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Landscape With a Boulder Approach

Construction How-To, Gardening, Landscaping, Outdoor Living, Stone and Concrete March 4, 2011 Sonia



 

By Larry Walton

 

Using Big Rocks to Give your Landscape a Solid New Look.

 

I’ve reached that stage in life where I’m asking the important questions like, “When is a boulder a boulder and not just a big rock?”

Rocks have always factored significantly in my life. Every year, the gravel road where I grew up had to be replenished because of the volume of rocks I used as ammo for my slingshot. Our diving platforms at our favorite swimming holes were large rocks. I even moved some big rocks with heavy equipment while building roads.

I’ve spent a lot of time removing rocks from our fields, garden spots and flower beds. But lately I’ve been putting some back. Some of my neighbors have also been putting some big rocks back in their landscapes, making good use of the naturally occurring resources in our area.

My favorite landscapes have been created over thousands of years where moss and ferns have taken root in dirt deposited by volcanoes, river erosion, earthquakes and composting trees. Sword ferns, vine maple and rhododendrons live in the shade of Douglas fir, hemlock and cedar trees. Leaving these environs intact and building around them is my first choice, but these opportunities are rare.

Taking a cue from nature, moving big rocks into our landscapes is a good option in many parts of the country. Sometimes the very rocks you’ll need are excavated from the ground in the process of leveling for foundations, digging for sidewalks and dozing for driveways. Such was the case with a new street in our neighborhood where hundreds of large rocks were unearthed to make room for utilities being installed beneath the street. Many of these rocks have found their way into our neighborhood’s yards.

While placing rocks in a landscape is not rocket surgery, there are some pitfalls and stumbling blocks to be avoided. Here’s how my neighbors are rocking their world:

When positioning a rock, pay attention to how it will catch the morning or afternoon sun.

When positioning a rock, pay attention to how it will catch the morning or afternoon sun.

Several of our local landscapes incorporate large flagstones as their stair treads.

Several of our local landscapes incorporate large flagstones as their stair treads.

The flagstone used for this waterfall shelf was quarried from the ground a stone's throw from where it now lives.

The flagstone used for this waterfall shelf was quarried from the ground a stone’s throw from where it now lives.

Moving large rocks around can be a challenge and often requires the use of wheelbarrows, utility vehicles and tractors.

Moving large rocks around can be a challenge and often requires the use of wheelbarrows, utility vehicles and tractors.

 

Moving large rocks requires heavy-duty equipment or at least a piece of equipment that you don't care about such as this trailer, which didn't leave the property.

Moving large rocks requires heavy-duty equipment or at least a piece of equipment that you don’t care about such as this trailer, which didn’t leave the property.

 

The guys on Ashland's crew rig rocks by using one chain in a circle at the bottom of the rock and four chains coming down from the rigging hook into the circular chain.

The guys on Ashland’s crew rig rocks by using one chain in a circle at the bottom of the rock and four chains coming down from the rigging hook into the circular chain.

Our neighbor, Mel Ashland, hires a large crane for about$150 an hour whenever he wants to move large rocks, some of which were “flown” right over his house.

Our neighbor, Mel Ashland, hires a large crane for about$150 an hour whenever he wants to move large rocks, some of which were “flown” right over his house.

 

After digging a hole with a backhoe, the crew directs the crane operator to set the rock in the hole.

After digging a hole with a backhoe, the crew directs the crane operator to set the rock in the hole.

Leaving a large round rock sitting on the surface was not the look Ashland wanted, so his crew used an excavator to dig a hole for the bottom half of the rock.

Leaving a large round rock sitting on the surface was not the look Ashland wanted, so his crew used an excavator to dig a hole for the bottom half of the rock.

 

One of the advantages of this rigging setup is that the rock can be easily turned to position it in the desired direction.

One of the advantages of this rigging setup is that the rock can be easily turned to position it in the desired direction.

 

After positioning the rocks, Ashland's guys spread loam to prepare the landscape for a variety of plants.

After positioning the rocks, Ashland’s guys spread loam to prepare the landscape for a variety of plants.

It's common to use a small, flat rock as a shim to get a larger rock to settle or to make it level. A shim rock can be treated much as a wood shim by driving it into place with a rubber mallet to snug it up.

It’s common to use a small, flat rock as a shim to get a larger rock to settle or to make it level. A shim rock can be treated much as a wood shim by driving it into place with a rubber mallet to snug it up.

 

 

Here's the round rock Ashland's crew set into the landscape. Placing the large rock in a hole makes it appear to have always been there.

Here’s the round rock Ashland’s crew set into the landscape. Placing the large rock in a hole makes it appear to have always been there.