact, we felled large trees to make room for this pond and trucked off the roots. It was the same sort of forest it is now surrounded by when we began – we just claimed the territory for ourselves and the client’s pond. Note the creek of running water spilling inside from the small hill behind. This recirculated water and cleaned and oxygenated it by running over a long series of pebbles and stones in the creek.

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Here are a couple of different looks at the creek in the above picture. The intense shade of this project made many things possible – a larger body of water which would evaporate far less than one in the Sun allowed us to forget about the potentially nasty effects of algae as well. After all, the Sun is the primary grower of algae. It did imply some extra maintenance dealing with leaves and droppings from the local trees, but that was actually fairly easy. The main thing was how the water cleaned itself in our creek, receiving oxygen in quantities which disallowed too much algae. Honestly, in spire of the size – which was huge – this was a very straightforward project.

A bit closer up, about midway down the 50 foot creek:

Here is the look from back on the deck, looking out from the house towards our creek. The slate-like surface is actually what is called “Bluestone”, a gorgeous and richly-textured stone of more like a granite appearance. The wooden deck is visible from this perspective, and it leads out into the water at the end of this portion of the deck.

This view is from across the pond. Note the deck – it is suspended an inch above the almost always-placid water surface, made to look as close as it actually is. Later, lighting was added below the deck for an unreal but rich lighting experience at night for party-goers and just the enjoyment of the clients. It was hugely effective.

Yes, that is an island in the middle of our lake. That was easily the toughest part of the entire construction and on which caused me a sleepless night or two. Don’t do this at home! 😉

The bridge is the link between the home and the woods across the pond. The water on this side of the bridge was very shallow and represented an effort at creating a sort of swampland/wetlands area. We planted a few wetlands plants – sedges, a bamboo – inside later which grew at a fairly astronomical rate. Little did we know we had created the perfect wetlands. We had to return and thins it by about 80%!


Below may be my favorite perspective of all at this project. It takes advantage of the water’s placidity to offer some really fine reflections. I absolutely adored the mirror-like quality of the water.

Once again, we got very lucky in the finishing touches. The woods around us were rife with all sort of great things to put at the water’s edge, making this place look as if it had been there forever.