Rock on: Incorporating large rocks and boulders in landscape design

Updated Oct 16, 2023
rock and boulder retaining wall
Large rocks and boulders make the perfect natural material for this retaining wall completed by Blanchford Landscape Group in Montana.
Blanchford Landscape Group

Over the years, there has been a continued trend toward more naturalistic landscaping with the use of large rocks and boulders. But incorporating these materials onto a client’s property isn’t exactly easy. It can require specialized equipment and a lot of maneuvering. Still, when it’s done right, the payoff can be amazing.

Blanchford Landscape Group based in Bozeman, Montana, has always used a lot of boulders and large stone slabs in their designs. In their Southwest Montana location, these types of additions really fit the region. But Garden Designer Mason Shaffer says that the investment in a pneumatic paver lifter has made these large rocks much easier to manage. This has given them more opportunities to incorporate boulders and rocks into their landscape designs.

Creative ways to use boulders in landscape design

boulder stone stepsNatural stone is the perfect material for steps.Blanchford Landscape Group

Using boulders for a rock wall or even a statement piece on its own are two ways that these materials are commonly used in the landscape. Shaffer says that they often build retaining walls or border walls out of large rocks or boulders because they really do fit in with the surrounding natural landscape.

“A rock wall often doubles as overflow seating around our patio designs,” Shaffer adds. “They also become a place to incorporate container gardens

Blanchford also commonly uses large rock slabs for stairs, Shaffer says.

“Rather than using a manmade paver, a slab stairway fits a lot more seamlessly into the natural environment,” he explains.

Custom designs with boulders

outdoor seating area on rock patioA carved-out boulder makes a custom fire feature for this client of Blanchford Landscape Group.Blanchford Landscape Group

The company has also gotten creative and designed custom pieces. A boulder fire feature was designed and built for a mountain-based property that needed something very naturalistic to suit the space. The other fire features the clients had investigated had too much of a modern feel.

Blanchford has also used boulders to create unique water features. A cored boulder with some bubbling water can add a natural look to the landscape. A pondless waterfall can also be an attractive addition. With this feature, the flow of water disappears into an underground reservoir.

Shaffer says that they’ve also incorporated landscape lighting into boulders so that it’s somewhat “hidden” but still provides the functionality of lighting up the space.

“With landscape lighting, less is more,” he says. “That’s true everywhere but particularly in regions like ours where the nighttime sky is a huge part of the attraction to the area. The last thing we ever want to do is pollute the sky with light and take away from that view.”

Preserving the natural habitat

At the end of the day, Shaffer says their use of boulders and rock goes a long way in preserving the natural surroundings that are so important to homeowners in Montana.

“Using natural materials goes a really long way in creating a design that seamlessly blends into the surrounding habitat,” he says. “That’s always a really important goal for us.” 

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