Boulders are often overlooked as a benefit to a garden. They’re big, heavy, and awkward, and if you don’t know what you’re doing, they can look out of place. Even more, they can be downright dangerous to move around (insert visual of person straining their back here).
However, when boulders are installed well, they tie your garden together beautifully, adding fresh textures, colours, and drama to an otherwise consistent softscape.
Let’s be honest: boulders are a pain to install. Unless you already have one in your yard that you dug out when you were first installing your landscape, you have to visit a landscape supply yard to get them. There, you’ll struggle if you don’t have a large vehicle, like a pickup truck. They’re big, extremely heavy (a good-sized boulder should weigh at least 250 pounds), and can be dangerous to move yourself if you don’t have the proper tools and skills. For that reason, we definitely recommend hiring a landscape company to help with boulder installations.
All that said – the effort to install boulders is totally worth it. Natural stone is one of the most beautiful and long-lasting additions to your garden, creating an authentic look that can draw your gaze to all the right places.
Here are some tips for using boulders in your yard or residence.
1. Go to a local landscape supply yard
Many do-it-yourself gardeners trying to save money will set out into nature to find their own stone to add to their landscape. Not only is this practice very time-consuming, it provides fewer options when considering the shape, size, and type of rock. Here’s a quick tip to help keep costs down: when you purchase boulders, you’re not really paying for the boulder itself – you’re paying to the distance it had to travel between the quarry and the supply yard. Thus, a landscape supply centre that quarries their boulders locally will likely be less pricey and will offer far more selection than you’re likely to find on your own.
To achieve a consistent, modern aesthetic, you’ll also want all stone in your landscape to be the same type of rock. Basalt and granite are common choices that are likely to look good anywhere. Moreover, you’ll want your boulders to be a good shape; any strangely shaped or overly-jagged stones will look out of place, but ones with mostly rectangular or round shapes will look strong and natural.
Remember, the boulders in your landscape should complement your plants – not draw attention away from them.
2. Get a few boulders that seem a little too big
Boulders are roughly measured by how many average people it would take to lift and freely move the boulder. A 1-man boulder is quite small (generally 50-100 pounds). A 2-man boulder is a bit larger. By the time you get to 3-man (or larger), you’re looking at 2-3 foot, 250+ lbs. boulders that will be difficult or impossible to move around by yourself.
The larger a boulder is, the more dramatic its immediate effect on your landscape will be. When you’re in a supply yard, boulders – which will be surrounded by piles of other stones – often seem much larger than they are. Once you get them back to your house and dig them into your garden, the boulder that seemed large enough at the supplier suddenly seems dwarfed by the rest of your landscape. For that reason, we recommend starting off with 2 or 3-man boulders.
Remember: if you fill your garden with tiny stones, odds are your plants will simply overtake them in a year or two. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that smaller boulders don’t have a place in your garden. In fact, grouping a couple small to medium sized boulders next to larger ones will add spacious accenting and vertical interest.
3. Set boulders into the ground
Picture the boulders you see when you’re out hiking or walking through the woods. Are they partially buried in the ground, or are they sitting loosely atop the soil? Boulders in nature are almost always partially buried, so in order to achieve a natural look, any boulders you install in your yard should be dug down at least a few inches into the soil.
4. Arrange them in groupings
Learning how to place boulders properly takes practice. Even when you’re setting an individual stone in your garden, there’s a lot of factors to consider. Will it draw attention to the right areas? Is the nicest side facing outward, where everyone can see it? Is it too close to a wall or to other boulder groupings? Will it be visible (and look good) year-round as the nearby plants grow and recede?
Placing boulders in groupings adds even more to the challenge. For starters, you want them to look natural together – as though they fell from the sky as a single large stone and cracked into pieces when they hit the ground. The boulders shouldn’t look too different in shape and size – nor should they look too similar. They also need to look good from all potential sightlines.
Putting two or three boulders together takes a lot of trial and error, which can be time consuming, tiring, and frustrating. A landscape design and installation professional is able to easily recognize the best and most effective places to install boulders and find successful ways to group them together.
5. Use the right plants around boulders
Certain plants complement stone better than others. Depending on the size and arrangement of your boulders, low-growing, droopier plants like grasses and ferns tend to look great against the coarsely-textured stone. Here are a few recommendations:
- Feather grasses (pennisetum sp.)
- Lilyturf (liriope)
- Laceleaf Japanese Maple (acer palmatum var. dissectum)
- Black-eyed Susam (rudbeckia fulgida)
- Coneflower (echinacea)
- Day Lily (hemerocallis)
How Can We Help?
As you can see, our landscape design and installation crews have a ton of experience installing boulders! We love how well they complement plants, and we have the tools, skills, and trucks to do big installation jobs efficiently and safely. If you’d like some added to your landscape, please get in touch and let us know what you’re looking for – we’d love to have a conversation with you!