Oregon Outcroppings

In the 1980s, a landscape architect started making his own boulders for his garden in Los Cerritos, California, inspired by the natural granite outcroppings in his beloved Sierras. Sunset Magazine ran a wonderful article on Harland Hand's magnificent creation and it is still visited by people that have loved his garden for years. I was enraptured by the idea and we started making boulders for gardens that we were designing in Oregon and Arizona. We designed a cliff 110 feet (33.5 m) long amd ten feet (3 m) high with a waterfall that fell into a sculpted pond for a client in Oregon. We sculpted several waterfalls and ponds for various clients over several years.
In 2000, we moved back to Oregon, buying a wonderful acreage with a little house and forested with douglas firs, madrone, ponderosa pine, and dogwood. The back area behind the house was a grassy, weedy expanse, surrounded by forest. It was great for football and frisbee, but I envisioned our own sculpted, handmade outcroppings pushing up through ground filled with our natives and many rock garden plants. I wanted it to look as natural as possible, naturalistic crevices filled with tiny treasures, and massive boulders that looked as though they've been pushing up for a million years.
After several years of getting other items accomplished, we started on the back garden, one boulder at a time. Meanwhile, my son, who is a building contractor, installed a huge deck that overlooks the garden and gives us views of creatures coming and going such as our lizards, snakes, jackrabbits, and birds.
Some favorite plants that we use often in the garden are Lewisia cotyledon, Asarum marmoratum, Ribes lobbii, Achillea tomentosum, Tanacetum densum subsp. amanii, Iris douglasiana, Iris cristata, Euphorbia myrsinites, and Penstemon rupicola. All the above plants are fairly common in this garden, and are easy, establish well in drought conditions and have nice textural features. We focus on ease of growth rather than acquiring rarities.
To build our structures, we set up armatures made up of wire, filled them with ecologically sound fillers, and shaped them into what would be the series of boulders and the eventual pond. We even created our dragon, Darcy, who is constructed with our cement mix and shovelheads. She is about 20 feet (6 m) long and designed to be a part of the outcroppings. I know. We are crazy.
We use Portland plastic cement (not regular Portland cement) for all our sculptures. It has become harder and harder to obtain but it works very nicely. We mix one part plastic cement with one part pumice (no peat needed) and add in Davis Cement colors (browns, blacks, and/or reds) to create the colors we want. We use a consistency that will keep its shape when you work it with your gloved hands. We make an armature out of fencing wire which is rigid but can be bent into the shapes you like. We then fill the wire armature with cardboard or paper to keep the cement from collapsing through this mesh and cover it with our cement mixture. We use this same formula for all our troughs, bonsai pots, and whimsical creatures. It takes practice to create the shapes you want, but play around with shapes, use photos of boulders and cliffs that you admire for inspiration, and, most of all, have fun!
The garden measures about 120 feet (36 m) up a gentle slope and about 70 feet (21 m) wide. We are far from done. At this point, the outcroppings are only about seventy percent complete with several more areas to finish.
The "bench" outcropping is designed with crevices slanting back into the hillside with layers of cement shelves that mimic the way they fit together in nature, We have also formed a large pond, 20 feet long by 16 feet wide by four feet deep (6.1 x 4.8 x 1.2 m) that is not completed yet. We have designed and sculpted a stream bed that works its way downhill into this pond which we hope to finish this year. My husband Walt has been the guy who has done most of the work and added ideas as we created this garden.
This garden probably will never be finished but we have had a wonderful time imagining and designing our little half acre. There's always another idea and another bag of cement.