A Winter Project – the Rockery

I love rocks.

Really, I LOVE rocks.

I’m rather un-abashed about it.  I can’t seem to take a walk without coming home with a rock in my pocket.  I’ve been known to give rocks as holiday gifts.  I bring souvenir stones home from various trips, and they decorate my home.

Anybody who has visited our garden over the years can’t help but notice a propensity for rocks to be a major landscape feature.  From the very special river rock I laboriously hauled from Packwood to Olympia to line the many flower beds of our urban lot to the huge pile of shingles I brought from the Pacific coast, it is obvious that we like to landscape with rock.  We’ve had a lot of fun using rock over the years.

StarrHill Farm offers us a new opportunity, however – BOULDERS.  A boulder is a rock that is too big for me to move with my bare hands.  Maybe I can move it with a sturdy lever, or maybe I can tip it or roll it a little bit if I put my shoulder to it, but without the assistance of an engine, I’m probably not going to do much to move a boulder.  A boulder offers a very definite anchor in the landscape – one that add drama, emphasis, gravity or simply a backdrop.  Given time, a boulder can become a garden unto itself – a miniature landscape of mosses and lichens, perhaps even a sempervivum or sedum tucked in a crevice.

Many consider rocks in the landscape to be a curse, or maybe just a burden at best.  Indeed, digging a bed around here is a labor of back-breaking love.  Digging is difficult in many areas due to compaction from the building phase.  Once you get the soil up, it has to be screened – each wheelbarrow full of good soil (mostly sand, remember) producing one or two large rocks, dozens of ‘spuds’, and a couple gallon bucket-fulls of pea-gravel.  Sometimes, good plans go awry when one encounters a submerged boulder that is too large to dig up.  In that case, one gives up or goes around.

I find the curse of the rocks – combined with the blessing of my wonderful neighbors Mike & Shannon & their tractor – provides me with an excellent opportunity.  You see, when the house was installed, it was done on a building site that had been graded into a gentle hillside.  There is a bank, rising as much as 4′-5′ high, that runs along the driveway from the ditch clear around to the back side of the garage.  Neighbor Mike has been helping me place boulders he’s pulled out of a pasture he’s clearing into position along this bank.


Beginnings of the Rockery

This is a view of the first set of boulders Neighbor Mike has placed.  The six boulders on the right are in their positions, while those on the left have yet to be situated.  Mike has many more boulders available for me, but I am waiting for better weather –  and for my back to feel a bit better.   This area is located on the SE side of our driveway circle.  Alongside it runs the ditch I keep clear for water draining off the garage and house to flow thru.  (that ditch joins another ditch that drains the neighbor’s property, to flow across the driveway at an ‘engineered’ low spot, a location to which I refer to as The Ditch – This will be the south-western terminus of The Rockery)

Altho you may not be able to see it, there is a stairway I built, going up the center, that leads from the driveway up toward the property line.  On either side of this stair, I intend to plant a few little conifers.  The stairs and path will lead to a garden room based on the large tree that grows near the property line.  Beside the big tree (THE 1bigtree) there is also a lovely silvered snag, a gorgeous hemlock, a colony of madrono, rampant honeysuckle, salal, huckleberries, as well as a Kerria japonica and a dark rose-pink rhododendron, both of which we planted in the last year or two.

The rockery itself will be planted up in a variety of ground-covers, alpine specimens, and rock-garden standards.  It will extend as far down the driveway as the garage.  I’m sure it will take years to put together.  I hope I get it all done before I get hold and can’t play with rocks anymore!


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