Placing Boulders in the Landscape
Large boulders can achieve so much for a landscape; both functionally and aesthetically. Placing boulders is an art that depends greatly on each stone’s particular shape, color, and size. Given that every boulder is unique, it is important, as designers, to be present during their selection and placement. Working very closely with the contractors from Marenakos Rock Center, we did just that for a recent installation at Lakeside Middle School in Seattle.
Land Morphology is in the process of designing a number of gathering spaces for the middle school. Providing a variety of places to meet and connect is important for people; especially at the middle school level when kids are transitioning from active play to more social outdoor free time. One of the first of these projects has been the installation of large clusters of boulders along the edge of a newly expanded play court. With the addition of 16 giant glacial erratic boulders an unusable grass slope has been transformed into a small amphitheater for gathering and to watch games.
Before: The grassy slope between the school’s parking lot and the new play court - about four feet below. I arrived early to flag and spray paint the approximate locations of each boulder. My plans, rolled up in the corner of the play court, were helpful initially but as each boulder was installed and assessed, placements shifted to respond.
The crew from Marenakos Rock Center (Chris, Chad, and Dj) arrived and unloaded 30 boulders ranging in size from 2’x3’ to 4’x6’. Not all of these boulders were used for this area – we are saving about half for an up-coming play berm to be installed next spring.
The first to go in was dubbed “E” for enormous. It is about 6’ long and makes a perfect bench. Dj dug the hole first so that E is settled into the ground and to make sure the height of the flat top is about 18” high – just right for sitting level.
Tamping in a cluster of boulders, Chad uses hand signals to direct Dj on the crane. Having skilled crew members is imperative in making the vision come to life. The crane they used rotates in all directions so that they could easily adjust each boulder.
Later in the day we had two giant boulders left that we placed at the far north end of the court near where two lonely boulders had been installed years ago. Being very careful not to disturb existing irrigation lines, we located the new boulders to visually tie the two existing ones into the fold.
By the end of the day we had them all placed and our mini-amphitheater was just about ready – a broom and a little rain to wash them off a little couldn’t hurt. And neither could a group of 11 to 13 year-olds to start hopping from one to the other to activate the space – I will need to return during the school day.
After: In placing the boulders I wanted to create a space that is both useful and felt natural - as if the earth eroded around them and they had been there forever. This was achieved by placing approximately 1/3 of each boulder underground and staggering them along the edge of the court.
The next phase is to add a low hedge of blue willow at the top of the slope to create a separation between the parking lot and the new seating area.