Rock Gardens: Find the Best Stone for Your Rock Garden

Before you landscape with rocks, it pays to learn where your stones come from and how they were gathered.

| March/April 2004

What could be a more appropriate landscape material than rock? It looks natural in any environment—from the Arizona desert, where it can be the focal point of a dry garden, to the Northeast, where stacked fieldstone walls and blocky granite steps are visual treats, to the Rocky Mountain West, where boulders hint of the surrounding grandeur.

Stone (the preferred term in the trade) is used in landscapes for both aesthetic and functional reasons. Functionally, stone defines a structure with walkways, walls, patios, and even water features. Aesthetically, stone anchors the landscape and provides year-round interest. And, wherever you are, attractive and serviceable stone is readily available. Sandstone, granite, limestone, and slate are common in landscapes, but even marble and volcanic scoria—lava cinders—can be used for a home’s exterior. The only stone no-no is alabaster; it wears away too quickly in the rain.

In areas where drought is a problem—and almost no region of the country seems to be immune these days—landscaping stones reduce the amount of irrigation required. Whether stone is used as a gravel mulch, to build a patio, or in a cluster of large boulders, less mowing and trimming are required—a savings on fuel and fumes.

That’s a lot of rock-solid pluses. Even so, there are a few environmental issues you’ll want to consider before getting started. Is there enough of the stone left in nature? How is it harvested? And, most important, how far was it transported?

Get to know your stone

When you’re scouting for landscape rock, visit local stone yards (look under “Stone-Natural” in the Yellow Pages). You’ll quickly learn that “a rock is a rock is a rock” just isn’t true; the array of choices is mind-boggling. While your decision will be guided by your home’s look and the stone’s purpose, you’ll also want to ask these questions.

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