Got Rocks?

– Posted in: Garden Design


I’ve got one of those gardens where digging a five-gallon hole means removing ten gallons of rocks. I can’t sink a spade without hearing the clang of steel against stone. Gardening for me is sometimes more like mining. But I’ve come to an accommodation with stone. I had to. If I couldn’t find a way to make all those rocks “work” in the garden, I’d still be hauling them away. One of my friends did recommend that I should look to dry hire an excavator to help me move all of the big rocks out of the garden. That’s a good idea for anyone who is really struggling to move these heavy stones. However I’ve come to the conclusion that rocks can add a lot of character to a garden, and if you’ve got them free for the using, why not make the most of them. But if you are looking for large rocks for your garden, then you should contact a peach flagstone supply service for reasonable prices.

Even big stones can work, even if you can’t move them. The big league boulder in the lower left of the picture above was not going anyplace (I do all my own stone masonry) at least not anywhere far. I could tweak it some with a pry bar and length of 4-x4, so I positioned it as best I could, then used it to anchor a ring of other stones to create a kind of promonotory island at one end of the garden. The ring of stones was then filled in with soil and planted to create a pleasing little lookout spot.

stamford pool-1

Long Island spring 09 172-1But there are all kinds of ways to make easy, ornamental use of stone. Let’s start with stones in situ (or at least those that look in situ, which is fancy way of saying, “in place”). Found objects, so to speak. Big boulders can do a lot for a swimming pool, and contribute mightily to the look of these swimming pools at Ruth and Jim Levitan’s Stamford, CT garden (above) and at Bob Luckey and George Biercuk’s Long Island, NY garden. These stones may not actually be in situ, but they look it-and that’s all that matters.


new coplandOnce you start moving stones around, the possibilities multiply, You could build an outdoor amphitheatre, like this one at the Swarthmore Arboretum in Swarthmore, PA, or create something along similar lines, such as a garden enclosed by tiered, concentric curves made by stone walls and hedges, at Richard and Martine Copeland’s Roxbury, CT garden.

whimsy frog pond

There’s no need to work on a large scale. Small stones in small spaces can have quite a structural impact. None of the standing stones in Eve Thyrum’s Wilmington, DE garden frog pond are more than a couple feet high, but they serve to define and decorate a wonderfully whimsical space.

Allium 053-2

Allium 081-1Back to a grander scale, I especially like what fellow Farmingtonian Peter Knowles did in his garden , though in fairness, these were imported stones positioned with heavy equipment. Still, his fire pit, walled with big stones standing on end, has a cozy feeling of enclosure, which is to me one of the secrets for creating appealing outdoor spaces. I always think of trying to create little hideaways, like this one, or lookouts, like my area with the red chair. Peter has another cool standing stone by his pool where it makes an ornament as worthy, and as beautiful as any sculpture.

Steve Silk

Steve Silk

Steve Silk

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Lisa at Greenbow July 21, 2009, 6:01 am

Oh yes, I love stone in the garden. I have very little stone in my garden as it all has to be purchased. I hope this post sets off a firestorm of photos of stone in everyones garden.

Lisa–That would be great-stone is a material with endless varieties of use in the garden. I can never see too many examples.–Steve

lotusleaf July 21, 2009, 6:39 am

The sitout with the red chair is very alluring.

Thanks LL, I like that spot too, though in all honesty it’s more for looking at than for sitting in–even though it affords a fine view. When I do pull up the chair there I always wonder why I’m not relaxing in that spot more often.–Steve

Randy July 21, 2009, 8:07 am

I’ve always loved stone in the garden. I look at some of the ones we have and wondered how in the world we ever picked them up.

Randy-Gotta be careful about picking them up. I usually roll them, nudge them along with a pry bar, set them on rollers and move them along a track of 2x4s, or tip them into a wheelbarrow and push the wheelbarrow upright. Throwing out your back is not fun-I can’t think of anything that makes me feel more decrepit than an aching back.–Steve

Town Mouse July 21, 2009, 11:55 am

Amazing! Those photos really show how much of a difference stones can make.

