Big rock adding textural interest (and diverse lichens) to a xeriscaped parking strip.

Big rock adding textural interest (and diverse lichens) to a xeriscaped parking strip.

Not the kind that goes on your finger. We’re talking boulders here, folks. Specifically, one large boulder in the middle of a lawn. What’s up with that? What statement is it making?

Is it being displayed as a natural sculpture?

Is it being used to add a little textural contrast to the turf?

Is it a key element in an Asian-inspired front garden?

All too often, the statement it makes is more along the lines of “We just didn’t want to pay to have that boulder hauled off” or “Look at my big rock.”

This boulder adds to the garden's chores, but contributes mightily to its Asian-inspired design.

This boulder adds to the gardener’s chores, but also contributes to the Asian-inspired design.

I’m all for creating islands in the lawn—it’s a great way to add diversity, privacy, habitat, and 4-season interest. You can add several islands and convert the lawn to a pleasing path through a living community. An island allows a gardener set up different watering schedules or systems in different zones of the yard. A large enough island can incorporate a path–maybe even a sitting area–and become a new garden room. In a yard with trees, you might make islands around the trees and let fallen leaves accumulate in them for better tree health and less work. You can even strategically locate islands so it’s easy to rake fallen leaves into them from the surrounding lawn.

But a boulder in the middle of the grass? Doesn’t add biodiversity. Too short to screen out an undesirable view. Too small to reduce sprinkler coverage or to be a feature on a scale with the house. And it actually adds work; you’ll need to weed whip around it regularly so people can see your big rock.

Some of the best lawn islands I've seen are in Garden of the Woods in Manitowoc, Wisconsin.

Some of the best lawn islands I’ve seen are in West of the Lake Gardens in Manitowoc, Wisconsin.

Not that I don’t love rocks. Oh, I do! Big rocks, little ones, any size really. One of the best birthday gifts I ever received was a truckload of boulders.

If I were fortunate enough to have a big rock in my front yard, you bet I would keep it. I would feature it by making a rock garden, dry stream, lawn island, or other larger feature around it. I might use it as the focal point for a little herb garden or medicine wheel. If my big rock were flat and low, I might add a screen of taller grasses or shrubs and use it for sunbathing. If I had kids, the rock could be part of a naturalistic play area.

One thing I wouldn’t do is leave it all alone in the middle of the front lawn, to create work without contributing to the design. Even to a rock lover like myself, that just doesn’t add up.

So please holla, those of you with a big rock in your front lawn. What have you done with yours and how is it working out for you?

Sculptures make these rocks less lonely in the Frederick Meijer Gardens, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Sculptures make the big rocks less lonely in Frederick Meijer Gardens, Grand Rapids, Michigan.