Stone in the Garden

One of my fondest childhood memories is the Tahoe camping trip in the rain that my Dad saved by digging a moat around our tent. So it was with unbridled enthusiasm that I started off in the rain a couple weeks ago to camp at Pinnacles National Monument.

Spring rains have unleashed a bounty of wildflowers nestled among the rock outcroppings, sprouting along creeks and covering meadows with dazzling color. There are over 100 species of wildflowers that live in the park. The spectacular rock formations and lichen covered boulders catch your eye and at every turn I pictured how this stone or that would fit into my garden. Be creative in your own landscaping with plants and stone to add a touch of timelessness and permanence.

Stone makes a garden look like it’s been there a very long time. Think of it as durable art – guiding you up a slope, channeling water away from your door, holding back a hillside or marking a path as it changes direction. Flat stones are good for sitting and resting as you wander through the garden.

You don’t have to design a massive project that requires heavy equipment and thousands of dollars to enjoy the magic of working with stone. With a little imagination you can create a place of enduring beauty with stone that you can move yourself or with just a little help.

Every gardener probably has a collection of special stones found while visiting different places. Are rocks different than stone? Technically, stone is a rock that has been exposed to the elements and smoothed, shaped, etched or altered by wind, water, ice and sun. Free stone can be found at construction sties, rocky hillsides and empty fields. Don’t gather stone from public parks and check first with the Forest Service before gathering in a national forest or other public lands. If you want larger quantities or sizes of stone you can find them at local rockeries.

Wherever you find one stone in nature, you usually find many more. Small stones are formed by the breakup of larger ones, so nearby stones are related. In your garden you can re-create these relationships by placing stone features of varying sizes in positions that make them appear to have always existed exactly as they are. Then add carefully chosen plants to tie the stone family together.

When you use stone to pave a walkway or to build a low wall, it defines the lines of your landscape. Lines can lead to the front door or a flower bed or water garden. In the backyard, curved paths lined with stone feel more relaxed. Slopes can be tames with curved retaining walls built with stone.

What plants pair well with different types of stone? Rounded weathered stone always appears more settled and relaxed than jagged broken pieces. That’s why ferns and woodland plants typically found near streams combine well with rounded stone. Douglas iris, bleeding hearts, armeria, blue-eyed grass and carex grass make good companion plants, too.

Jagged stone that looks like the craggy peaks of distant mountains looks more at home with conifers, Japanese maples, mahonia, creeping thyme, bush poppy, phormiums and coffeeberry to name just a few.

You can move small to medium sized stones once you have collected them or had them delivered to your yard by dragging them atop an old tire or putting them in a flat bottomed bin. Be sure to protect the stone with a covering to preserve that precious lichen and weathering. You can also use a mechanics dolly, garbage can, garden cart or wheelbarrow. Pry bars and planks can also be used to roll stones around like the ancient Egyptians. Ropes, chains, winches, and straps are useful, too. Should you find that the task you have undertaken is beyond your strength or abilities, get help. 

Get the WOW factor by adding stone to your garden.

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