Garden Photo of the Day

Carolyn’s BIG rock garden in Massachusetts

Late April, view of the ledge from the house side. Redbud tree in bloom. Photo/Illustration: All photos courtesy of Carolyn Browne

Today’s photos are from Carolyn Browne. She says, “These are some pictures of my rock garden in Massachusetts. It is a hill beside my house that used to be covered with grass and weeds that would die during the heat of summer. It was hard to mow, and had become an eyesore. I decided to dig around some of the rocks that stuck out of the grass and plant some drought resistant plants.

Early May, alpine campion in the foreground, cinquefoil, ‘Angelina’ stonecrop, yellow sedum, pink creeping phlox, and yellow alyssum.

“I dug and dug! The first spring I cleared a pretty good sized area, and when I hosed it down I realized that I didn’t have a hill of rocks, I had a rock that was a hill, and it was beautiful! That made me keep digging for three years to uncover what you see in the pictures. During the last spring I was digging, a geologist from the USGS stopped to look at my rock. He told me it is called “Westboro Formation”, and that it is about 420 million years old, found in this area of Massachusetts and into northern Rhode Island, and also western Africa. It predates the separation of the continents. That still amazes me!

Early May

“I have planted it with drought tolerant plants. Lots of sedums, hens and chicks, and other tough plants that will survive the full sun, western exposure of Zone 6a. I’ve also used plants with strong root systems like irises and penstemon to help hold the soil in place where it is steepest. Many of the plants have seeded themselves down the ledge. Others, like the sedums, have been split and transplanted.

Mid May, irises blooming, killdeer in upper right corner of picture

“Weeding has been the most difficult part. I couldn’t use mulch because of the grade, but over the last ten years the plants have filled in and it has become easier to manage. For the past few years we have had a pair of killdeer come to nest on the ledge. They have the cutest chicks! They are in some of the pictures, too.

I never imagined I would be a rock gardener, but this garden is my favorite!”

Mid May, irises, pinks, penstemon, and sedum

It’s absolutely stunning, Carolyn! What a find! And your hard work makes it shine. So cool!

Killdeer, one on the nest, one on guard

—–Winter is the perfect time to take a photographic stroll through the photos you took in your garden this year……and then send some in to me at [email protected]!

Killdeer nest is a shallow depression in the ground, lined with rocks, they usually lay up to 4 eggs
Two killdeer chicks
Looking across the ledge toward the house, pair of killdeer at the top of the ledge
Looking across the ledge toward the house, early June
A tiny little sedum with hens and chicks
My copper tree. I made this one winter while wishing I could be in the garden. It has acrylic stars hanging from it that move freely and reflect the sun. I started making copper structures for the gardens after reading an article in Fine Gardening: “Build a Copper Pipe Trellis” by Donna Freeman. I have made many to support plants around my yard. Copper was much less expensive in 1997!

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  1. user-1020932 01/23/2014

    you dug and dug for 3 years and you found a buried treasure. it's a real beaut. we have had a few lemons to lemonade features here lately. i am also most interested in your copper sculptures ,,,,,,,,send in pics of those too!

  2. gloriaj 01/23/2014

    You are a unique and patient person to have dug for so long around an large old rock, knowing you would be rewarded. What a reward you have. The natural beauty of the rock and the how the flowers have naturalized themselves into all of this is nothing short of amazing. Wonderful

  3. soilsister8 01/23/2014

    Your garden takes my breath away. Marvelous! Only a gardener would realize the gargantuan task you took on. The plant combinations are stunning....must read more about 'Westboro Formations'.

  4. bsavage 01/23/2014

    Carolyn, wow! You have unearthed something so beautiful... I doubt most of us would have had the patience and wherewithal to do what you have done with this space. It is beautiful, and I love the killdeer as well!

  5. Kris_at_Blithewold 01/23/2014

    Applause, Applause! I thought I had stony soil in my garden... Now every time I hit a little rock with my trowel I will think of you unearthing that big one. Beautiful!

  6. GardenGrl1 01/23/2014

    What an incredible discovery! I am absolutely amazed at your rock garden. Your hard work has definitely paid off.

    The killdeer eggs & chicks were a real treat for me, I've never seen this bird before.

    Thank you for your photos. I look forward to seeing your copper sculptures and supports, as well!

  7. flowerladydi 01/23/2014

    Awesome!!!! Just goes to show that there is beauty everywhere!,,,, and it just takes alittle ( a lot! ) of determination and hard work to uncover it all!,, and boy did you do that!!! It is just fabulous!,,, and so care free! What fun to search for all those little tresures,,,, the birds are adorable!!! Wonderful!!!!!

