Use rocks and boulders to accent your landscape
Pay close attention to detail when landscaping with rocks and boulders. (Photo courtesy of Carol Signore)
Dr. Jacqueline A. Soule has been writing about gardening in the West for nearly three decades. Her latest book, "Father Kino's Herbs: Growing and Using Them Today," is available through the Western National Parks Association.
Here in the West, we live in a place where boulders and rocks aren't hidden beneath layers of forest mulch or acres of prairie soil. It's a place of wide-open skies and rough-hewn mountains jutting from the surrounding land. A place where modern residential landscape design works well with this natural drama and beauty.
Using ornamental rocks as accents is one way to bring the mountainous motif to your yard. Bill Whelchel, landscape designer for A-rated Whelchel Landscaping & Construction in Rio Rancho, N.M., suggests choosing several locations for rocks across your property so they aren't lumped in a single pile.
Whelchel notes the most aesthetically pleasing arrangements are displayed in odd numbers. If you have an even number in your landscape, the viewer's eye will seek a regular pattern. If the boulders aren't evenly spaced, the effect can be unsettling. Odd numbers free you from this dilemma.
The exception to this rule is if you have a wide driveway separating your front yard from the side yard. Even numbers of accent rocks can be considered in the landscape for both portions of the yard, because they'll appear as separate entities.
Jeff Luce, owner of highly rated Frontier Landscaping in Austin, Texas, says he often uses rocks in his designs for a number of reasons. They can provide seating, work as steps or retaining walls, and help define plant beds. "I like to visit area quarries and find the boulders that are in their waste piles," he says. "These are usually oddly shaped and don't fit on pallets for shipping to stone yards. I've found some beautiful boulders that make landscapes unique."
Not everyone uses boulders to their best advantage. Luce recommends homeowners avoid lining them in a row across the front yard. Also, without plants to soften them, boulders can sit like large, ungainly lumps. Soften their stark forms with plants around the base. The bigger the rock, the larger the plants you can use.
John Connors, a representative of highly rated Sepulveda Building Materials in Southern California, says his business works with a number of landscapers in the region to ensure clients get the best designs - a task that's not as easy as it sounds.
For example, the local Lompoc stone boulders make excellent accents, but they're formed with distinct strata, or layers, and must be placed with the correct orientation. If installed incorrectly, the entire landscape looks off. But with a little time and attention to details, virtually any yard can be transformed with rocks.