Building a Rock Garden - Rock Your World
by Sue Leduc

You've now picked the perfect spot for your rock garden. It's been laid out, mocked up and sketched, and now you're ready to start building. Bring on the rocks.

I really wish I could simply pick up the phone, call the nearest quarry and say, "Bring me a load of pretty rocks, please," but that's not how it works. One rock is not just like another and choosing your rocks well can make the difference between a rock garden that looks (relatively) natural and one that looks completely contrived.

The rocks you choose should have some common characteristic so that they look like they would naturally occur together. Our rock garden is built with rocks that were dug up by the original settlers when they cleared the land. Most were collected from within 1 km of our house so they can't help but look like they belong together. Mother Nature herself put these rocks here.

It's not that easy if you live in the city or the suburbs. You have to look at the rocks and choose a ‘formation' that appeals to you. Geologically, the Ottawa area has some very diverse choices. Because we're at the edge of the Canadian Shield, we have granite. But the Champlain Sea also once covered this area, so we have limestone and a variety of sedimentary formations. And of course, we had glaciers that mixed them all up and left a hodgepodge on the surface. Now is the time to make friends with the staff at your local quarry or perhaps a local landowner.

Probably the easiest way to make sure your rocks are all relatively the same is to go to the quarry and order a load from the specific formation that you like. It will be scooped up by some enormous earth-moving machine, giving you a variety of sizes of rocks, loaded into a truck and delivered to your house. Now you just have to move them out of your driveway before the neighbours start to complain.

Another option is to go to a landscaping firm or garden centre that has decorative rocks for sale. This is not an inexpensive way to go, as you pay by the pound, but the rocks are pre-selected to match one another well and are usually a fairly uniform size.

If you want more control in the choice of your rocks and money is an object, the best option is to actually go and pick through rock piles. Most farmers' fields in the Ottawa area have plenty of these. Some quarries may also have piles of rocks set aside for landscapers that you could be allowed to root through. This way you can be sure that the rocks are not just of the right appearance, but that they are also a size that you can handle. Keep in mind that you will need rocks of all sizes - big ones as anchors, medium ones for infill and small ones for decoration.

When rooting through a rock pile, there is a certain etiquette and a set of safety rules to follow. ALWAYS obtain the landowner's permission to go onto their property - trespassing is bad. ALWAYS close gates after you go through them - escaped livestock is not funny. If you pick up and then reject a rock, toss it back on the pile, don't just fling it to the side. Wear solid boots and gloves - rocks are heavy and abrasive. Keep an eye on your vehicle's suspension - overloading can make driving difficult. Line your trunk with a blanket or tarp to make clean-up easier. Lift with your legs, not your back.

It will take several tonnes of rock to make even a small rock garden. Try not to set your sights too high for the first year. Your rock garden can be expanded and improved over several years.

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