  8. mainer59 01/23/2014

    Geology, ornithology and horticulture: you have it all today! I love what you have done. Your combination of hard work and cooperation with nature is exemplary. I am curious that the killdeer aren't spooked by your beautiful copper tree.

  9. User avater
    meander_michaele 01/23/2014

    What an amazing and impressive effort, Carolyn...I crown thee the gpod Queen of patience, perseverance, and pluck. You would have made a heck of a pioneer woman! I love how this incredibly massive rock space has become a canvass for such charmingly delicate plantings...the ultimate in ying and yang!

    We used to have a pair of killdeer that would make a nest in
    some gravel between our barn and pasture. We would take such care in making sure our horses didn't accidentally step on the eggs as we led them to and fro . Each year, at some point, a hungry critter would raid the nest and we'd never get hatchlings. It was a treat to see your young chicks and know that your killdeer parents were smarter than mine in their choice of real estate.

  10. terieLR 01/23/2014

    Good morning Carolyn. This is an exceptional post for all of us who garden for our feathered friends. I often hear killdeer in our front fields but have never been able to locate a nest. And what a wonderful way to be able to display all those intriguing creeping sedums! While we toil away in our gardens, we would never had expected that someday we be able to share it with the world. Thank you for today's unearthing, enlightening post.

  11. Tea_garden_lover 01/23/2014

    That is one lovely garden. My kitchen window looks out on a large bedrock outcrop with glacial scrapes and lichen growing on it in Massachusetts. I definitely understand why you kept exposing the rock and worked so hard at this.

  12. Quiltingmamma 01/23/2014

    What an effort and reward. Lovely...and that copper sculpture - also great. How did you secure it?
    And looking at first May photo, is there a dark leaf tulip in there or something like a voodoo lily? Lower centre front.

  13. Mciandella 01/23/2014

    Bravo! What a fun post. A little of everything! Gorgeous rock garden, birds, hand made sculpture...what more do you need?
    Looks like you have a great view of your garden from your deck--I would be adding windows on the whole side of the house there so I could appreciate the garden from different rooms!
    Thanks for sharing it

  14. User avater
    Tim_Zone_Denial_Vojt 01/23/2014

    absolutely one of my favorite gardens ever! Wish I had more time to wax eloquent. Buried treasure, indeed!

  15. tractor1 01/23/2014

    So is it a safe bet that your house has no basement? Your rock certainly opens unique gardening opportunities and I like all you've accomplished, fantastic!

  16. user-1020932 01/23/2014

    give Vojt a BIG BIG rock and he's a happy camper! :)

  17. Marsha1 01/23/2014

    I love stone in the garden, and here stone IS the garden. I love your story! Thanks for sharing.

  18. bee1nine 01/23/2014

    How fascinating on your discovery about having this nice
    geological "Westboro Formation" to grace your property! And
    you have so beautifully planted in and around it to capture a very stunning rock garden.
    Enjoyed seeing your killdeer and their nest of eggs too!

    By the way, Carolyn... you are from Grafton, MA?
    I happen to have relatives who live there. The Bicknell's.
    I had a great uncle who owned a lumber yard store many years
    ago..And a cousin who raced champion sled-dog huskies.

  19. greengenes 01/23/2014

    Your back or side yard is wonderful! You have done a super great job with what you have. The beauty of every crack and crevis with plantings in it.The killdeer on the nest is so cute! They are such a fun bird to watch. I ejoyed seeing your copper tree, too. It would b quite pricey today to make one and around here someone would steal it for sure...just beautiful place all around! Thanks for sharing with us all.

  20. birdnerd 01/23/2014

    Very beautiful Carolyn, I love all the rock garden plants and of course, the Kildeer chicks. So cute!

  21. wGardens 01/23/2014

    I admire your patience and determination! You created a very special garden and we have all enjoyed it very much! A treat too, to see the killdeer chicks!
    That is quite a stone wall in the 3rd photo down on the left- is that your property line?
    I also would love to see more of your sculptures. How tall is the one you have pictured?

  22. User avater
    HelloFromMD 01/23/2014

    Wow, magnificent garden and what a discovery! I admire your hard work and wish you many planting pockets. There is a property I drive by that has rocks sticking out in a hillside of grass and I think what a gardening opportunity. I know that I will be paying more attention to the property than the house if I ever have to move. Thanks for sharing.