Town Mouse–Stones and gardens go together, no question about that. They can transform a scene, plus give an element of timelessness and a sense of being rooted in place. I’m not always happy to have to dig them up, but I am always happy to use them.–Steve

Debra Lee Baldwin July 21, 2009, 12:15 pm

Steve, your garden is so gorgeous. I love the way you boldly chose the perfect red for that chair to echo hues in the garden. And you’re right…boulders can make a big difference. They sort of sing in the background, like a subtle but essential chorus. Too bad they’re so heavy and hard to move!

Thanks Debra-I did try to match that chair to its surrounds. Sometimes I take a leaf to the paint store. Maybe that’s bordering on compulsive, but…

healingmagichands July 21, 2009, 3:56 pm

This is a post after my own heart. I have stone everywhere in my garden. I have created flagstone paths, a scree slope garden, we made a Japanese style garden that still needs the gravel for raking added. I’m afraid that for years I have not been able to go much of anywhere without toting a rock home.

My particular favorite of this group is the frog fountain with the standing stones. The metal sculptures are what really make this area pop for me. But those rocks — so wonderful. I love the little round stone perched on the shoulder of the angular standing sandstone.

That’s a sweet little pond–another cool element is the frog ladder they’ve made–those little ramps allow frogs to get in and out of the water more easily. I think it’s a wonderfully inventive little pond, and love those standing stone sculptures. Wow! Are you bringing in all those rocks –they sure add up over time.–Steve

Susie July 21, 2009, 7:28 pm

Wow, I love the scene with the red chair, beautiful planting. I also love the firepit. Stones can make all the difference…of course the plants are the window dressing!

It’s all about the bones, Susie. Those rocks are providing good structure to the garden and when you’ve got that, you can do almost anything with the plants and it will look good.–Steve

Kimberly July 21, 2009, 8:20 pm

That’s lovely! I love the calibrachoa flowing out over the rocks.

Thanks Kimberly–That’s my red garden and it evolves a bit each year though it is largely annuals and tropicals. Actually those are coreopsis ‘Limerock Ruby’ washing across the rocks.–Steve

Teresa~Gardening with Soule July 22, 2009, 12:22 am

Those rocks really make those spaces! I especially love the fire pit. what a great idea with those stones standing upright! And who can resist water trickling down to a pool? Your red adirondack chair makes a great perch, even if it is just to look at most of the time.

Thanks Teresa–so glad you liked my examples, hope you might have got some ideas for your own garden.–Steve

Cameron(Defining Your Home Garden) July 22, 2009, 11:16 am

Love ALL of these examples of using stone — in situ or imported.

I have to haul in my rocks. That’s either a good or a bad thing, depending upon what project I’m dreaming about! 🙂

Thanks for the great story,

Ilona July 22, 2009, 1:01 pm

sigh. what absolute gorgeousness. love rock in the garden and these are exemplary ideas for using them.

I see you have some “wicked plants” in that fabulous red combination 🙂

Christopher C NC July 23, 2009, 9:16 am

Lord have I got rocks! Plenty rocks. I have OD’d on rocks for a spell and need a break from them. In the long run however I know they will give my house and garden a much more timeless and structural component I wouldn’t have without them.

Pam/Digging July 23, 2009, 8:42 pm

I’ve got a lot of limestone in my new garden. The previous owners brought in even more to make wonderful retaining walls, and I’m currently gardening around very large, partially buried flat boulders. I’m enjoying the “bones” of my new space.

I’ve really enjoyed your pix that have shown the stone in your garden, Pam. It’s got very different characteristics than the spudlike stones one finds in these parts. Just goes to show that stone, in all its many manifestations of shape and color, always has plenty to add to a garden.–Steve

healingmagichands July 24, 2009, 5:24 pm

Yes, Steve, I have brought in all the rocks you see around The Havens. I have even bought rocks at an auction, that is how far gone I am. We sometimes go out “rock picking” at creeks and farms in the neighborhood, which is where I acquired the wonderful ripple stone that makes what I now refer to as The Bench. You can see it under construction here:

That is a specatacular stone you found for the bench. Talk about character! And, it looks like you have your work cut out for you this summer–you certainly outlined a lot of beds and borders. Good luck with it.–Steve

Heirloom Gardener July 28, 2009, 9:20 pm

Oh, what wonderful things you’ve done with your rocks. Yes, I’ve found that it’s much easier to incorporate rather than move them. You can see the stones I used for my very modest “Walled Garden” here:

-Heirloom Gardener

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