Garden Photo of the Day

Rocks in the Garden

By Alexandra Dittrich

This is a large conglomerate where sand has encapsulated other rocks.  This rock is set in a naturalized area surrounded by sweet peas and grasses.  Possibly the most interesting feature of the rock are the fossilized aquatic creatures that are embedded in the sand portion of the rock.

Dale Dailey shares his experience incorporating rocks into his garden in DeWitt, Michigan.

"When I was young and whenever I did something particularly foolish, my father would often say, “Son, you must have rocks in your head.”  Possibly he was right because I continue to enjoy rocks and have integrated many of them into my garden.  A few years ago, a sand mining operation opened nearby and I suddenly had an abundant supply of interesting rocks.  The rocks are all glacial erratics; that is, rocks that were carried to our region of Michigan from Canada by glacial ice some 10 to15 thousand years ago.  Following are a few of my favorites."

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This close-up shows a portion of the sandy area with its embedded fossils.  I am not a geologist, but clearly these are fossilized creatures and plants from eons ago.

I have an alpine garden where I have incorporated many rocks in a gravel bed to grow a variety of alpine and desert plants. 

A number of flowering cactus plants, which many people would never expect to see in Michigan, have thrived for over 10 years. This one is Opuntia polyacantha var. polyacantha ‘Nebraska Orange’.

I often nestle other alpine plants between rocks.  This is a yellow ice plant, Delosperma nubigenum.

In another area, I have developed a Japanese style garden where a few rocks are used to simulate mountains protruding up out of the sea.

Some rocks tell a story that is difficult to imagine.  In the following stone, the round elements in the stone are the stems of fossilized coral.  Coral only grows in a fairly narrow band around the earth’s equator.  How can that be possible?  This rock originally came from northern Canada. A geologist visitor said that this rock was formed at least 200 million years ago when the region we now know as Canada was located at the equator. I have placed the stone in an area bounded by a low-spreading juniper and a complimentary red sedum.

I have used rock in several places to act as boundaries and borders.  Here, stones serve as the edge of a dry stream bed.

I have been fortunate to collect a variety of pudding stones.  Pudding stones are a conglomerate that consist of distinctly rounded pebbles whose colors contrast sharply with the color of the finer-grained material surrounding them. The background of this particular stone appears green when wet.  This large stone serves as a natural accent to nearby plantings.

Stones can serve as a natural border for features within the garden.  Here, I have used a few large stones to encircle my Peace Pole.  In summary, I have used rocks throughout the garden to serve as a focal point or to provide a natural accent.  So, as my father said, I may actually have rocks in my head. 

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  1. frankgreenhalgh 08/12/2016

    G'day Dale - What a great story about your rocks and how you use them in your amazing garden! I too am fascinated by rocks and their use for landscaping gardens. The main issue with them I found is to respect their weight when moving them otherwise you can damage yourself.

    Love the peace pole, ornamental birds and Japanese garden.

    For somebody who is not a geologist you sure are informed on the subject. Certainly you don't have rocks in your head in the way in which your dad suggested. Well done, and thank you greatly for sharing your experiences and knowledge. Cheers, Frank

  2. user-7007498 08/12/2016

    Dale: What an awesome collection you have shown us. I love listening to each gardeners story about the development of their garden. Creating a personal connection to the landscape is what makes gardening special.

    Wow: I love the Japanese garden with the maple in the middle. I wish I had the space to do that because I so love the look. Do you often change the pattern in the stones?

    Love Delosperma, but kill it every time in the poorly draining wet clay of Harrisburg, PA.

    Thanks for sharing your beautiful garden.

    1. frankgreenhalgh 08/12/2016

      Welcome back Kev. Hope you had a good break. We missed your informed and insightful comments, but still managed some interesting dialogue in the last few days. Cheers, Frank

      1. user-7007498 08/12/2016

        Thanks, Frank. I missed reading the interesting comments from the GPOD group. I have a lot of catching up to do. Cheers.

    2. Chris_N 08/12/2016

      Kevin - you need to do what Dale did - build a raised bed. Not sure what he used for his, but a common rock garden recipe is a mix of 1/3 sand, 1/3 pea gravel and 1/3 compost. Keeps the plants that like 'excessive drainage' happy.

