Southwestern garden design

Rocks, boulders and gravel are a major part of this Southwestern Design.

Tips on using rock, stone and boulders as building materials and accents in landscape design

Rocks and boulders are one of the best ways to decorate your garden. They not only make a powerful design statement in the landscape, but they can be used to anchor changes in the design, soften hard angles, offer play features for children and pets and to mask or hide undesirable views in the garden. The best part of using rocks and boulders is that they require no maintenance!

When using boulders in the garden as a design element, try to use large single specimens or group them boulders in clumps of three or five. Odd numbers always look best in landscape design.

Choose your rocks from a limited palette of color and texture. Different rocks come from different areas and you can find stone that is red from iron, speckled with glittering mica, perforated from volcanic gasses, smoothed from water erosion, or colored and textured in many other ways. Too many different kinds of rock used in the same landscape design will look disorganized. And if you want to blend in with the surrounding environment, consider using local rocks. The worst and most common mistake made with big rocks is to space them evenly like three-dimensional polka-dots. They look downright ridiculous, yet this totally unnatural spacing seems to happen all too often. Rocks and boulders are natural items that should be used in a natural looking design. For a highly controlled effect in a more formal garden design, arrange the rocks in artistic patterns that have a creative flow.

Using a big, interestingly shaped boulder or grouping of large rocks can create a powerful focal point. Planting foliage around rocks creates a lush feel and softens hard edges. For a Southwestern theme landscape, rocks can blend in nicely with succulents, cacti and other desert plants. Boulders and rocks can also create a woodsy feel. Add rounded shrubs, small trees and clambering vines to complete the effect.

There is nothing better to lead into a pond – or a naturally designed swimming pool – than a stand of boulders. Odd rocks and even gravel patches will naturalize the transition between gardens or the rest of the yard and a water feature. Gravel is ideal as permeable paving for patios and driveways. You can even use good sized rocks to create natural-looking fountains where water can pour down from a vertically placed rock. Such areas can appear to be normal outcroppings and blend into the landscape creating their own water feature or statement.

Rocks, stones and boulders can be used to herald entryways, to mark the beginnings of walls or gates, or to serve as sign posts. They can break up open fields or add interest to ornamental grass gardens. Set them into hillsides to form stairs or retaining walls. Soil mounded behind rocks can spill cascading flowers over the top of the rocks.

Rocks weigh much more than they look like they should. Feather rock is a rock that usually comes in dark grey or deep red and is formed by volcanic action. As a result it is perforated with thousands of tiny holes making it lighter than most other rocks. But once you get a rock more than a foot or two in size, even these rocks tend to become weighty. Plan on using the help of machinery to move larger rocks. This can get expensive if you don’t know someone with a crane or other equipment. Sometimes you can get the effect you want by grouping several large stones together rather than trying to move one big boulder. If you group rocks, try not to use all the same size. Using different sizes and shapes will be more appealing to the eye. If you enjoy crafting or sculpting you might even consider building your own cement rocks and boulders.

Always take care of your back when moving any heavy object like a rock. It is a good idea to wander around your landscape and mark out where you want the rocks before they arrive. Dig holes that can seat them securely and make the boulders and rocks appear as if they have erupted out of the soil rather than looking dumped accidentally on the spot.

Boulders, stone and rocks can transform a landscape into an impressive picture that will be a joy to look at day after day. Choose your stone carefully and plan for how it will be designed into your garden and you won’t regret using it in your landscape.