As much as I dislike fads, I think this is one fad that could have lasted longer that it did three years ago.

via ROCKS!

Two Birds With Many Stones

Gravel and stone function like mulch.

Fads are not necessarily bad ideas. Some evolve out of good ideas. Others are recycled old ideas that worked. The current popularity of stone, gravel and artificial ‘dry creek beds’ is probably the result of the drought. Yet, they were becoming popular before the drought. This is not their first time around either. They were popular through the 1970s and the 1950s as well.

Stone and gravel obviously do not need to be watered. Therefore, more area occupied by stone, gravel or dry creek beds equates to less area occupied by plants that want water. Such areas are not as useful as pavement or decking, but are more appealing where space does not need to be useful, and work nicely where the ground it sloped too much for pavement.

Stone around the trunks of mature trees works like an insulating mulch so that lawn grass and groundcover plants can be kept at a safe distance. Otherwise, the water needed to sustain the grass or plants against trunks can cause root or trunk rot. However, stone should not be piled so deeply that it holds moisture or interferes with aeration.

Stone is actually better than mulch in some situations. It does not decay. Stones and larger gravel are not likely to be blown or raked away, although small gravel can be difficult to separate from debris while raking. Since stone does not need to be replenished, groundcloth can be installed beneath it to prevent weeds from growing through.

Artificial dry creek beds do not need to be completely dry all the time. They can actually improve drainage in low spots that get saturated during rain. Stone on groundcloth drains better than soil or plants do. Artificial creek beds that are only ornamental should stay in low spots anyway. They look even more unnatural in high spots that water would not naturally drain to.

A few plants can go a long way in larger areas of stone or gravel, and particularly in artificial dry creek beds. If the stone is done properly and is appealing enough, the plants merely add a bit of color, form and texture, without completely obscuring the stone. Drought tolerant plants are of course more appropriate if the intention of stone is to conserve water.

Boulders In Modern Landscape Design

90703thumbIt is hard to say why boulders and sculptural stone are sometimes incorporated into American landscapes. A long time ago, boulders were only left in landscapes if they were to big and heavy to move out of the way or break apart. Early American landscapes were designed to express dominance over nature by replacing as much of it as possible with unnaturally organized landscapes.

Slowly through history, less refined and more relaxed landscapes became more tolerable, and then became popular as an expression of rebellion to earlier formality. Nowadays, most landscapes are inevitably informal, partly because so many believe that informality is more natural, and partly because few landscape designers will design anything else. Simplicity and symmetry are passe.

This informality allowed for the incorporation of various elements from various styles of landscaping, regardless of how incompatible some of such elements were with each other. Boulders and sculptural stone that had been traditional with many Asian styles of landscape design were added to American landscapes in rather nontraditional fashion. It has been a slow process of evolution.

Boulders are obviously nothing like viable and dynamic plant material, although they do contribute form, texture and color to a landscape. Designers might say that bigger and sculptural boulders add drama without even trying. In some situations, boulders are as functional as they are aesthetically appealing. They can obstruct unwanted traffic or hold back soil that is at a higher elevation.

If they need not conform to any of the various Asian landscape design traditions, there are not many rules for the use of boulders and sculptural stone. Exotic stone that might be incompatible to big open landscapes where exposed endemic stone is visible nearby, might be just fine in enclosed gardens where there is no reference for what is natural.

The standard rule of burying as much as two thirds of a boulder to make it seem as a natural outcropping is only valid if it is intended to look like a natural outcropping.

Six on Saturday: Bits and Pieces II


It has been a while since I posted a sequel to anything like I used to do so commonly. I am only doing it now because I do not have six pictures that fit a particular theme. There are not six different camellias or six different rhododendrons blooming at the same time. There is not a new landscape with six different newly installed plants to show off. Instead, I merely found a few amusing or silly pictures from work for this week. I sort of like #5 because it is interesting even to those of us who are familiar with it. I will actually elaborate a bit more on that later at noon.

I know these Six on Saturday posts do not fit with my other articles, but hey are fun for those us who participate. You can see other Six on Saturday posts by other writers at the link at the bottom of the page. You might even want to give it a try and participate yourself.

1. This might look like a signs at the Generic Aroboretum, or the Arboretum for the Horticulturally Disinterested, but the signs really refer to buildings that are named after trees. Almost all of the buildings in the neighborhood are names after flora of some sort.P80804

2. Woodpecker pantries are often constructed in old coastal redwood trees with soft bark. It seems silly to me; but it must be effective. Otherwise, woodpeckers would not put so much effort into stocking them. Woodpeckers deposit single acorns into the holes bored into the bark, in order to store the acorns for later. Some of these holes are very old, so have stored several acorns over several years. At lest one woodpecker guards the pantry from squirrels while the other woodpeckers are out and about collecting acorns. Such pantries are typically in trees that are isolated from others, so that squirrels can not enter from other trees, and then raid the pantry from above. The only access to the squirrels is from the ground. This panty does not seem to be active at the moment, but discarded acorn shells at the base of the tree indicate the it was active in recent history.P80804+.JPG

3. Coastal redwood trees are very efficient at regenerating from stumps of harvested trees. This tan oak wanted to give it a try too. It did not really regenerate from the stump of course, but merely grew from an acorn in the detritus that collected on top of the stump, and rooted into the rotted wood. The fractures visible at the bottom of the stump are caused by expanding tan oak roots.P80804++

4. Which of these things does not belong here? Do you remember that from Sesame Street? Blue hydrangeas are not common here, although we have quite a few that are fertilized to be blue. I thought that these looked silly together because they are so similar in color.P80804+++

5. Albino coastal redwoods are so fascinating. The white foliage can not survive without chlorophyll, so must remain attached to the original green tree that produced the white mutant growth. This takes a bit of explanation, so I will write a bit more about this about noon.P80804++++

6. Finally, we have two silly looking tiny weds that grew in a crack in the big rock that I wrote about earlier in Rock Concert. They are not much to look at, but this looks like one of those artistic pictures that other writers take.P80804+++++

This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:

Is That A Body?!


