I love rocks. They connect my soul to the planet, to the millions of years they have been slowly metamorphosing into their current form. Connection to that geologic time puts my petty irritations into perspective and I think, “Really, how important will this be in xx years?”
Thus, rocks are an integral element in my garden. When placing them, I try to imitate nature’s randomness – a gentle toss is often the best method. As dramatic as an upright rock jutting up in the garden can be, nestling them firmly into the soil results in a more timeless and natural look. Alternatively, a row of rocks placed solidly across a slope creates a terrace to impede erosion, a level spot to plant a focal point [Rosmarinus officinalis var. prostrates (creeping rosemary)? Punica granatum (pomegranate)? Cornus sericea (red-osier dogwood)?] and adds depth to your space. Even smaller rocks provide a shady spot to tuck your favorite succulents in for protection from the hot afternoon sun. I use larger rocks as decorative deterrents to keep my dogs from smashing shortcuts through tender plantings – with moderate success.
In addition to structure, rocks add movement. Who doesn’t love the promise inherent in a dry creek bed? Or a rockfall fanned out by contour and gravity? A mound of rocks with a cascade of Delosperma Fire Spinner® (ice plant) flowing down is a bright spot of green in the drab winter landscape. The cascade becomes a lava-like flow in spring when the brilliant red and orange flowers carpet the cascade. Or try Phlox subulata (creeping phlox) for a lavish pastel palette. Mound some soil and place your rocks to cover the mound, leaving openings in which to tuck your plants.
One of the best things about landscaping with rocks is how cheap and available they are. If you’re not lucky like we are to live on a rock farm, limited collection for personal use is allowed in National Forests. See fs.usda.gov for guidelines to keep you legal. Or ask your friends and neighbors for their spare rocks.
Lastly, let me share a poem with you that my Grandmother had on her wall:
I wish I was a little rock a sittin’ on a hill
A doin’ nothin’ all day long, but just a sittin’ still.
I wouldn’t eat. I wouldn’t sleep. I wouldn’t even wash.
I’d sit and sit a thousand years, and sun myself, by Gosh!
The North American Rock Garden Society (NARGS) (https://nargs.org/) and the local Siskiyou chapter (https://siskiyousummits.org/) is all things rock gardens, from using rocks as design elements to crevice gardens and plants that thrive in rock environments.