Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Ökenliv (Desert Life) Part III - Sedona Arizona ?

Great examples in the use and placement of rocks in the Hardscape. Certainly a huge investment for sure, but if done correctly and using the RIGHT plants, you can create a private theme that will bring joy to your garden hideaway which will create the illusion of escape and add great value to the home. Take a look at this UN-Swedish-like example below.

Photo: Mine
With the exception of the antiquated Aluminum Green House in the background, these granite rock forms and their reddish earth tone colours are spectacular and laid out as the real deal. Only thing missing is Lizards.

These features were in Göteborg Botanical Gardens. But here's some advice for folks actually living in warmer climates. Even when someone does a great job of placement with just the right shapes and sizes in a theme, the biggest mistakes I see in the use of rocks is folks not having the slightest clue of what plants to use so as not to hide or overwhelm those kool features you wanted to highlight in your hardscape in the first place. One plant I actually do like in many situations, but when neglected will totally bury your rockscape is the beautiful insect attracting flowering plant Lantana.

A prime example is the house at the very bottom of my Mum's street on the corner of Pepper Drive and Marlinda in El Cajon CA. That corner planter had some large granite boulders placed there if I remember, but as a result of neglect the Lantana has mounded up so high with alot of dead dry material underneath that the plant is a complete mass of material the size of a pickup truck. No sign that boulders were ever present. Take a look at the plants they used here at the Botanical Gardens which simply accent and compliment the rock features.

Photo: Mine
Bunch Grassesminiature JuniperDwarf Yucca and a shrub I'll identify later which has the stunted appearance like a type of Elephant tree found in the Anza Borrego Desert and Baja California rock outcroppings. None of those typical desert plants are native here for obvious reasons, but you can find substitutes and create an effective Faux Desert theme. Also notice the incorporation of similar coloured gravel or decomposed granite to fill in gaps and use as a mulch.

Dwarf variety of a Varigated Yucca

To the right here is a photo from a different angle of the small Yucca incorporated into the desert themed landscape next to the boulder slabs. Other low growing plants accent or compliment the rock slabs as opposed to overwhelming them & hiding all those great beautiful geological features which were the reasons why they were chosen in the first place. Such landscape/hardscape marriage themes as these are perfect for natural pond swimming pools as can be seen here from Inspiration Green's website page with Natural Swimming Pools and Swimming Ponds. But seriously, the creative juices should be overflowing here with the endless possibilities. Replicating nature not only in design, but in mechanism design called biomemetics will keep the system in operation for the life of the theme you install.
Photo: Mine
The little puddle of water here reveals the rainy nature of this year's summer. Yet at the same time on this particular sunny day it made me reminisce of a Thundershower afternoon somewhere around Slide Rock State Park in Oak Creek Canyon Arizona. But where are those Lizards ? Guess I need fake plastic ones for realism effect!!!  Is that biological soil crust on those rocks ?

Another area of this Botanical Garden that incorporated unique slab or slate type of boulders with a block rectangular shape was under these  Oak & Elm Trees for use as natural benches. Once again the choices of rock and just the right placement has a natural appeal as if it has always been there.

Natural Rock Benches

Another angle and look at other slabs incorporated 
into the rest area.

And yet another angle of the rock rest area
Some words about boulders, rocks and gravel in the Hardscape. If you're going to do it, then do it right. Don't be satisfied with just some rocks of any kind placed in the garden. If possible go with boulders that will be central pieces and make sure they are the right type of rock geology feature which will fit your theme. Think of the plant community theme you want and definitely know something about the geology of the picturesque area they are native to. Picking the right boulders is an art in it self. It took me several years combing the canyons, washes and Alluvial Fans (Bajadas) around the Coachella Valley for just the right shapes, colours and stone quality before I finally finished my own garden steps in Anza. The example boulders above clearly illustrate that the designer had specifics in mind. You have to be the one that lives with your choices whether you PERSONALLY are involved or you even if you SUB-CONTRACT someone else. By all means do your own personal homework and have a say, it's your investment. 

My way of homework for years was spending as much time in nature as possible and taking mental notes. If need be, take photographs of visuals and other scenery that inspires you on the inside. Illustrate scenes that impress you and your taste in what a kool hideaway looks like and think of ways of replicating that in your own urban landscape. I've not only done this with hardscapes involving various rocks, logs and such, but with specific plant features as well. Where do you think Bonsai inspiration came from ? There are countless Bonsai examples everywhere in the wild around the globe. 

Stay away from some of the cheap concrete fake rocks. I hate a lot of that stuff that I see in the commercial Home Centers. It's cheezy and frankly I don't think it works. Faux granite slabs of the commercial kind are great if you have the bucks and can colour match incorporated real boulder and rock slabs in with them. Examples of quality Faux Rock art are found at several of the Living Desert Museums both in California and Arizona. But keep in mind these organizations had real professionals who knew what they were doing. They also had a lot of bucks. I've been in a number of businesses to know that there are a heck of a lot of Wannabes of any kind out there who'll take your money and split, so choose carefully and get references. Again those types of construction jobs are usually around pool decks and so forth and are most likely expensive, but I think most folks can do it on a small scale budget and build gradually. The project can be fun and rewarding in the end if you are a DIYer. I love boulders and rock outcroppings in general when it comes to landscaping.
Tomorrow I'll have some examples of trees and shrubs which thrive here and could pass as their subtropical substitutes or counterparts for native plants elsewhere from warmer climates. Escaping from Temperate & Boreal Forest habitats is a habit of mine, even if it's creating a fantasy of sorts. Creating microclimate Illusions even in such areas as these is definitely possible as the Desert Life theme proves this year.


  1. Great post about planning rocks around the property. I'm still working on the concept around here. But I agree with you 100% on the natural rock and not the faux stuff. It looks terrible. A lot of times, I found myself moving it all around to try out new designs until I was happy with the perfect fit. Plants are an important choice to enhance the whole boulder/rock look. Just a splash of plant and a little area for water to collect makes for the perfect rock garden design. Wish I could help out with the lizards:)

  2. I hate the fake rock. There is one concrete rock example that has been around for years and they still manufacture the thing. It reminds me of terrible 1960s-70s architecture.

    Many people overwhelm their rock art with the wrong plants. I guess it's also the result of some getting tired of maintaining their landscape as well. If done properly, real heavy maintenance should only be once a year.



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