Wednesday, November 18, 2009

What's wrong with this picture?

Can't see it? How about now:

There is nothing in nature that would deposit rocks in this hodgepodge, many-lone-rocks-sitting-out-in-the-middle-of-nowhere pattern except a glacier. In fact, this type of deposition "pattern" is so erratic that geologists call the rocks left behind by glaciers...well, erratics. The problem is, there has never been a glacier in LBB. Not even back before LBB was LBB.

Every time I stop at this intersection, I have to avert my eyes. Clearly, someone thought, "We'll add boulders to the landscape! A bunch of boulders! Boulders make things look great!"

Well, yes, I have to agree that boulders look great in a landscape, but they should look like something that might actually occur in nature. Or, failing that, they should at least offer a reference to it.

I could see how the designer could have made this mistake, though, since taken in segments, as discrete tableaus, it doesn't look too bad:

Even this scene has a certain poignancy, as if the erratics were deposited there in order to suggest to the viewer that the gas prices sign is really a tree:

It is when they are dribbled out in a line along the planting strip that the design breaks down. Even if paying homage to the natural is not a designer's intention, there should at least be places in the composition for the eye to come to rest. But stringing individual boulders out like this give one the jumpy eye.

I'm afraid I couldn't get a shot to give you the full effect, since the best angle for that is in the middle of the intersection, and this was late in the day and evening rush hour traffic was at its peak. But this view might give you some idea of the overall look:

I don't mean to be unkind with my criticism here, but as a former geologist, I have to confess that it pains me to see rocks abused in landscapes. And yet, I can understand how it happens. People like rocks. I know this for a fact because I see them spending the equivalent of the national debt on HGTV hiring some guy with a truck and a plan to build "natural" water features/retaining walls/dry stream beds with them.

But, oy, those water features/retaining walls/dry stream beds don't always look so good. And I can understand how this happens, too. The landscapers goes down to the stone yard and orders up a truckload or two of big boulders or gravel, thinking that the mere addition of them to the landscape--without a real understanding of the environment they are trying to create--would enhance the scene. But we wouldn't assume that about plants, would we?

So lookit, as a public service to those HGTV guys, I've decided to start an informal series on designing with rocks and call it something clever like...oh, let's about, "Hardscaping should not be hard."

I don't really have a detailed plan; I just thought maybe I'd show some design hits and misses from time to time, maybe talk about how rocks behave in nature, maybe talk about other kinds of hardscaping, maybe muse a little about the meaning of it all--I dunno. My plan is kind of...erratic at this point.

But the rocks in my landscape are not.

Editorial note: The original photos were replaced with ones taken earlier in the day for better light.


  1. Even this tableau has a certain poignancy, as if the erratics were deposited there in order to suggest to the viewer that the gas prices sign is really a tree

    Made my day!

    I'm looking forward to this series of yours, as we are trying to turn the front yard of our half-acre into a woodland. All I know about rocks is that the previous owners had an unhealthy obsession with spreading lava rocks all over our volcano-free lot.

  2. They do look rather...scattered? :) I'm a rock lover, but this does seem sort of willy-nilly -- perhaps some low flowering plants around the bases, or some low-growing evergreens would make them seem more naturally occurring? I'll look forward to more articles like this!

  3. They were so proud of those rocks, they didn't want to let them even be partially buried, as nature would have done, I take it.

    Stone placement is an art. Sometimes I have my long-suffering husband come back with machinery and turn some of my boulders 'just one more time' for the 4th time. Some of them still aren't right.

  4. I do love rocks. I can see that they attempted to break up the dull flat median. But it's so unconnected to the rest of the landscape. And since they have grass too, what a headache for the mowers.

  5. Are you sure they didn't fall off a truck when it sped round a sharp corner. Someone may come back to pick them up one day.
    You can always hope!

  6. A peeve after my own heart. Often they are added here as part of a "natural" landscape. Funny thing is, that in coastal Virginia they are about as natural as an ice berg would be. My mother-in-law's assisted living facility had a fountain put in near their entrance. The landscaper used about 15 different types of rock that would never be seen anywhere together, except in hideous water features near front entrances to assisted living facilities.

  7. You are so right that this kind of rock placement is painful to see. One thought: sometimes it's done to prevent people from driving over a median or onto a property; I see this often in Austin, esp. around school properties. It could be done more beautifully, but I imagine economics is the driving factor in those cases.

    I look forward to seeing your examples of good and bad rock placement around your town.

  8. I like your term "rock abuse." The most common form around here is plunking the rocks on the surface, instead of partially burying them to look more natural. Sadly, there are no rocks in my soil, no beautiful boulders for creating a tableau. I look forward to your insights. Should I come into some money, or someone donates rocks, I'll be happy to use them.

  9. Ah well, maybe where you live noone scatters plants around their front yard in a haphazard fashion. Wish it were so where I live. It's pretty amazing what a single trip to Home Depot can do...
    The only good thing about the plants is that they often die pretty quickly. Rocks, on the other hand, are around for a long time.

  10. Casey--Even lava rocks can have a home. Don't throw those away!

    Nancy--I agree. A boulder all by itself can still look "rooted" by making it part of a plant design.

    Nell Jean--yes, strange that nature can get it right the first time when we struggle over and over to make it look right... ;-)

    mss--yeah. The grass. They probably use a riding lawn mower, too. Oh the tragedy.

    Easygardener--Now there's a would actually look a lot better with fewer. They could have saved a ton of money and used what they saved for low-maintenance plants (and then they wouldn't have to mow as much).

    Les--yes, I'll have a few words to say about rocks in the wrong place...our gardens should reflect our home landscapes, no?

    Pam--I hadn't considered that the boulders might be there to prevent people from driving over the strip, but you are probably right. Yech. Even more reason t dislike them. If that is their only purpose, they should have just put down tacks.

    MMD--I think people are resistant to burying part of the rock because they pay so much for them. I mean, you've paid for the whole rock, right? It's like burying money! Ha!. But you're right, when they stick up like that, they look a little like very large pimples.

    TM--Oh we see the random plant placement, too. I think that problem is probably universal. Keeps HD in business, though.

  11. nice critique, funny and sharpe...glad I hopped over to check out your site!

    I'm adding you to my side-bar for an easy return. Cheers.

  12. Dinosaur poop, left by a dino being pulled along with a leash the way some people walk their dogs! (Sorry for the sick sense of humor....)

  13. It does look like it needs a cliff looming over it to explain how it might have arrived there.

  14. You're absolutely right, they do look strange... but maybe they're meant to be sat on while waiting for a gap in the traffic?

  15. I agree with Pam, my first thought was "anti-donut-scaping" - you know from your own experience with the neighbor guy that all drivers in LBB do not respect street/grass/garden borders when operating their vehicles. I love the term "erratics" when applied to glacially-deposited rocks, thanks for teaching it! We found some random black rocks (basalt?) plunked in the parking strip and backyard when we arrived here, no idea why. I have not moved them except to roll one or another a few feet away - those buggers are heavy!


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.