While I was gardening

The art of gardening and the science of life.

Holy schist! That’s a gneiss rock garden!


Incorporating rock and stone in your garden is a creative, distinctive, and enjoyable way to bring unique features to your landscape.  Almost every garden I’ve visited, public or private, has incorporated some type of rock display in its beds.  Dry stream beds, mountain or hillscapes, stone used to enhance a particular bloom or foliage color, alpine gardens, as linear structure of a garden bed, or as path material – rocks are essential in a garden.  Adding rocks and/or stone work to your landscape can be as easy (and free) as using those you dig up in the course of creating your garden, or as laborious and expensive as purchasing large boulders, paving stones, or decorative rocks and having them installed.  Here in the PNW, we are ‘blessed’ with rocky soil; the debris left behind during glacial retreat of the last ice age, and from extensive volcanic activity over eons.  We have a wide variety of rock material to work with – granite, rhyolite, diorite, gabbro, basalt, obsidian, pumice, conglomerate – along with a wide variety of very beautiful minerals.  With such a wealth of material to choose from, any gardener can find some type of rock or mineral with which to enhance their landscape.

In my garden, I installed 2 dry streambeds ‘flowing’ from east to west, and these features have generated much interest over many years.  I recently completed a small alpine bed using granite, basalt, and gneiss collected during hikes throughout Washington and in northwest Oregon.  As far as souvenirs go, rocks legally collected from many different areas can’t be topped (although they become heavy in the backpack towards the end of a hike).  No one can fault you for taking home one or two beautiful specimens.

Many cultures have an extensive history of using stone for landscaping, decorative, or building purposes.  To me, the most interesting feature of any Japanese garden is the placement of rocks and large stones. Evocative of mountainscapes, the structure of waterfalls, or of other water features, these pieces bring a sense of history and religious significance to each garden.  Placement is often very precise and dependent upon the religion the garden symbolizes; Zen, Shinto, and Pure Land Buddhism each have very specific requirements for the use of stone in their gardens.

In the United Kingdom, the use of stone for defining land boundaries has a long history.  Many of these small walls and markers enhance the landscape and give a strong sense of history and of the continuity of life.

When I was a young girl, my dad allowed me to make a garden in a small, unused space in our back yard.  The first thing I did was to outline the area with rocks I found throughout the neighborhood, and in our own yard.  I liked the look of the space so much that soon I had filled it almost completely with rocks of countless shapes, sizes, colors, and textures.  I don’t recall ever asking for plants to add to the garden.  One of the most treasured memories of my youth is of the hours I spent in my little garden, shining and cleaning rocks.  Strange kid; but the variety of colors and sheen of minerals fascinated me even then.

There is nothing more substantial or timeless in a landscape than stone.  The contrast between the transitory beauty of plant material and the immutable permanence of stone is something we instinctively understand and appreciate.  We comprehend the enduring quality and sense of place that stone affords.   Visitors to public gardens often remember stone work and rock displays long after the impact of the plants has faded.  They remark how the garden would be much less complete and interesting without those features.

My sediments exactly.


Author: dphare2014

Horticulturist, Lead Steward Carkeek Park Demonstration Gardens, Author

2 thoughts on “Holy schist! That’s a gneiss rock garden!

  1. Deb: you rock! You’re well grounded enough that no one will soil your latest missive! Walt

    Liked by 1 person

  2. LOL!! Thanks Walt! I try hard not to gather any moss as I roll along in life. And, you know, some essays just write themselves.


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