It’s coming on four years since we at Masterpiece published the article on boulders in the Minnesota landscape garden which has turned out to be our most popular. Thank you for you comments. They still are collecting.
However, we wrote then about boulders in the garden toward the end of the season, September 8, 2009, to be exact. I offer the reprint below in hopes it might still be useful reading for those contemplating there might be boulders in your home landscape garden future….perhaps even this year:
BOULDERS IN THE MINNESOTA LANDSCAPE GARDEN
“Here in Minnesota boulders happen. They were carved out from bedrock by glaciers and then dumped willy-nilly as the glaciers receded. For decades farmers gathered the gatherable to get them out of the way of plowed fields. Some still do. Now, they sell them.
Some boulders are more beautiful than others. Some are larger, others more square than oblong. Some are granite, others limestone.
Things “boulderlike” have become very popular in landscapes. In the old iron mines up north, rock outcrops are quarried and the products marketed….selling them to builders and landscapers.
For years the Minnesota landscape people have built boulder walls which resemble egg piles. Roundish things often the same size piled and pushed by bobcat tightly one onto another creating an enormous eye sore for you and future generations to view.
Not long ago the industry produced indescribably ugly reddish brown volcanic lava slag chunks and sold them as ground cover material to homeowners to “beautify the home garden”, hoping to stay up-to- date with their garden “arts”. Minnesota homeowners still have tons of limestone chips or river rock dumped around their homes believing that making their ground look more like moonscape enhances earth’s beauty.
I have lived at my property for 35 years. There were no boulders, and, lucky for me, no river rock or limestone “mulch” which I would have had to remove when I moved there. There was lawn, a tree or two, and more lawn. And there were interesting gentle slopes and slight differences of elevation in the 1/2 acre space. I like boulders naturally placed in the landscape. Quarried rock can be beautifully arranged there as well. But it does require more training and skill to create naturalistic settings than placing garden items living or man made simply where space allows.
One sentence incorporating three questions is all that is needed to understand the rules of both plant arrangement and the placement of boulders: “WHAT ARE YOU PLACING WHERE AND WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS?
“Therein lies the rub!”
No special vocabulary is needed to answer these three questions. What is required is an eye, a feel, and experience. Please visit our masterpiecelandscape.com Website lineup of landscape pictures. Of course I am biased but the guys who run Masterpiece Landscaping are very, very good at positioning the right plants, and the right stonework into the right places and combinations in the landscape. But, see for yourself after you finish reading this article.
What can boulders in the garden do for you?
My general answer may be, perhaps nothing. Some very astute gardeners deeply into landscape beautfy prefer a more formal, more gentle Earth setting. One without boulders tends to quiet and soften a view with the living not the cold, brutal hardscape. A rocky garden is less civilized and a less tranquill space than a rockless setting. It suggests the wild rather than the cultivated.
In Minnesota, especially around the city of Duluth, some of the most beautiful rock anywhere can be seen. Drop by the Lester Park area on the east side. Go to the streams rushing from the uplands onto the grand lake, Superior. Boulders, rock standings, some bigger than a house expand ones imagination.
If in your landscape you wish to create or imply a stream, your work could not be believable without rock or boulders. They make the water move laterally one way or another. They create the width or narrowness of the believable stream.
Plants grow, but boulders do not. This should always be remembered when determining plant-boulder space relationships. Here we can have a problem with large plant forms near any boulders. To repeat, plants grow, but boulders do not.
Boulders are expensive when set properly. Frugal and stingy gardeners don’t “plant” boulders. The stone itself may cost only $400 per ton, but how are you going to get the monstrosity home? And then up a hill or around to the back grounds, and then how is it going to be set? That is the art of it, isn’t it? It takes time, skill, equipment and labor.
I am sorry to say that some ”landscapers” simply dump boulders onto a spot. The “dumper” claims when looking at what was dumped, that nature made it dump that way. The next time you notice boulders set in a landscape, judge for youself the ones you think were dumped versus the ones you believe were set with beauty in mind.
Remember too, there always is a chance, maybe one in ten thousand, the boulder was dumped beautifully, so keep your betting money in your pocket.
Study those boulders you believe were set with beauty in mind and compare them with the dumps. Then explain with a meaningful vocabulary what you believe the difference is.
Alot of politicians these days are trying to sell equality. Landscapers and gardeners should remind them that that which is equally large, is equally small.
Sand, masses of sand are particles roughly of equal size. Boulders in arrangements of equal sizes are usually boring and in all ways uninteresting….pressing on the monotonous. Manufactured boulders are repulsive to look at.
A flat piece of land is usually associated with a more formal garden. It is the environment most associated with gal gardeners. In general, they prefer flowers, the more the better. To them garden means flowers. Not that they were born fixed in this belief. There are many practical, reasonable reasons for this…You think of some.
I have noticed a wonderful trend over the past ten years or so, however. Lots of our best clients, (sorry guys, most of them are women….guys are needed to help pay the bills), absolutely love boulder settings. Not all of them are in the suburbs either.
Some of the most beautiful grounds of all, in my prejudiced view, where boulders are central to the feel of the verdant landscape, are in small city lots, one in dinkytown and another in St. Louis Park.
There are many asides to boulders in the garden. Daylilies often are made more beautiful not far from one or some. Creeping evergreens, expecially Japgarden Junipers next to, around, creeping onto or away from boulders, never fail from causing a sigh of approval when seen.
Another mentionable, one tends to lose far fewer pruning shears, trowels, cultivators, hand tools of all kinds in gardens where there are boulders around, especially those not dumped. That is, if one trains to set them as tables where these tools can be safely if temporarily positioned when the gardener moves on to another task.
Then there is the sitting boulder. In the dinky town garden the front area was landscaped with sitable boulders for a seating of six to eight. The lady client had a book club of six to eight regular members and looked forward to an occasional outdoor setting. No garden furniture needed to be moved into position.
Boulders offer more to a successful landscape than what I have mentioned here. I wouldn’t want to reveal all we know about their uses in these blog articles. Otherwise, there might not be a need for you readers to call us to help keep us in business.”