When most gardeners dive into a landscaping project, they typically -- and naturally -- think of plants. But landscaping with rocks and stones to accompany plants and trees or to use as stand-alone elements can be a refreshing way to add texture, color, and interest to your yard. Award-winning garden writer and author Barbara Pleasant (barbarapleasant.com) wrote Garden Stone (Storey Publishing, 2004), in which she offers tips to make the most out of landscaping with rocks and stones.
BHG: Many gardeners use stone and rock as interchangeable words, but the two are actually very different things. Can you explain?
BP: Technically a stone has been exposed to weather or water near the Earth's surface for a long period of time, while rocks come freshly broken from a larger mass below ground, most typically by blasting them out at a quarry.
BHG: Is landscaping with rocks different than landscaping with stones?
BP: Weathered stone has rounded or brittle edges and numerous crevices, so it will work best if you're working in a moist, shady site where moss will grow. Similarly, lace lichen will grow on stone, but not on the smooth surfaces of cut or broken rock.
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BHG: Obviously many gardeners already landscape with rocks and stones. Where do we typically see these materials?
BP: Many people start the same way I did, by collecting stones they really like and using them as accents in high-visibility beds or even containers. Building a stacked-stone wall is also lots of fun, and you don't need concrete if it's less than 18 inches high. Behind the wall, you naturally create a new planting bed with wonderful drainage, and the wall itself makes a beautiful backdrop for vines and cascading flowers. Some types of stone make functional, eco-friendly pavers for pathways, but excellent site preparation is needed to keep the stones from shifting underfoot. If you have a water feature, stones are essential to create a natural setting and dramatize the water.
Check out some stacked-stone wall ideas.
Make your own DIY water feature.
BHG: Are there any limits to the types of gardens that work well with rocks and stones?
BP: There are unlimited possibilities, and the most sought-after stones come from old stone fences and stone cabins. Simulating a stone "ruin" or tumbled-down building is a great plan for a rock garden, which is traditionally planted with alpine plants, thymes, and other plants that crave superior drainage.
Get ideas for rock gardens.
BHG: Many people have smaller yards and might think they don't have room for landscaping with rocks and stones. What advice would you offer in a space-restricted yard?
BP: Stonescapes need not be big. Planters and large containers that combine attractive stones with succulents are always stunning, and you can use specimen stones to reflect light from solar lanterns on your deck or patio.
Don't miss our small-space landscaping ideas.
BHG: How do you approach gardening with rocks and stones? Do you start with a flowerbed and then accent with stones? Or work around a great sculptural piece of stone or rock that you want to use?
BP: Stone can have a strong unifying influence on the landscape year-round, so it can be a powerful and practical element in any scene. Take time to envision what you want the spot to look like in two to three years, mindful that the stone will become visually dominant in winter. Ideally, you want to create scenes in which you can't tell which came first, the garden or the stone. It should look and feel as if the stone emerged from the ground, and all you did was collect the best pieces and put them in order, as humans have been doing for thousands of years.
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