      1. user-7007498 08/12/2016

        Thanks, Chris. Will try it next time.

    3. frankgreenhalgh 08/13/2016

      Kev. - in addition to what Chris has suggested, have you tried incorporating gypsum into your clay soil to improve the drainage? Cheers, Frank

  3. user-7007498 08/12/2016

    I am now back from a vacation to Wyoming. While in Yellowstone, there was no internet or cell service, so I am now catching up on the GPOD's that I missed. Had fun. 75-80 degrees with NO humidity.

    Attached are 3 photos, including 1 of me and my wife, Kathy.

    1. frankgreenhalgh 08/12/2016

      Looks like lots of fun, Kev., you 'young fellow' (sorry about the 'old son' reference the other day - see the advantage of a photo.! ). You and Kathy make a lovely couple (just make sure you continue to follow the rules of the boss in the front garden - it's called petticoat government). Thanks for showing us your fantastic pics. Cheers, FG

      1. user-7007498 08/12/2016

        'Young fellow' sounds great to me, although I sometimes don't feel it anymore. Kathy and I both turn 60 in the next year. ?

        1. frankgreenhalgh 08/12/2016

          You guys are travelling very well then. Better than this old codger.

    2. User avater
      meander_michaele 08/12/2016

      Sigh....water, water everywhere and no humidity...sounds and looks like heaven!

      1. user-7007498 08/12/2016

        It was lovely, Michaela. Went on a 4 hour hike and didn't even break a sweat. Now I am back in the "swamp" of PA. 92 degrees today and dripping humidity.

    3. User avater
      Tim_Zone_Denial_Vojt 08/12/2016

      What a nice subset to GPOD today. Love your photos. Aren't the Tetons spectacular!?

      1. user-7007498 08/12/2016

        First first time there. Breathtaking. I took over 2,000 photos, so now I have my work cut out for me over the next week.

        1. User avater
          Tim_Zone_Denial_Vojt 08/12/2016

          I'm so glad you enjoyed it and I am quite jealous. 2,000 photos? I hope you weren't behind the camera the entire time!

    4. User avater
      LindaonWhidbey 08/12/2016

      Thanks for sharing these, Kevin. It's always nice to see what people are doing when they're not gardening:)

  4. User avater
    meander_michaele 08/12/2016

    I can guarantee that some gpod hearts experienced an extra pitter patter at reading the title of todays sharing. Your pictures did not disappoint, Dale. It's amazing how inanimate objects can be such interesting elements in a garden but, then again, it's partly because your rocks continue to tell the story of life that once existed. Seeing the embedded fossil impressions of creatures and plants from eons ago makes me reflective about the incredible changes this beloved planet of ours has gone through. Your Japanese garden garden looks lovely and gives a moment for further contemplation. Thank you.

  5. NCYarden 08/12/2016

    Rock on, Dale! I'm a huge fan of rocks in the garden, always keeping an eye out for a new one to add, regardless of size. You have really found some "gems" to incorporate into your landscape. Really like that alpine garden - well done. And without fail I am drawn to the zen garden with the Japanese maple focus. You're definitely a rock star. Thanks for sharing.

  6. diane_lasauce 08/12/2016

    I am with you Dale!
    For the past 15 years, I have collected river rock from a nearby creak bed and added them to my sloped gardens and wash areas.
    Rock is forever and now pea gravel replaces mulch whenever possible. I removed both stoops at the front and back doors and replaced with huge, flat boulders and ADORE them...Would have more large rocks if I had Superman's strength. Keep on rockin'! Diane

  7. diane_lasauce 08/12/2016

    Sandra, you need to STOP spamming GPOD!!! Really obnoxious! I will report you again to the host...

    1. User avater
      LindaonWhidbey 08/12/2016

      I usually just block her.

      1. User avater
        Tim_Zone_Denial_Vojt 08/12/2016

        Me too.

        1. frankgreenhalgh 08/12/2016

          Me too.

    2. User avater
      meander_michaele 08/12/2016

      Good for you, Diane for following through with a complaint. I do the ignore thing but, really, the intrusion of spam like that is annoying.

