When most people think about landscaping, they may think first of flowers, trees, shrubs and other types of plants. There are other elements to designing the perfect landscape, however, and rocks and boulders can provide an element of beauty and drama to virtually any outdoor setting.
TIP: Our expert gardening advisor, Susan Patterson adds, "They add a strong element whereas the plants offer a soft element. Rocks are generally referred to as hardscape elements. These elements add foundation to a garden and provide structure and a ground. They can be used in an informal garden as well as a formal garden."
Rocks and boulders provide wonderful eye appeal, and can turn the front or backyard into a thing of beauty. Best of all, these inanimate landscape design elements never need to be watered, weeded or cared for. They provide a wonderful sense of permanence, and years of carefree enjoyment for the homeowner.
In addition, rocks and boulders can provide an excellent compliment to the trees, shrubs, bushes and flowers that surround them. This contrast is one of the most powerful, yet most often overlooked, parts of designing a beautiful landscape.
Of course it is important to draw up a plan for the placement of these rocks and boulders before getting started. After all, the last thing you want to do is end up moving that hundred pound boulder more than once. When placing a rock or boulder, it is best to bury it partway in the ground. This setting provides a better eye appeal and a more pleasing look to the overall exterior landscape. Rocks placed in this manner will appear to be a natural part of whatever setting they are placed in.
Rocks in an Informal Garden
Place rocks of varying sizes in informal beds in groups of two or three, depending on the size of your garden. Select rocks with interesting shapes and don't be overly concerned with symmetry. Use rocks to set pots on, or create a rambling water feature for an added effect. Small rocks of similar size can be used to outline rustic informal gardens, providing a unique edge.
In addition, it is best to place the rocks and boulders in groups, rather than as individual pieces. A group of three to five rocks generally works best, depending on the size and shape of the individual rocks and boulders. This grouping will help to provide a more natural look and feel to the landscape.
Rocks in a Formal Garden
Rocks in a formal garden can sometimes take the form of a retaining wall, or a carefully constructed piece of art. Formal gardens often display stacked rocks in symmetry as a focal feature in the garden.
Working with Rocks
When placing rocks and boulders into your exterior landscape, wear heavy gloves to prevent calluses and injuries to the hands. Rocks are very coarse and rough, so this protection is essential. It is also important to use caution when moving heavy rocks, and to carry them only short distances. If the rocks must be carried longer distances, use a wheelbarrow or wagon.
When choosing rocks for the landscape, gather up more than you think you will need. The rocks will look larger when seen individually than they will when they are grouped in the landscape.
Tip: Susan suggests, "Use native rock when possible."
When landscaping with rocks, and boulders, the key is to balance the size, shape and color of the rocks you choose with the surrounding plants and other design elements. Use them sparingly, and keep in mind that during the winter months those rocks and boulders may be the only visible part of the exterior landscape.