Friday, October 12, 2012

Rock Garden Design

My favorite Mr. Anonymous (that's YOU Jim) emailed me today saying "you always do plant portraits" (or words to that effect) asking me if I might not address Rock Garden Design (which I have capitalized ot underscore its significance. I occasionally brush briefly past the subject here and there, I aver, and have written a number of pieces, most recently in the Rock Garden Quarterly (pp. 106-117) as well as contributing pieces to various other magazines over the years and several books. Like most other person on the planet, I do not claim to be an "expert" designer, but like EVERYBODY on the planet, I know what I like. Above is a picture of Sandy Snyder's wonderful crevice garden which is fifteen or more years old now: the rock placement is rather schematic, but the plants love it and have knit it together...

This is my home rock garden: much of the flagstone and especially the wall and stairway were here when we bought the house. The rock work was largely done by Homer Hill under the supervision of Gwen Moore (my ex-) although the upper lefthand corner of the garden was built by Zdenek Zvolanek (with some revision by Gwen). I have tweaked things here and there, and am largely to blame for the plants--must of my original collaboration with Gwen having been superceded by time: the garden is 20 years old...

The idea of rock garden design must be "in the air": two of my favorite bloggers have just touched upon it: Martin and Alxe's wonderful "Textures of Sacred Space" and Jocelyn Chilver's Medicine Mountain ponderings...

I have literally hundreds of images of rock gardens I have taken over the years in private and public gardens both. I have one or two friends who have documented their gardens from scratch to finish--and I shall see if I can perhaps feature them in an upcoming blog...

I can honestly say that designing a rock garden is one of the most enjoyable, complex, physically demanding and really astonishing things a person can do in their lives: I recently wrote a piece about the seminal rock garden construction event that inspired my love of gardening that was just published this month in a book called The Roots of My obsession: this delightful, slim (and very inexpensive) volume edited by Thomas C. Cooper is well worth your purchasing (it features the likes of Tony Avent, Dan Hinkley, Penelope Hobhouse, Roy Lancaster--you know, the general riff raff of our art! I squirmed a tad seeing my name sandwiched between these glitterati). I know I'm being a complete sleazebag to duck out of this blog with a crass self-promotion like that...but it is election season!

Speaking of which, I must tell you that I've had sleepless nights anticipating a Mitt and Mutt victory in November. I realize you do not check in on my blog to be preached to about elections, but I hope you vote for Barack Obama: the candidates are night and day in my book. And Barack has my vote, my confidence and my respect. I believe he has earned your's as well. The alternative makes me sick to my soul.

(See: you can never get away from politics--especially in our poor swing state of Colorado!)


  1. I hear you about the prez. Could there be a gardener, attuned to climate as is our wont, that looks upon the other side favorably?

    Lovely rock garden pix. I wish the elk and rodentia up here would allow such a space, but I would have to enclose it in kryptonite.

    --Pam on Lookout Mtn

  2. One question I have been thinking about lately is, "how can freshly cut rock be made to look old?" The rock in your garden all appears tumbled. In contrast, Ms. Snyder's flag stone looks fresh cut. What can be done to give an impression of great age? Will chisel work, acid treatment, abrasion, or fertilization to promote growth give the stone the appearance that it has always been there?


  3. James: The only way you can make rock "look" old is to use rocks that are already lichened and mossy--I suppose: or you can just wait: I remember the first rock garden I helped create as a child (50 years ago now!) used rocks that were fairly "raw"--roadside granite off screes. Today, those rocks are covered with Moss.

    And thanks, Pam, for your reassurance! I don't really like to interject politics in my Blog, but this election rankles. And I think the right path is very clear.

    I can see very little on the Other side except greed, ignorance and the Past.

  4. The moss gardeners claim that you can help establish moss on rock by painting it with a mixture of moss and buttermilk. I have never tried it myself. I have not yet made a rock garden in shade.

    During the summer heat I watered my little rockery each morning with one quarter strength fertilizer. This helped grow algae on the rocks in depressions and fissures. The algae gave the rock a slight green color in certain areas. This helped it look alive and older.

    I have cut rock and chiseled it. Cutting rock makes very artifical straight lines, but allows me to get the exact shape that is needed. Chiseling the rock makes it look more weathered, but the edges look too much like those of an arrowhead. I often end up breaking the rock if I attempt to chisel off too much.

    Certain acids should dissolve the cementing agent in rock. This could be useful for weathering rock with a lime component.

    I am thinking the best way to weather rock is to get out my sander and use a course silica carbide paper. The rougher I can make it the better for holding water on the surface and promoting the growth of moss and lichens.


  5. Mitt and Mutt - That's perfect! Love it.

  6. Panayoti,

    Check out this company.


  7. Love the stairs with the water fall.

  8. wowww man this is awesome, i love the waterfall with stairs ... and lovely stone....


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  10. Nice! You shared such an interesting and great ideas. I like your post and would like to read your next post. Thanks for sharing it. Keep updating... You can also check details for designing gardens, Christmas Lighting Services In NY.


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