Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
February, 2007
Regional Report

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Stones accentuate the color and texture of these plants.

Rocks and Stones

When you think of a garden, you most likely think of plants. However, a beautiful garden is built around "hardscape," which consists of things other than plants, such as walls and pathways. Stone and rock are popular hardscape materials simply because they offer so much variety. They provide texture and form, and no other material is as durable. Stone in its many forms can be built into pathways, retaining walls, pools, ponds, fountains, and borders. If properly installed, rock will last for decades and possibly much longer. The newly remodeled Stern Grove is a prime example of the beauty and flexibility of stone. The Grove has a timeless quality now, like a Roman amphitheater.

Flat, irregular-shaped flagstone is the ideal material for pathways and patios. It can be a simple installation, such as simply laying pieces of flagstone on top of a bed of mulch. Or you can make a more permanent installation, depending on your budget and skill level.

Permanent rock walls can be built to retain hillsides and incorporate planting pockets for perennials, shrubs, or annual plantings. Depending on what type of stone you select, a rock wall can look ancient, contemporary, or totally natural.

Echo Nature
Combining plants with stone will transform a plain garden into a wilderness. You can get ideas for placing stones artistically in the landscape by making a study of a natural setting that appeals to you. For example, if you love high plateaus or mountain terrain, quartzite stones with sharp edges and a more upright character may suit your needs. Select moss-covered river rocks to create a meandering path among ferns for a cool retreat. Use desert sandstone in a cactus garden to create a dramatic backdrop.

Rocks add a feeling of permanence and stability but also can be used to control the scale of the garden area and give the illusion of depth in a small space. Even small gardens can benefit from the use of stone. Choose plants with small foliage in combination with larger landscape stones to fool the eye into thinking it is seeing a faraway vista. Traditional Japanese gardens frequently use this method to make small gardens appear larger.

Rolling Along
One thing to keep in mind: rocks are heavy. If you need to move a heavy rock from one place in your garden, such as the driveway where it was delivered or unloaded, to the backyard, where you want to place it, here is a simple technique used by the ancient Egyptians. Rollers made of pipe are handy for moving heavy objects such as rocks. You will need five or more short lengths of galvanized or PVC pipe about 2 inches in diameter. Place the pipes in front of the rock, then use a lever to prop up the rock on the first pipe roller. Roll the rock along the pipes until the first pipe emerges behind the rock. Lift it and move it to the front, all the while rolling the rock along the pipe highway. This is a tedious process but it can save your back.

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