  8. Quiltingmamma 08/12/2016

    I love rocks, particularly in a garden....and you have some great specimens. Bliss. What more can one say other than 'thanks for sharing'?

  9. user-4691082 08/12/2016

    Wow! What a different kind of treat today! It just goes to show that we all can express our art in different ways. Sometimes, I am intimidated when another gardener visits my garden, thinking that the person would have done it another(better) way. But we all are learning. Dale, thanks for opening my eyes just a little bit wider! Stunning!!!! The story behind the gardens always enhances the enjoyment...

  10. User avater
    treasuresmom 08/12/2016

    Oh, my!! I love your use of rocks throughout your garden but especially those that show the history of the earth.

  11. jagardener 08/12/2016

    Really interesting information. The lessons from those rocks confirm for us that changes are inevitable- however long it may be. Wonderful use of those stones. I am inspired to add river stones which are abundant here to my garden. Love it all. Thanks for sharing.

  12. annek 08/12/2016

    Love the rocks, the stories and the design. Your passion shows through Dale.

  13. User avater
    Tim_Zone_Denial_Vojt 08/12/2016

    I couldn't tell you which I love more: rocks or plants! My garden in Ohio is full of glacial erratics, as well, but none as interesting as your conglomerates. I'm crazy about the dark burgundy one with the color echo of the purple sedum next to it.
    Has your garden been on GPOD before. Somehow the peace pole and the Japanese garden look vaguely familiar, but I can't find any other posts.
    I am head-over-heels in love with your alpine border. Your O. polyacantha is stunning. I have one that is supposed to have really, really long spines, but it is not quite taking off, yet.
    Do you get any alpines from Arrowhead Alpines in Michigan? I love their plants.
    The little 'cardinals' on the rock made me smile. Thanks for sharing your garden.

    1. User avater
      user-7007816 08/12/2016

      Yes, the construction of the Japanese garden was featured last year. Since the original article, I have expanded the garden by 1/3 and now consider it complete.

  14. sheila_schultz 08/12/2016

    I love this post! Thank you, Dale, for sharing your passion for rocks and gardening with GPOD. I think the fact that you have an alpine garden and a Japanese style garden is a delight and shows such creativity and curiosity. Do the rocks enhance the plants or do the plants enhance the beauty of the rocks? Either way, it certainly works!

  15. Chris_N 08/12/2016

    Dale - Wonderful garden, entertaining and informative narrative. I'll ditto all the comments made below.

    Being a fellow midwesterner, albeit living on the other side of that great lake named Michigan, I've found it can be hard to find good rocks, at least without paying big bucks for them. It's great if you can find a free source. I have to admit that the load of rocks that destroyed the back suspension on my mini-van turned out to be not so cheap. Like everything in life, you need to learn your limits.

    That said, almost every trip I take, I bring back rocks for the garden. If we're flying, they're small ones, no more than, say, ten pounds. Per bag. Even If we're driving, I try not to take more than a couple hundred pounds worth. When we get home, the rocks go in the garden. There, every day, they remind us of great people we visited and the great places we've seen.

    1. frankgreenhalgh 08/12/2016

      Hi Chris - I also know from experience about the damage that the weight of rocks can cause. I have carted over 40 t of granite rock from a quarry to our property via a trailer, and have broken springs in the trailer by overloading it in my enthusiasm. Cheers, Frank

  16. loisbready 08/12/2016

    Petoskey stones?

  17. User avater
    LindaonWhidbey 08/12/2016

    Dale, I love your peaceful garden and am also a rock lover. They are such a treasure, especially when you find those that tell a story. Here on Whidbey ,which is also called the "Rock", we've incorporated several rocks into our garden but mostly we end up gardening around them since so many boulders are already here and too huge to be moved. Your Alpine garden is just delightful. It's obvious that you put some serious thought into your gardening. Rock on!

  18. schatzi 08/12/2016

    I too find rocks fascinating and your use of them is terrific. Beautiful garden and great story.

  19. Cenepk10 08/13/2016

    Very very nice !

  20. thevioletfern 08/14/2016

    What can I say except "YOU ROCK!" Awesome garden - very inspiring.

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