Rock Solid Advice

Kathleen Brand is a sought-after landscape architect in La Mesa who specializes in designing therapy gardens, or gardens to help people recover from illness or connect with themselves, others, and the natural environment.  These gardens often use rock as an important element in healing.  I asked her recently about the place of rock in gardens and how they are important in landscape staging.

Her main point is that, carefully chosen and placed, rocks help the house look like it belongs:  “Rocks are prominent in the Southern California landscape, especially anytime you get out of urban areas.  So they look natural here, and they work well with our homes based, as they tend to be, on natural materials like stucco and adobe.”  (Stucco is made from sand and a cement binder, such as portland cement.)  Further, Ms. Brand added, “Rocks provide a defined sculptural element to the landscape.  Most people can appreciate them, especially since we don’t have to settle for the pink lava rock and the crushed white quartz that our parents had to choose from in the seventies.”

I prodded her further, asking what some of the advantages might be.  Her points:  apart from the up-front installation, rocks require no maintenance and no water.  They can be functional as well as aesthetic, offering natural seating.  And with their solidity, architectural form, and colors–often veering toward the warm end of the spectrum–they compliment the cool greens of native plants.

“Rock as gravel provide a great mulch and a place where you can create pattern and movement in the horizontal plane,” as is the case when the shadows of tree leaves move over it.

Kathleen Brand’s advice for placing rocks is to use them as focal points.  Their number is also important:  even numbers look unnatural, so go with one three, five, or seven in a group.  They should be used to define scale in the space.  Finally, an important rule of thumb is to bury a third of them below grade so that they look natural and stable.  A rock sitting helplessly atop the ground creates uneasiness.

You can reach Kathleen at (619)922-2121 or visit her website at