Liven Your Landscape with Boulders

The Southwest is a place of great natural drama and beauty – rocks and boulders are not hidden beneath layers of forest mulch or yards of prairie soil. They are right out there in the land – delighting the eye with their natural beauty.

Work With The Drama of the Southwest

In the Southwest we can see our large, dramatic mountains springing virtually straight up out of the surrounding land. The European principles of landscape design teach us to work with this drama and beauty, but reduce it to a human scale. Feng Shui principles teach the same, to take the grandeur of our natural environment and make our homes one with this nature.

Principles of Feng Shui view a boulder as a fire element – reaching upwards like flames. Soften this fire with the feel of water – a gentle flow of plants.

Using either Occidental or Oriental traditions, one way to repeat the motif of the dramatically upthrusting mountains, and bring them into our landscapes, is to use rocks, big rocks. Dramatic rocks. Boulders.

This boulder is softened and yet highlighted by the wildflowers around it.

Boulders, like our mountains, reach skywards. They are smaller than our homes however, thus they reinforce the mountain motif without overwhelming the home. There are a few simple guidelines to keep in mind as you ponder adding boulders to your yard.

Select Several Boulders

Don’t stop with one! Select several boulders so there is not just one single lump in the yard. Ideally select an odd number. Three, five, seven. If you have an even number in your design, the viewers eye will try to see a regular pattern. If the even numbers are not evenly spaced, the effect is unsettling. It just plain looks wrong. Odd numbers free you from this dilemma.

Agreed, one (1) is an odd number not an even number – but this yard might look better with three boulders. (And some more plants.)

There is an exception to this rule of odd numbers. If you have a wide driveway separating the main part of your front yard, and then a wide side yard as well, you can consider an odd number in the main yard and a single boulder in the side yard. The total is an even number, but in appearance they are separated enough. Wide driveway and wide side yards are key here though.

Randomize Boulder Placement

The next most common mistake is to line the boulders up. Unless you live in a Federal Building – avoid this. Rather than a straight line across the front of the yard, try a triangle in the middle of the yard. Not an isosceles triangle either.  Isoceles has equal sides and you want one where the three sides are unequal.


Soften Your Design

Without plants to soften them, boulders can sit like large lumps in the yard. Soften their stark forms with plants around their bases. If you take a walk in the desert you will see this naturally occurring. The bigger the boulder, the larger the plants you can use, but since most of us don’t have a spare fifty grand to spend on boulders, look to some low ground cover plants.


Select plants with roots that do not appeal to burrowing animals like ground squirrels. (More about wildlife resistant plants.) For this I like golden dyssodia (Dyssodia tenuisecta), dog daisy (Dyssodia pentachaeta), desert zinnia (Zinnia acerosa), or damianita (Chrysactinia mexicana). Clumps of low growing native cacti like hedgehogs, claret cups, or pincushion cactus also look great at the base of boulders. See Cactus Flowers for just how pretty these are!


Color & Texture

Boulder color, texture and form are important too when placing rocks in the landscape. Select colors that blend with the home and environment. A tan home might look fine with a large black boulder in front, but a white home needs a tan boulder. There is such a thing as too! much! drama!

If you have a decomposed granite mulch in your yard, select boulders that are not the same color and texture. The boulder will simply blend right in. You end up with a lot of blandness and not a dramatic accent point.


We have barely scratched the surface of this topic, but I hope I have given you some ideas to liven your landscape.

Thanks for reading!


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