Green Scene

When Designing a Garden, Don't Leave Out Rocks

Rocks can be used in a variety of ways with water in a garden, such as to create a small waterfall.
Rocks can be used in a variety of ways with water in a garden, such as to create a small waterfall. (By Sandra Leavitt Lerner For The Washington Post)
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By Joel M. Lerner
Saturday, March 14, 2009

Not so long ago, people wanted to get rid of rocks in their yards. Now they often request them as part of the trend toward more natural-looking gardens.

Rocks are the easiest sculptural elements to incorporate into a garden to create a natural-looking landscape. They add color, contrast and interest; require no maintenance; and provide a bit of surprise.

They fill another need, too -- security barriers. Rocks and plantings strategically placed will keep even the smallest of vehicles from harming public and private buildings.

A drive around the National Mall illustrates how large boulders can be incorporated into the landscape and provide aesthetic appeal.

Now is the perfect time to design and place landscape stones. Arrange them around early bulbs and plants that are just breaking dormancy. That way, you can see the "bones" of the landscape and know where your landscape rocks will fit best.

Rocks come in every size, from giant Stonehenge-like slabs to tiny pebbles the size of peas. They come in a natural kaleidoscope of colors, including brown, tan, red, pink, blue, green, white, black and gray.

The big issue with rocks is that they can weigh a ton -- really. You will need equipment and assistance to transport and place them.

Positioning is important, so everyone involved needs to be extremely patient and willing to take as much time as is required.

Like other large, heavy objects, specimen rocks can be expensive to buy, transport and place. The effort and expense might limit your use of ornamental rocks in the landscape. However, nature has produced lava rock, and modern technology has stepped in with artificial rocks that look authentic.

Lava rock is a porous volcanic material, significantly lighter than other stone because it's full of air pockets. It's available in a selection of colors -- black, brown, russet and gray -- at stone suppliers and garden centers. While it doesn't fit the native garden theme, it will work in some natural gardens.

Most synthetic rocks are composites of several materials, primarily textured, colored fiberglass. One person can single-handedly lift a piece of artificial rock that could weigh six tons if it were real.

No matter what you choose, there are several things to keep in mind when adding stones to your property.

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