  23. sheila_schultz 01/23/2014

    You must have a very strong back, Carolyn, you certainly have a strong will! Just to get rid of a few weeds you unearthed the mother of all rock gardens and she is magnificent! What a beauty... keep the photos coming please for your rock gardening friends.

  24. wittyone 01/23/2014

    What a perfect example of using what you are given. Rather than fussing about the rocky waste area you took it in hand and did something beautiful with it. I'm amazed at your patience and endurance. The killdeer make beautiful living garden ornaments. The babies are especially sweet.

  25. GrannyMay 01/23/2014

    How wonderful to find such a beautiful rock in the perfect location! Carolyn I can totally understand why you would keep digging once you knew what was there. So worth all the hard work! And the Killdeer are a special bonus. Your plants add lovely splashes of colour and your copper tree is stunning! Please share more photos - especially like to see the copper structures.

  26. ancientgardener 01/23/2014

    I grew up in northern Vermont where much of the terrain is one big rock so I have a soft spot in my heart for rocks and yours is a gorgeous specimen and what a history. You have worked magic with it - absolutely lovely. How I would love to come and see it close up. Yours is one of the most unique and interesting submissions I have seen yet on this blog. Tucking all those spots of beauty into that massive old structure was an act of creative genius. Bravo!! And I, too, love killdeer and how they run along the ground to distract one from their babies.

  27. wildthyme 01/23/2014

    Wow, I'm not even sure where to start. Unearthing part of the Wesboro formation was inspired, and you've created a garden in and around it that looks as though it could have been there forever. And I am so impressed that you captured the kildeer chicks on film! We have them here in Montana and they sometimes nest in our mulch or in our rocks, but the chicks are so elusive. Even when I've found the nest and checked it daily it seems that one day the eggs are there and the next day they've hatched and the chicks are gone! Now I know why, because they look exactly like miniature adults, and I've probably just not recognized them. I could go on and on: the gorgeous redbud, the copper "tree," the stone wall . . . I really like your garden!

  28. GardeningRocks 01/23/2014

    Thank you all for such wonderful comments! It is so much fun to share my garden with all of you who love gardens as much as I do!

    Quiltingmama: The copper tree is set in a bowl shaped hollow of the ledge with guy wires attached to pitons I hammered into cracks in the ledge. It has been very stable despite the weather we sometimes have here. The dark leaved plant is Penstemon "Husker Red". It is full size and in bloom in the 5th photo.

    tractor1: My house does have a basement! But I am sure it took a bit of planning to situate the house on the lot!

    bee1nine: Yes, we do live in Grafton, MA. It is a small rural town with a lot of history and has been a wonderful place to raise our family.

    wGardens: The stone wall in the third picture is a barn foundation wall. This property was once a dairy farm. Two walls of the barn foundation still stand. The farmhouse burned many many years ago. We also have a watering trough and two silo beds. We have two acres and the second acre is beyond the barn wall. The copper tree is nearly 9 feet tall, the branches are high enough that I can walk under them.

  29. GrannyCC 01/23/2014

    Wonderful job. What a lot of work but worth all the effort. It is such a beautiful site and you have done a great job of planting. I love the copper tree it looks like it has always been there. Certainly suits the site. Amazing!!!

  30. GrannyCC 01/23/2014

    Wonderful job. What a lot of work but worth all the effort. It is such a beautiful site and you have done a great job of planting. I love the copper tree it looks like it has always been there. Certainly suits the site. Amazing!!!

  31. User avater
    meander_michaele 01/23/2014

    Hi,again, Carolyn. your mention of Grafton rang a bell as I lived in a neighboring town, Hopkinton, back in the late 80's/early 90's. I remember well the clank of shovel on rock and how the existence of rock would influence how I might start moving the hole over to the side of that initial shovel dig. I can still remember giving up on a preferred location or rationalizing that buying dirt and building up would be cheaper than the possible chiropractic bill if I persevered. Now I have even more admiration for your commitment to your project.

  32. quinquek 01/23/2014

    Wow! What an absolutely beautiful landscape.

  33. CJgardens 01/23/2014

    What a truly impressive rock and garden. I can't imagine having a 420 million year old rock in my yard. I admire your determination to uncover it and then to embrace it. The kildeer are special and remind me of my grandmother's yard. Have you done special things with the barn foundation? You definitely have lots of rock to deal with.
    Please share more photos.

