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The big issue with rocks is that they can weigh a ton literally. You will need equipment and assistance to transport and place them.

Rock solid in the garden

Not so long ago, people wanted to get rid of rocks in their yards. Now they often request them as part of the trend toward more natural-looking gardens.

Rocks are the easiest sculptural elements to incorporate into a garden to create a natural-looking landscape. They add color, contrast and interest; require no maintenance; and provide a bit of surprise.

They fill another need, too — security barriers. Rocks and plantings strategically placed will keep even the smallest of vehicles from harming public and private buildings.

Now is the perfect time to design and place landscape stones. Arrange them around early bulbs and plants that are just breaking dormancy. That way, you can see the "bones" of the landscape and know where your landscape rocks will fit best.

Rocks come in every size, from giant Stonehenge-like slabs to tiny pebbles the size of peas. They come in a natural kaleidoscope of colors, including brown, tan, red, pink, blue, green, white, black and gray.

The big issue with rocks is that they can weigh a ton — really. You will need equipment and assistance to transport and place them.

Positioning is important, so everyone involved needs to be patient.

Like other large, heavy objects, specimen rocks can be expensive. And the effort to transport them might limit your use of ornamental rocks in the landscape. However, nature has produced lava rock, and modern technology has stepped in with artificial rocks that look authentic.

Lava rock is a porous volcanic material, significantly lighter than other stone because it's full of air pockets. It's available in a selection of colors — black, brown, russet and gray — at stone suppliers and garden centers. While it doesn't fit the native garden theme, it will work in some natural gardens.

Most synthetic rocks are composites of several materials, primarily textured, colored fiberglass, and thus are not heavy.

No matter what you choose, there are several things to keep in mind when adding stones to your property.

Repetition is important. In nature, rocks repeat effortlessly. If you have only one natural rock outcropping in the yard, add more to make stone a theme. Vary sizes and spread them throughout garden beds — two to three per bed at most. Arrange in random fashion to appear as though they jut from the earth, simulating nature.

Large specimen rocks should complement nearby plants. Choose plants that might grow close to them in nature, such as ferns, bleeding hearts and hellebores in some shade, or grasses, black-eyed Susans and purple coneflowers in full sun. Smooth, flat rocks can be placed for natural seats.

Measure the space where you plan to include rocks so you know what size you are looking for.

Select landscape stone as carefully as you would your plants. Look at each for size, color, texture and shape.

Smaller rocks can be used in a wide variety of ways. Low rock retaining walls are charming additions that give a manicured look to rustic, natural gardens. Wall-size flat rocks, up to a foot or so wide, can be organized and stacked without mortar for low walls.

Rocks enhance water features. Stone coping around natural water features such as a lily pond fits the rockscaping theme. Stones can be used to create fountains, with water bubbling up out of or gently falling down them. They can create waterfalls in natural or artificial streams.

Stone can be used to imply a riverbed and at the same time serve as an effective and ornamental drainage swale. Cover soil surface of a meandering U-shaped or V-shaped depression with consistent aggregate material such as rounded river gravel. Mix varying sized larger rocks for a natural stream design.

Joel Lerner is president of Environmental Design in Capitol View Park, Md., and author of "Anyone Can Landscape"(Ball 2001).

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