Rockin’ Garden

The words “rock garden” may make you shrink back in fear, causing you to think of the spray-painted lava rocks that plague retirement communities, but this landscaping feature has experienced a resurgence lately (with a twist!), making it a popular alternative to grass.

Fun details like this colorful painting can add appeal to a rock garden.
Fun details like this colorful painting can add appeal to a rock garden.

This is partly due to the recent drought, which has caused homeowners to look into alternative landscaping to save water, but also has lower maintenance which can make it appealing to older homeowners or those trying to save the almighty dollar. Namely, there’s no need for constant trimming of grass or plants and less of a need for weed control as a weed barrier can be put down under the rocks and gravel. Additionally, you can opt for drip irrigation, meaning that plants will receive targeted watering, depriving those sneaky weeds of water.

Low maintenance plants add to the beauty of rock gardens.
Low maintenance plants add to the beauty of rock gardens.

All around town these newfangled rock gardens have been popping up, featuring different colors of crushed rocks, boulders and varieties of drought tolerant plants and cacti. They may be experiencing a comeback because of water restrictions, but this has in no way limited the creativity of homeowners looking to re-do their yards. We spoke with David Gieg from outdoor supply store The Bulk Yard to get the 411 on these changing trends in landscaping. When asked about why this has become so popular recently David said, with “the drought, more people are doing other things to use square footage than lawn.” They do this by putting in “bigger flower beds with more hardscaping and drought tolerant plants.” Customers often mix different types of decorative rocks such as flagstone, boulders, and, yes, even lava rocks.

Residents in Bakersfield with large shade trees might be hesitant to take out established pines and redwoods, which provide much needed shade in the summertime. However, according to Aaron Gundry-Monji, Design Consultant at Monji Landscaping, homeowners have the option of putting in a dry creek bed to mirror the natural landscape of northern California. He says, “a natural meandering dry creek bed is a great addition to any yard and will reduce the turf footprint,” helping to save water.

For those that are not quite ready to take the plunge and tear out their entire yard, grass, trees and all, a dry creek bed may make a great addition, one that they can even install on their own. Aaron suggests that “if a homeowner wants to do it themselves, they can dig out 5-6 inches instead of laying them on the ground, to create depth,” and suggests, “just like in nature, use variations of stone or elevation.”

Low maintenance plants add to the beauty of rock gardens.
Low maintenance plants add to the beauty of rock gardens.

This simple tip of adding dimension can help make it look more natural and give your yard more appeal.

He says a lot of people he talks to are cautious about doing something different like this, “I think that most homeowners picture something dry and sterile with one wash of stone,” but he explains that this simply isn’t true, as “there’s a diverse array of different stone types and colors that you can use.” Rocks you can use span a veritable rainbow of colors from red to whites and greys. Using a variety of plants, materials, and colors in smaller areas such as a side or front yard can help to create interest and make these spaces appear larger as well.

Lori Hart, a Bakersfield resident, recently worked with Monji to make the switch from lawn to rock garden at the Santa Fe-style home that her and her husband share with her father, Gordon Walter. When asked about the reason behind the change, she said it was to “cut down on the gardening and it goes better with the style of our home as well. The main thing was definitely the water shortage, the drought, and we didn’t want to have a brown lawn and we’re not on city water. We’ve already had to drop our well once and, you know, if we can just do one little bit to save that way.” With concerns about their well, the change was a no-brainer.

Dry creek beds provide texture and color to the landscape.
Dry creek beds provide texture and color to the landscape.

Their previous yard had a lot of grass which they had taken out along with several planters that weren’t set up to be watered adequately anyways, and so went unused. “Now we just have a drip system and it literally just waters what needs to be watered.” Another advantage is the low maintenance, because “you almost get to the point with grass where you have to tear it out and re-do it, so this way you can spray the weeds, you can pull the weeds, [and] you don’t have to re-do the lawn.” Thankfully, they no longer have to worry about this.

While they also had one tree that had died after becoming diseased removed from the property, they left a couple of mature shade trees and existing arid plants that already matched the style of the home. Around the trees and plants they had an attractive mix of succulents and drought tolerant plants installed surrounded by a mix of rocks, such as decomposed granite, giving the yard a distinct natural desert feel.

The dry creek bed that winds through their front yard also serves a purpose come winter when we can have unpredictable downpours. She says, “with the rain we did get over the winter the dry creek bed helped the flooding as well, the water drains to there. It filled up but didn’t overflow.” Which is helpful because “otherwise it would have gone everywhere, it gives it a place to go.”

She says they’re very happy with the finished landscaping which now complements their Santa Fe-style home perfectly. “We have a lot of different types and shapes and sizes of gravel. It’s got a lot of texture and that’s what’s really attractive about it. It’s not just like putting gravel in your front yard. It’s got the small, the tan gravel, it has creek bed rocks, all different shapes and sizes of rocks and boulders. You’ve got a lot of different colors and textures and adding the different types of plants, a lot of different things with color and that don’t require a lot of water.” If you still think that rock gardens aren’t a great alternative, she says, “it’s easier to maintain and it’s actually much prettier…we have a lot more color and texture than what we had before.” They even have plans to convert their backyard to a rock garden to stay in the same theme.

So there you have it, rock gardens don’t have to be an endless sea of lava rocks or gravel. As you can see from the pictures of the Hart/Walter residence, it’s easier than you think to create an attractive yard that incorporates elements of the natural landscape of California.

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