  34. GardeningRocks 01/23/2014

    To CJgardens: I have not yet done anything with the barn walls. I have always loved rocks and think it is a beautiful feature in my yard. I have a friend in town who has a complete barn foundation which holds a sunken garden. It is stunning! Her garden makes me think about what I could do. I just need lots more free time!


  35. AnneinQC 01/23/2014

    What can I say? It is so amazing, I envy you this fantastic ancient rock formation on your property and admire so much what you have done with it. This is such a unique garden and gardening opportunity, such a treasure! I also am from a part of the continent with large rocky outcrops they are truly a wonder to see and touch and respect for their age, you have done it (and yourself of course!) proud. Thank you for uncovering this and showing it to us all.

  36. NevadaSue 01/23/2014

    Carolyn, thanks for sharing this beautiful work of art. I love it! I can see why you kept digging. The rock barn foundation wall is great. I love seeing remains of the past that fit so well into the landscape.

  37. user-1020932 01/23/2014

    223 thumbs up! you're a "rock" star! corny , i know but somebody had to say it :)

  38. wGardens 01/23/2014

    Thanks for letting us know that the rock wall is a barn foundation! Ooh... opportunity knocks! When you have time....

  39. GardeningRocks 01/23/2014

    Thanks tntreeman! We've all dreamed of being a "rock star" at some point in our lives!

  40. user-7006902 01/23/2014

    I LOVE this! There are many rocky outcroppings here along the St. Lawrence River that have the potential to be as beautiful as your creation! I always long to have a rock outcropping in my yard! I wouldn't even need for it to have a name. What a fantastic "tapestry" you have made. I also am very fond of Killdeer and we have many around. There was a nesting pair at the St. Lawrence Pottery where I used to paint pottery this past summer - so fun to watch. I am always amazed at how they feign the broken wing to distract predators. Your sculpture is also fantastic! What a terrific concept with the shooting stars. I love to make structures (can't call them sculptures - not as artistic) out of tree branches. Rock garden and sculpture envy! You should be very proud of all that you have accomplished.

  41. perenniallycrazy 01/24/2014

    Carolyn, I love how you solved your dilemma of "being stuck between a rock and a hard place!" Your rock garden is totally wicked in my books. Look forward to seeing more of it. Thanks much for sharing.

  42. tractor1 01/24/2014

    That's great that they were able to situate your house so you have a basement, I never feel it's a real house with no basement... even a lot of barns around here hav e a basement. I live in the northern Catskills and tehr eare lots of properties with huge rock outcroppings... most I see along roadways where they've blasted through.. there are some at the end of the road I'm on. I like your eastern redbud, I had one and so did my neighbor, but both are now ghone, they don't seem to live more than 30-40 years. I replaced mine with a forest pansy redbud and so far it's doing well. One of my favorite flowering trees are crabapple, they don't grow very large and in bloom they are gorgeous... you may want to plant some near your rock... birds love them too, they gorge on the fruit and birds like to nest in the gnarled crooks and crannies of crabapples. Carolyn, I really like what you've done with your rock, it's wonderful.

  43. cwheat000 01/24/2014

    This is definitely one of the coolest gardens. I am fascinated by the geology and the wildlife. It is late, but I want to read more about it. You have done a beautiful job. I love how natural it looks. I bet it is the best it has looked in 420 million years.

  44. GardeningRocks 01/24/2014

    Thank you all for such positive comments! This has been a great day for me to receive such glowing feedback from you for my efforts! I will post pictures again. I have already been thinking about when would be the best time to photograph the copper structures I have made with their plantings at their best. See you then!


  45. John429 03/15/2014

    Hi Carolyn,
    I'm not sure if you'll see this since it's been a while since your feature but I wanted you to know your copper tree (plus the article on building a copper trellis) got me interested in making something like this myself. I puzzled over it for several weeks and started today. I'm going to make a tower for flowering vines. I have the structure done as of this evening, but it is missing something, so I looked up yours tonight and I now know what it is! Your tree is very artsy with flowing tubing in every direction and that makes it really interesting! As an engineer, I make things straight, parallel and perpendicular. Because of this, mine is boring! I'm going to try to think like you and add artsy touches. Anyway, I'm having a blast with this, so thanks for showing your Copper structure - it's really neat!

  46. galani 07/28/2014

    I love how this garden came in to existence because Carolyn honored the basic truth of her land. As much as I love going to garden centers and buying some bright annuals to dress up my pots, that approach doesn't work for an entire yard. We all have to work with the underlying land. Good work.

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