Rocks in the Garden

landscape boulders
landscape boulders

 When I say rocks in the garden, I mean large rocks….boulders to be exact.

landscape boulders

Boulders enhance the beauty of the plants surrounding them.


I love how they look as they gradually become surrounded by a flowering groundcover such as Lantana or Verbena.


Succulents such as Agave always look great when placed next to a boulder.

newly planted landscape

Boulders are strategically placed in this newly planted landscape.  Note the agave and Angelita Daisy planted by the two large boulders.

Boulders actually look great when placed together and I often place them together when designing a landscape.

landscape boulders

I visited this landscape installation with a friend of mine that was in progress a few years ago.  I really like how the designer placed boulders around and in the swimming pool.


Some useful to keep in mind when using boulders in your landscape:

– Bury them so that the bottom third is in the ground.  This helps to make their placement appear more natural.  DO NOT just place a boulder on top of the soil and leave it.

– For larger plants such as shrubs or trees, be sure to select larger boulders – 2′ x 3′ x3′ at the very least.  If you- Don’t worry if the boulders look too large at first before you install them.  I remember receiving a call from my mother-in-law the day the boulders were delivered for the landscape that I had designed for them.  She said that they were way too large.  But, you need to take into account that you will be burying 1/3 of the total height of the boulder and they will look just the right size once in the ground.

– Boulders look great when incorporated in mounding (contouring).  I usually place the boulder just inside of the edge of a mound, making sure that you fill in the area around it.

– Boulders can also be placed in brick or concrete boulders, which adds interest.

– You can select your own boulders, which I recommend before buying.  Don’t be tempted to purchase smaller boulders…they can get lost in the landscape.

– Don’t worry if the boulders look too large at first before you install them.  I remember receiving a call from my mother-in-law the day the boulders were delivered for the landscape that I had designed for them.  She said that they were way too large.  But, you need to take into account that you will be burying 1/3 of the total height of the boulder and they will look just the right size once in the ground.

landscape boulders

I love the boulders in this newly installed landscape.  There is a variety of shapes and sizes that add texture.  The plants are quite small in comparison, but they will grow larger.

If you are going to include boulders in your landscape, please plant something next to them.  Plants make the boulders look great and vice-versa.  Some of my favorite plants to include next to boulders include:



Angelita Daisy 

Blackfoot Daisy


Salvia species

Dalea species


Dasylirion species

Barrel Cactus

Mammillaria species

Lastly, boulders look wonderful in the landscape and guess what my favorite part is?   They don’t need any pruning or water to look great…the ultimate in having a beautiful low-maintenance garden.

Red Globe Mallow Seeds

Noelle Johnson, aka, 'AZ Plant Lady' is a author, horticulturist, and landscape consultant who helps people learn how to create, grow, and maintain beautiful desert gardens that thrive in a hot, dry climate. She does this through her consulting services, her online class Desert Gardening 101, and her monthly membership club, Through the Garden Gate. As she likes to tell desert-dwellers, "Gardening in the desert isn't hard, but it is different."
35 replies
  1. Darla
    Darla says:

    I don't have any boulders in my gardens..They do add interest don't they…I really enjoy the look of these gardens here.

  2. Ami
    Ami says:

    I love boulders, only they are very expensive here especially the large ones… We hauled one out of the lake of our backyard, only found it is not a real rock, more like a big concrete clump. I used it in my garden anyway, hope it can get weathered to a more natural looking as the time goes by…. Love those landscape pictures, they look so beautiful with those big boulders!

  3. Trädgårdsmakare Hillevissan
    Trädgårdsmakare Hillevissan says:

    Right at the beginning of my garden design career, I once made a large garden with plenty of borders of different plants. I pottered on for ages and never seemed to get it right.
    AND THEN it dawned on me… there were no rocks/boulders anywhere in the garden!! Very unusal in this country.
    I called a truckcompany and ordered a truck full of rocks, different sizes and finally it all came together:-)

  4. NellJean
    NellJean says:

    Stones, I love 'em. One of my favorite books, Personal Landscapes by Jerome Malitz 1989, addresses boulders in one of the chapters. Dr. Malitz is obviously as fond of rocks we are.

  5. Kiki
    Kiki says:

    Just gorgeous! It is always so fascinating to see a landscpae so different from where I am! I looove rocks..I am boulder crazy!! Beautiful post Noelle..mesmerizing eye candy!

  6. Kimberly
    Kimberly says:

    Noelle, I love the contrast between the stones and the colors of the various plants. I have stones in my garden as well. Your garden is beautiful. Your pool patio is spa-like!!

  7. VW
    VW says:

    Well, what a timely post. I'm having 3 pallets of boulders placed in my garden tomorrow. I already knew to bury them partway. I will be sure not to panic if they look too big for my yard at first, thanks! I think I have enough so that some can be grouped, but some of the biggest ones will stand alone. And I'm most excited about the 4.5' tall basalt column for the side yard – cool!

  8. James Missier
    James Missier says:

    Its sure very heavy not easy to move around if you have second thoughts of repositioning or removing them.
    Regardless, they really add volume in the garden.
    Love the purple flower (3rd pic) – is it verbena or is it lantana??