It seems that changes in fashion are sometimes partly motivated by rebellion against what they are changing from. The comfortably loose and pendulous ladies outfits of the 1920s that were so unflattering to the human form while revealing more of it than ever before were probably a rebellion to the impractically uncomfortable and strenuously refined ladies fashions of the late Victorian period that were designed to enhance the ideal of feminine form while also obscuring it. The simple and squared landscapes of the 1950s that were so neatly tailored that they would be considered to be bleak by modern standards were replaced through the 1970s and into the 1980s by a much more relaxed and curvaceous style with sculptural trees, shaggy foliar textures, hills and boulders. Ah, the boulders. They were still cool when Brent and I were studying horticulture at Cal Poly. We had to get some.

While Brent’s friend William was visiting from Los Angles, we drove out behind campus, and into the narrow and rocky Poly Canyon. Big serpentinite rocks often fell down the hillside above and into and sometimes blocking Poly Canyon Road. We found the smaller of the two rocks collected that day almost immediately and still within view of the campus. The second and much larger boulder was obtained closer to the gated end of the narrow one lane road. It took all three of us to get it into the trunk of the old Dart. We could not close the tailgate with the rocks back there, so we covered the rocks with an old wool army blanket from the Korean War, and tied the tailgate down against the rocks with an old hemp rope. We drove to the end of the road where we could turn around, and started to return home with out boulders.

We did not get far before we encountered a dusty white Maverick coming into the canyon. We simply pulled off into a turnout to let it by. Instead, the Maverick stopped next to the front of the Dart so that we could not leave, and the driver got out. She was an earthy looking hippie with long and flowing chestnut hair and lots of brown wooden beads that she clutched out of her way as she walked towards us. She looked concerned. She came over and asked loudly and seriously in an almost rude fashion (and none of us three will ever forget this) “Is that a body?”.

Now, consider this. On a secluded road without any witnesses around, a thin young lady encounters three healthy young men who she thinks have a body in their trunk . . . and she stops.

I was dumbfounded. Seriously, I could not say anything because I did not know how to respond to here craziness. It took me a moment to comprehend what she was asking. Brent’s response was exactly the opposite. He yelled at her to get out of the way, and that we only had a rock in the trunk, and then continued to say that if it were a body, that she would end up back there with it. William could only laugh, and laugh, . . . and laugh out loud uncontrollably. I was still trying to figure out what was going on.

To make matters worse, the hippie went to the rear of the car and started to untie the tailgate! Brent got out and tried to get here to stop literally by trying to shoo her away like a naughty dog. She was persistent and said that she wanted to make sure we were not dumping a body, and even told Brent, “I thought I saw it move.”. The crazy thing about it is that she seemed to be serious. Brent finally pulled the army blanket back enough to show her that it really was a rock. Brent continued to express his annoyance by shouting how stupid she was as she went back to her car and drove away. William was still laughing uncontrollably. I was still dumbfounded.

After all that drama, the big rock broke into smaller components when I unloaded it into my mother’s garden. They are nice pretty rocks nonetheless, and represent my little pieces of San Luis Obispo. The rock in the picture is one of the pieces of what my mother knows as the ‘body rock’. Incidentally, just in front of the rock are bits of the ‘Yellow Karma’ iris from ‘The Colors Of Karma’ at . The little terrier who is obviously unimpressed by any of this is Bill.


blog12This has very little to do with gardening; but like I said in the description of this blog, anything goes when it comes to the ‘Elaborations’ category. Anyway and furthermore, I do not like to write about garden sculpture, garden art, or any of those knick-knack fads that involve putting more than plants and the necessary infrastructure to sustain them into the garden. I do happen to like certain tasteful garden statuary, like Saint Francis, or Saint Fiacre (the rarely seen ‘real’ patron saint of gardening) or any of the saints; but only if I have a suitable space for them. This is nothing like that; but is just excellent enough that I wanted to mention it.

Painted rock are appearing everywhere! They are cute. They are weird. They just might cheer you up if you happen to find one. If you like, you can take them home to put in your garden for a while (if they seem to be intended for that. Please do not steal rocks from someone’s garden.). You might want to just put them somewhere else to make someone else a bit happier, or just make them . . . wonder who has time for this sort of thing. Heck, you might just want to leave them where they are.

Many rocks have directions to follow them online. You can post selfies with any rock you find. You might provide clues about where you put it for someone else to find. You might be able to see where particular rocks came from, or where they go to. Some end up far from home. If you like, you can paint your own rocks and add them to the mix. You just might see it online somewhere. You may only know that it brightened someone’s day, but never hear from it again.

There are very few common sense rules. Basic guidelines can be found at Facebook pages about art rocks in all sorts of communities. Two that I found are Santa Cruz County Rocks at or Trona, Ca ROCKS! at! (These are not actual links. You need to be logged into Facebook for them to work.)