Our Garden Project – The Rocks

Now that we’ve returned to whatever we call Not Daylight Savings Time and the days are growing short, I’m reflecting on what we’ve done around here over the past year. Counting my blessings, I’m grateful for the beautiful garden that greets me every time I come home. Some of you may be dreaming up some spring garden plans of your own.  If so, I thought I’d share some photos of our garden design and installation to help you plan for garden projects you might want to tackle when we turn our clocks forward again.

Let’s start with the foundation of the garden design – the dirt and the rocks.

The good news was that our existing soil wasn’t terrible.  It still needed some amendments but we weren’t working with impacted clay that needed extensive re-working.  A landscaping crew cleared out the few struggling plants from a long-defunct garden, leveled the existing soil and spread a new layer of soil over the area to be landscaped. Time to add some larger rocks to contain and shape the garden.

Buying Rocks

In early April I met up with our landscape designer Keeyla Meadows at American Soil & Stone in Richmond, CA.  American Soil sells dirt and rocks and a few other things but mostly lots of dirt and rocks in every size.  We were there for the big rocks.


Keeyla had in mind some beautiful brown and black birdbath basalt boulders.  These sculptural beauties are quarried in Washington in such a way that one side often forms a bowl.  The bowls hold rain (or irrigation) water which attracts birds—thus their name. The idea was to put a  number of them in the front yard and then connect them with a dry stream bed of smaller rocks—preferably some black Mexican river rock to bring out the black veining in the basalt.

Alas, we couldn’t find river rock black enough to match the basalt so we decided to keep hunting for the smaller rocks but selected nine basalt boulders and some less-expensive granite boulders to use in and around the rock walls of the driveway.

Boulders selected and order placed, we were on our way out of the stone yard when Keeyla’s toe caught on a palette of rock causing her to trip and fall and break her elbow! The next few hours were spent in the emergency room.  Ugh.  Keeyla was headed for surgery and would be out of commission for a few weeks.

Installing the Rocks

A month or so later, Keeyla was on the mend (though she would be in a sling or in physical therapy through most of the project, poor thing!) and we set dates for the rocks to be delivered and a crane to show up to move them into place.  There was some question as to whether we’d need a big or a little crane.  Thank goodness we could get away with a little one, because cranes don’t come cheap.

The day the crane arrived was very operatic – cold and windy with swirling fog.   Ominously, it seemed like a day when someone could end up in the emergency room again. (Thankfully, no one did.) Look at the front wheels of the truck levitating–so sorry I didn’t have a little boy still at home to watch this equipment in action.

A crew loaded each rock into a sling attached to the arm of the crane. Keeyla took her place as “the rock whisperer” and guided every boulder into place, carefully turning it in its sling until it was sitting just where she wanted it.

The guys worked with hand tools to do further fine tuning.

By the end of the day we had our own little bird-friendly druid circle in the front and a rebuilt driveway area that was decidedly more interesting.

Tinkering with Rocks

Once the big rocks were in, the crew could lay down the stream bed. Since our first trip to American Soil we’d continued to look for other blacker river rock—but to no avail. We revisited  American Soil and decided that their latest batch of Mexican river rock looked blacker, more suitable. We had a basket delivered and the landscaping crew commenced to lay out the stream under Keeyla’s direction. (By now some plants were in place as well.)

But it was clear once they were down that the color of the river rock was going to be a problem.  It wasn’t only that it wasn’t as black as the basalt veining, it was actually quite BLUE out there in the wild.  The crew left for the day and I kept checking on the color.  I told myself that the rocks were very beautiful on their own and their grey-blue color did highlight the Bay view beyond the garden.

But as much as I tried to embrace the gray rocks, it was clear they were wrong.  The blue cast was such a strong contrast that you lost the zen beauty of the basalt.  And so, another trip to American Soil where this time we found a mix of brown and tan rocks in various sizes that coordinated with the brown color of the basalt.  Keeyla sprinkled some little black pebbles between the river rocks to highlight the basalt veining. Here are some before and after shots.  Rock on!

Next up – The Plants


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Kathryn Pritchett

writes about Things Elemental — where we find shelter, why we connect, what sustains us and how we strut our stuff.