  9. Janet
    Janet says:

    We had hoped to have a boulder or two when they dug out our walkout level…no such luck. The neighbors down the street had a great big one. Oh well, I do like them in the landscape. We may buy one in the future. Your pictures really show off the plant material that compliments the boulders and vise versa.

  10. says:

    I quite overwhelmed with all of your positive comments regarding boulders in the garden.

    Grace, using grasses is a great idea and I should have included it.

    VW, I would love to see photos once your boulders are installed.

    James, the plant in the third picture is Purple Trailing Lantana – I just love it.

  11. Gail
    Gail says:

    I am dazzled by the blue sky and the mountains behind that smashing pool! Noelle these are beautiful examples of how boulders can make a landscape. I am lucky to have rocks, but would welcome a few more boulders like these. gail

  12. The Rainforest Gardener
    The Rainforest Gardener says:

    Love the examples and wish boulders weren't so hard to come across here. Scratch that, they do look quite unnatural in NE Florida but the limestone rocks in Southern Florida look great with dense tropical plants… I hit one with the car once though. That wasn't so nice.

  13. Brad
    Brad says:

    They can also help save water on the plants near them. The roots can hide under the cool shade of the boulder and tap into the moisture trapped under the rock. They definitely make a beautiful difference.

  14. Helen at summerhouse
    Helen at summerhouse says:

    I do like rocks in a garden. We like to group them a bit. Ours aren't really big boulders like you use, but still make the garden look more natural. Great advice about placement here.

  15. Melissa
    Melissa says:

    I love these boulder photos. They can make such a statement in the garden and I love when they are fitted in next to steps as well as placed on their own. The key, as you point out, is to make them look natural. My favorites are the ones you have shown with desert plants next to them.

  16. Laurrie
    Laurrie says:

    I like seeing how the boulders really stand out in these scenes. Your landscape is so utterly different than mine (New England), but what fun to see the same design principles at work. Great design is great design… anywhere! Thanks for visiting my blog recently.

  17. Rose
    Rose says:

    Another timely post, Noelle! We have three large boulders that were here before we moved in. The first plantings I did here were around them. But I'm thinking it's time to re-do those plantings, so I appreciate these tips and suggestions.

  18. Balisha
    Balisha says:

    Hi Noelle,
    I love this post…I have always loved "rocks" We usually brought a large rock home from vacation to put in our yard. Now these boulders you are speaking of…I have a story about one. I knew a woman who loved big boulders. She wanted one for her yard. Her boys bought her one for her birthday….had it delivered and the truck backed up into the front yard and dumped it…on her porch steps.They didn't mean for it to be dropped there, but that's how it turned out. Most of the porch had to be replaced and the boulder was moved to another area in her garden.

  19. Corner Gardener Sue
    Corner Gardener Sue says:

    I love the boulders in the photos in your post. My yard is too small for those, but we have some rocks here and there that my husband's family had. I like your advice to bury part of them. I think we should try that with ours.

  20. Rosie
    Rosie says:

    I love boulders in the garden. When we moved here I got the digger to bring me lots from the building site plus I've acquired some more too and sciatica in the process! They give my scree bed such interest – and also lichen and mosses grow on them – and little ferns seed around the shadier sides of them.

  21. Catherine@AGardenerinProgress
    Catherine@AGardenerinProgress says:

    I love the looks of the boulders. They really do add such a natural look to the garden. I'd love to get a large one here to put in a shadier area where moss would grow on it.
    The landscape project turned out beautifully.

  22. kate smudges
    kate smudges says:

    Boulders look incredible in your landscape. What a wonderful series of photos. I love visiting AZ garden blogs to see the wonderful array of vegetation that is so different from mine. As a succulent lover, I envy that they can remain outdoors all year long.

  23. lostlandscape (James)
    lostlandscape (James) says:

    My garden has a lot of stones, a few rocks, but nothing I'd call a boulder. That would be one of the improvements I'd make if I were to start all over again. I really love the character they give to a space.

  24. Carol
    Carol says:

    As always I am transported by your breathtaking landscapes Noelle! I love the natural way the boulders look around the pool and when the plastic pots are gone what an astonishing desert setting! For me boulders just mean more work… they are all over my land and only invite bittersweet to ramble upon them needing all hand labor to maintain or the boulders are covered. ;>)

  25. Hocking Hills Gardener
    Hocking Hills Gardener says:

    Hi Noelle. I love some or one big rocks in a garden bed. Around here where there are so many cliffs and caves rocks are just a natural setting. The plantings around them just make or break the idea of this kind of landscaping.The ground covers looks so pretty in your picture.

  26. KarenSloan-WallFlowerStudio
    KarenSloan-WallFlowerStudio says:

    Your garden is stunning. I love the earthy colours of the rock. I live on the Canadian Sheild and have embraced rock in my garden as well.
    Lantana and Verbena are considered almost exotic's here in Ontario! Excellent photos! Shall enjoy visting often.

  27. bloominrs
    bloominrs says:

    All of these large boulders make what I called boulders in my garden, little rocklets! I too love the variation of the size and shapes of the boulders in the last photo you posted.

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