The Southwest is a place of great natural drama and beauty – rocks and boulders are not hidden beneath layers of forest mulch or yards of prairie soil. They are right out there in the land – delighting the eye with their natural beauty.
Work With The Drama of the Southwest
In the Southwest we can see our large, dramatic mountains springing virtually straight up out of the surrounding land. The European principles of landscape design teach us to work with this drama and beauty, but reduce it to a human scale. Feng Shui principles teach the same, to take the grandeur of our natural environment and make our homes one with this nature.
Using either Occidental or Oriental traditions, one way to repeat the motif of the dramatically upthrusting mountains, and bring them into our landscapes, is to use rocks, big rocks. Dramatic rocks. Boulders.
Boulders, like our mountains, reach skywards. They are smaller than our homes however, thus they reinforce the mountain motif without overwhelming the home. There are a few simple guidelines to keep in mind as you ponder adding boulders to your yard.
Select Several Boulders
Don’t stop with one! Select several boulders so there is not just one single lump in the yard. Ideally select an odd number. Three, five, seven. If you have an even number in your design, the viewers eye will try to see a regular pattern. If the even numbers are not evenly spaced, the effect is unsettling. It just plain looks wrong. Odd numbers free you from this dilemma.
Randomize Boulder Layout
The next most common mistake is to line the boulders up. Unless you live in a Federal Building – avoid this. Rather than a straight line across the front of the yard, try a triangle in the middle of the yard. Not an isosceles triangle either, create one where the three sides are unequal.
Soften Your Design
Without plants to soften them, boulders can sit like large lumps in the yard. Soften their stark forms with plants around their bases. If you take a walk in the desert you will see this naturally occurring. The bigger the boulder, the larger the plants you can use, but since most of us don’t have a spare fifty grand to spend on boulders, look to low groundcovers.
Select plants with roots that do not appeal to burrowing animals like ground squirrels. (More about wildlife resistant plants – here.) For this I like golden dyssodia (Dyssodia tenuisecta), dog daisy (Dyssodia pentachaeta), desert zinnia (Zinnia acerosa), or damianita (Chrysactinia mexicana). Clumps of low growing native cacti like hedgehogs, claret cups or pincushion cactus also look great at the base of boulders.
Color & Texture
Boulder color, texture and form are important too when placing rocks in the landscape. Select colors that blend with the home and environment. A tan home might look fine with a large black boulder in front, but a white home needs a tan boulder. There is such a thing as too much drama.
If you have a decomposed granite mulch in your yard, select boulders that are not the same color and texture. The boulder will simply blend right in and rather than a little drama you will have a lot of blandness. The exception to the rule is how the boulders were done in the above image.
We have barely scratched the surface of this topic, but I hope I have given you some ideas to liven your landscape.
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