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Rocks, Rocks!

Posted: December 12, 2011

by Joyce Heasley


The creative ways that we can, and do, use rocks in our landscaping are varied, interesting, functional, and sometimes unexpected.  If you have access to rocks, it is an inexpensive way to add some “lawn ornaments” to your gardens.  There are many ways to do this.  One of the most common is a rock garden.  You can add a single or a few rocks to a flowerbed.  This is especially helpful with a new flowerbed.  The planting may appear sparse at first and the rocks serve as the focal point.  But as you add more plants and they spread, then the flowers become the focal point and the rocks take on a supporting role.  Or you can use many rocks to keep them as the focal point with just a few plants.   If your bed is on a slope, you can place the rocks in strategic places or you can use rocks to terrace the slope.  No matter what your layout is, rocks and flowers just go together. 

Or they can be used alone to create hardscapes.  One example would be a retaining wall.   This can be very time consuming and requires you to have a good supply of rocks on hand.  In order to provide drainage, and minimize freezing and thawing that could damage the wall, you should evacuate behind your wall and add small stones so that the water can flow away from your wall.  It is also helpful to taper the wall so that the top of the wall is a few degrees off perpendicular. A lot of work – but in the end you have a beautiful addition to your landscape.  And even more beautiful if you soften it with vines or flowers – again, rocks and flowers just go together. 

At a church camp, a labyrinth was formed from painted rocks that campers had made as part of a craft project.  Some people paint rocks and use them as plant markers.   You can make stepping-stones or you can build an entire pathway through a garden using flat rocks and then using pea gravel in between the rocks.  I recently returned from a trip to New Hampshire.   I always admire the many rock fences that were built in that area decades ago and are still standing.  Everyone there seems to have an abundance of rock and uses them in their landscapes.  I never think of bringing rocks inside but an unexpected moment I had at the alpine guesthouse where we were staying was the centerpiece on the table; an arrangement of a small stuffed bear and a few flat rocks. It was simple – and charming. 

Of course, not everyone has access to a lot of rocks.  But you can find them.  Not everyone appreciates rocks the way some of us rock lovers do and are quite willing to let us have theirs.  Some of the rocks that we have used at our place have come from the farmer’s field behind our house and he is certainly okay with us removing them from his field.  Rocks have become so popular in landscaping that you can even buy rocks.

Or sometimes, they are given away.  On a trip to the Crazy Horse Monument in South Dakota a few years ago, we saw bins of cut stones for the tourists to choose as many as they would like to take home with them.  We were in the process of building some stone (rock) pillars at our house and the stones from Crazy Horse were used in those pillars.

We have a small fishpond at our house and used some of our rock collection to build a waterfall.   This past spring, my husband redesigned the waterfall and did not reuse all of the rocks.  What to do with the extra rocks?  I had the idea that we could make a few rock sculptures for our shade garden.  My husband had a better idea.  Since two of our grandsons were coming for a visit soon, why not let them make some rock sculptures.  So we dumped the wheelbarrow of rocks under a maple tree that we keep mulched but have never planted anything there.  They went to work.  At first, they came up with this big pre-conceived structure they were going to build.  But when they were unable to get it started, I suggested to them that they needed to “let the rocks tell them what to do.”  At first, this was a strange concept for the 9 and 11-year olds but they finally caught on.  And in the next few days, they built fourteen rock sculptures in our mulch bed.  It was fascinating to watch them being drawn back to that rock pile to build yet another one.  It was a beautiful sculpture garden.  More importantly, it was a beautiful memory!  And they could not wait to show their mother their creations when she came to get them.

Some of the sculptures have fallen over since.  But some are still in pretty good shape.  The next time the grandsons come, the rock pile will be there for them to rebuild.  In fact, now, when anyone comes to our house and is curious about our rock pile, if they wish, they can also “let the rocks tell them what to do” and build their own sculpture.

So find some rocks. Let them tell you what to do – and I know that you will be pleased with the results.

Joyce Heasley is a Penn State Extension Master Gardener from Adams County.  Penn State Cooperative Extension of Adams County is located at 670 Old Harrisburg Road, Suite 204, Gettysburg.  Call 334-6271.