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Big rock adding textural interest (and diverse lichens) to a xeriscaped parking strip.

Not the kind that goes on your finger. We’re talking boulders here, folks. Specifically, one large boulder in the middle of a lawn. What’s up with that? What statement is it making?

Is it being displayed as a natural sculpture?

Is it being used to add a little textural contrast to the turf?

Is it a key element in an Asian-inspired front garden?

All too often, the statement it makes is more along the lines of “We just didn’t want to pay to have that boulder hauled off” or “Look at my big rock.”

This boulder adds to the gardener’s chores, but also contributes to the Asian-inspired design.

I’m all for creating islands in the lawn—it’s a great way to add diversity, privacy, habitat, and 4-season interest. You can add several islands and convert the lawn to a pleasing path through a living community. An island allows a gardener set up different watering schedules or systems in different zones of the yard. A large enough island can incorporate a path–maybe even a sitting area–and become a new garden room. In a yard with trees, you might make islands around the trees and let fallen leaves accumulate in them for better tree health and less work. You can even strategically locate islands so it’s easy to rake fallen leaves into them from the surrounding lawn.

But a boulder in the middle of the grass? Doesn’t add biodiversity. Too short to screen out an undesirable view. Too small to reduce sprinkler coverage or to be a feature on a scale with the house. And it actually adds work; you’ll need to weed whip around it regularly so people can see your big rock.

Some of the best lawn islands I’ve seen are in West of the Lake Gardens in Manitowoc, Wisconsin.

Not that I don’t love rocks. Oh, I do! Big rocks, little ones, any size really. One of the best birthday gifts I ever received was a truckload of boulders.

If I were fortunate enough to have a big rock in my front yard, you bet I would keep it. I would feature it by making a rock garden, dry stream, lawn island, or other larger feature around it. I might use it as the focal point for a little herb garden or medicine wheel. If my big rock were flat and low, I might add a screen of taller grasses or shrubs and use it for sunbathing. If I had kids, the rock could be part of a naturalistic play area.

One thing I wouldn’t do is leave it all alone in the middle of the front lawn, to create work without contributing to the design. Even to a rock lover like myself, that just doesn’t add up.

So please holla, those of you with a big rock in your front lawn. What have you done with yours and how is it working out for you?

Sculptures make the big rocks less lonely in Frederick Meijer Gardens, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Posted by

Evelyn Hadden
on November 20, 2013 at 2:31 am, in the category But is it Art?, CRRRITIC.

13 Comments

  1. We have access to many size rocks due to owning acres of farmland. We have built a dry stone wall around two sides of our patio as well as incorporating some in various garden beds. My husband took a class in stone laying which helped a lot. We also have an informal house and landscaping so we try to make the stonework more natural with complementary plantings. However around the McMansion homes someone started a trend with the huge stones and big stone wall that seem to clash with this big brick formal style homes. And it is copied everywhere without any plantings to soften up that stonework. A lot of $$$ spent but it doesn’t do anything for me. Less is more in my book!

  2. Yes, I look at those boulder walls (they have them in new developments in the Midwest too) and think, wow, at least more people are appreciating the beauty of rocks. But somehow those walls don’t look as “at home” in their location as, for instance, the mossy stone walls in older eastern US yards.

  3. So really, yours is a sturdy and artistic sign! Thanks for sharing that idea. Now that you mention it, I have seen other boulders used in the same way. And every one is unique, making them so much more interesting than a run-of-the-mill address sign.

  4. Personally I’m a rock person – would’ve (should’ve?) gone into geology if i hadn’t gone into cartography. No big rocks in my yard, though there are many I covet. The town next door is Rocklin, supposedly a misspelling or mispronunciation of Rock Land – and it lives up to the name. In that town there’s a vacant lot I pass now & then, full of boulders. Some are beautifully rounded from their trip down an ancient river that has long since left the region; others are split & jagged. Most of these have been recently unearthed, so no lichen or moss grows on them. I’ve picked out a few I’d love to take home with me, but haven’t taken action on that yet. And further up the hill (the foothills of the Sierras) there’s a particular elevation at which massive rocks, some the size of at least outbuildings if not small homes, protrude from slopes & meadows alike. These guys are full of all lichen-y & mossy goodness. My dream is to one day buy a parcel on which one of these boulders sits and build a house around it. My kids laugh at this idea – Mom would no longer be bringing home amazing rocks. She’d be bringing the home TO the rocks.

  5. Oh I love that idea. In parts of Minnesota, I’ve seen homes built on land where the bedrock rises up in a shelf. Some are landscaped so the rock just emerges out of the lawn (like a crocodile). Others have built a more naturalistic garden of creeping plants around their rocky shelf.

  6. Why a rock in the middle of your lawn?
    – Somewhere to perch while your dog finds the perfect spot to do his/her business.
    – A spot to perch while gossiping with passerby and neighours
    – A spot for kids to take off into space while playing on your lawn (under adult supervision of course)
    – A backdrop for small spring bulbs coming up thru the grass to flower against – Crocus, Galanthus etc –
    – Possibly a spot for snakes and dragon flies to sun themselves
    – A warm spot on which to perch on cold but sunny winter days after building snow people
    – most of all, for me, the year around visual interest

  7. I’ve long used rocks, big and small, in my landscaping and gardening (we have lots around here). In some spots they’re organized into a wall or barrier, in others they stand alone. I’ve noticed 3 useful things about them:
    1) they absorb and hold onto the heat of the day, creating a mini-climate that’s useful in shoulder seasons.
    2) placed right, they provide shelter from the wind, even on a small scale.
    3) depending on placement, they provide a water collection site, and it even seems like they channel water down into the soil where they are.

  8. Anne, good points all. Big rocks are great for creating a windbreak, a sun catcher, a moisture source (they even condense dew onto them, giving plants a little more water in dry areas). And I like your comparison to mountains. Those craggy surfaces…

  9. The big rocks that look best in landscapes are usually the ones that have been “planted”! Rocks that look like they were just dropped and abandoned look out of place. Rocks that are partially buried look like they belong there.

  10. I’ve got lots and lots of small rocks (our property is a former rock quarry) but, not counting our flagstone pathways, the only big rock sits at the front of the property bearing our house number. Since I’ve thus far failed to dig up anything big, I’ve considered acquiring a good-sized boulder for use as seating in one area but the cost, the hauling hassle and and the need to dig it into the soil so it looks at least somewhat natural has me considering other options.

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