Hard(scapes) create soft beauty in gardens

Are you in a quandary about next year’s landscaping? Sick of fighting lawn problems, drought, deluges, heat, cold, etc., etc.? Did you ever think about just covering the whole thing with rocks, or brick, or pebbles or even concrete?

Well, why not? I’m here to tell you to go for it, because a hardscape can be a stunning addition to your property, and you can make all the choices. Hardscaping isn’t just rock gardening — or even gardening with rocks — though it can be. It can be anything you want it to, and there are myriad choices, one of which may be the solution to your personal needs and desires.

Our illustration shows a garden terrace — but hardscaping can mean any number of things, creating a free-standing focal point in your landscape.

You can do the same, no matter what your situation, and if you don’t like the idea of the inserted garden, you can create a pristine stone, sand, gravel, rock, brick or concrete “garden” that stands alone without the need of plants.

Think Zen, and prepare your ground by digging or back hoeing a space that’s grass and weed-free (you may want to treat it with roundup and/or cover with black plastic) and cover the entire space with a base of gravel rock.

Cover this with a load of sand or pea gravel if you wish, then carefully and selectively place large and small rocks and boulders in pleasing arrangement.

Think scale, continuity, artful repetition, logical placement, and balance and compatibility of each stone to the other. Don’t mix stones, and place so that striations or furrows all run the same way, so the effect is of a natural outcrop.

Use different sizes and shapes as backdrops for their planned use: Tall, to augment an ornamental tree; flat for a pot or as a seat; rounded as a plant complement/protector, and so on.

If you plan this as a true Zen garden, keep a small wood-tined rake (a children’s rack is perfect) at hand to artfully rake the sand/gravel in waves and circles around the rocks. You may want to plant a Mugho pine, Azalea, or other Oriental-looking tree/shrub as a focal point beside your tallest stone. An ornamental crab or cherry would be apropos, or a delicate Rocky Mountain Maple (the Japanese Maples don’t do too well in our climate).

If you definitely want some plants, realize that you now have a perfect xeriscape, and can choose from many dry-site-loving plants. In this event, you will need to leave open soil sites here and there throughout the garden area, and pour your gravel after planting. (We’ll present some plant ideas next time as well as the option of a garden in pots).

Perhaps you’ve dreamed of a water feature, but don’t have the capability. Don’t give up! Create a dry stream bed that wends its way down and/or around your hardscape, and take your choice of several snazzy options.

■ Line it with pebbles and river rocks, and side-plant it artistically with water-loving plants that would have been at home there.

■ Fill the center with a flow of concrete and embed blue ceramic pool tiles, or colored ceramic tiles in a wavy design to make an artsy “stream.”

■ Simply fill the center with colored concrete in a bright blue or hue to suit your preference, and voila! a fabulous focal point for your personal hardscape!

(Editor’s note: For many years, Valle Novak has written gardening and cooking columns for the Daily Bee. “Weekend Gardener” and “Country Chef” became renowned for their humor, information and common sense advice on how to do everything from planting to cooking. While she recently retired, she has shared a number of columns to delight her many fans. This is one such column, originally published Oct. 21, 2007.)