How to build a portable rock garden

How to build a portable rock garden

Several years ago, I figured out how to build a portable rock garden.  The concept hit me when a client’s sister who was visiting from New York looked one of my large rock gardens and commented, “I wish I could take that home with me”.  I thought this was such a good idea that I went home and spent several days of experimentation and trial and error.  It felt really good to put my first specimen in the back seat of the lady’s car as she left to return home.

A truly portable rock garden.  Who would have thought it?

A truly portable rock garden. Who would have thought it?

I haven’t built one of these planters in several years, but I thought one would be a perfect 84th birthday present for Bob Hicks.  Bob is one of those people who have two of everything—but he didn’t have one of these.  Here’s how you do it:

I started by gathering my materials.  I picked up some nice sandstone specimens from the side of a mountain road and found a suitable  piece of flagstone for the base (there are rock dealers all over the place these days).  I got some moss from the back yard where the grass won’t grow, and some smaller rocks from a friend’s driveway.

find just the right rocks

find just the right rocks

The rocks will be glued together with a polyurethane caulk.  You will need a tube of this and a caulking gun.  These are pretty inexpensive and one tube of caulk will do three or four gardens.  I have tried other types of caulk but have found that nothing will do better than polyurethane.  I use PL polyurethane construction adhesive.

A caulking gun and polyurethane caulk for an adhesive

A caulking gun and polyurethane caulk for an adhesive

Be sure to use newspapers or some kind of drop cloth.  The caulk is very hard to clean up.  I got some on my jeans a few years ago.  I still wear the jeans—the caulk is still there, also.

Begin by laying the decorative rocks out on the flat stone that will be the base.  Experiment and get the rocks just as you want them.  Some times it takes quite a bit of adjustment and experimentation.  Take your time.

rocks laid out to perfection.  I'm happy with this

rocks laid out to perfection. I’m happy with this

Cut the tip of the caulking tube about ½ inch from the end.  It works best if you cut it at an angle.  Use a nail or something like that to poke a hole through the seal at the bottom of the tip.  Insert the tube into the caulking gun and you are ready to go.  If you’ve never used a caulking gun, it may take a little experimentation but it is relatively easy.

Next, carefully turn each rock to the side and spread a bead of the caulk on the base.  When this is done, turn the rock back down on the base so that any excess glue will be pushed to the inside.  Mash the rock down good and hard and then try not to move it around any more. Go slowly and do one rock at a time.

Use enough adhesive, but not too much.  Squeeze to the inside

Use enough adhesive, but not too much. Squeeze to the inside

When the gluing is finished, it will be time for the hard part.  The hard part is that you must let the project dry and cure in a dry, warm location for a few days.  Waiting is always difficult for me, but if you get in a hurry, you will mess it up.

Now for the hard part--wait a few days

Now for the hard part–wait a few days

After the glue had dried, examine the project and look for little holes where dirt might run out and stuff little pieces of moss here and there to plug the holes.

plugging the leaks. Do this from the inside

plugging the leaks. Do this from the inside

Now it is time to plant.  You will need one larger accent plant.  I am using a jade plant that has been pruned following the directions in my previous post “The simple basics of pruning”.  Place the accent plant in the correct position—you will want to experiment.  The root ball of this plant should be up high in order to form a “terrace”.

try the plant in several different positions

try the plant in several different positions

Finish filling the planter with good potting soil.  Pack it in around the accent plant and water everything.  This will be a good time to wash off the excess dirt.

water it in and wash the rocks

water it in and wash the rocks

To keep the feeling of a true rock garden, I like to build terraces with smaller rocks.  Sometimes, if the shape and feel is right, I like to use aquarium gravel for a “river bed” or flat rocks for a “stepping stone path”. At this point, pack the dirt and the rocks in so they will stay.

Terraces make the finished product look better. Be an artist.

Terraces make the finished product look better. Be an artist.

After studying the garden, I have decided to enhance the Ikebana effect with a smaller plant in one of the crevasses.  I am using a haworthia here. This will give me a three tiered effect with the difference in elevations of the jade, the haworthia, and some moss. An essay on Ikebana will be the subject of a future post.

just for effect

just for effect

Now, I will pack moss on top of the soil and tuck it in around the rocks.  The moss will live well if misted on a regular basis.  The effect I am looking for is a woodland scene with the moss representing the garden floor.

oooh!  Pretty moss will finish it off

oooh! Pretty moss will finish it off

Here is the finished product ready to be watered in and set in a place of honor.

Water it in and clean it up.  Be sure to set it on a trivet to keep from scratching your table

Water it in and clean it up. Be sure to set it on a trivet to keep from scratching your table

Look at this.  Now Bob will come in for his birthday dinner, admire the planter, and we will say “happy birthday”.  The plants will grow well in good light with a weekly watering.  The moss will probably need misting every couple of days.  As the jade plant grows, proper pruning will enhance the bonsai effect.  Yay!!

near a window or under a floor lamp is perfect!

near a window or under a floor lamp is perfect!

For more adventures of johntheplantman, read “Requiem for a Redneck”, a novel by John P. Schulz. You can purchase the Kindle version here

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00FOAJCGO

or read the customer reviews on Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/Requiem-Redneck-John-P-Schulz/dp/0981825206/

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9 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jane Schulz
    Jan 17, 2010 @ 15:48:36

    What a lovely gift, especially for this time of the year. I bet Bob loved it!

    Your instructions are so clear maybe even I could make one.

    Reply

  2. Darby
    Jan 17, 2010 @ 18:41:42

    John, when I moved into my house in Portland I decided the entire front yard should be replaced with rocks, shrubs, and plants. I got rocks from everywhere and everyone. A good friend made her husband haul a rather large quartz rock back from a camping trip in eastern Oregon. He failed to see why I just had to have this rock. When I put my house up for sale I dug the rock out and hauled it inside because my friend has passed away and I just couldn’t leave the rock. Her husband came over hauled the rock back down the basement stairs and packed the rock in my car. I drove the rock across the country. A portable rock garden! Now why didn’t I think of that in the first place?

    Reply

    • John Schulz
      Jan 18, 2010 @ 09:19:21

      One time when I was moving, the people helping me asked what was in the box
      “rocks” I replied
      They looked at me kind of funny. Rocks are important.

      Reply

  3. ponygirl
    Jan 18, 2010 @ 10:53:56

    Rocks ARE important! After all, ponies live under them.

    I could make me a portable rock garden just by following these easy instructions. And remember, you can get the rocks for free if you just look around a bit.

    Reply

  4. nina
    Jun 28, 2010 @ 16:33:01

    that is really cool.

    I sense a weekend project coming on!

    Reply

  5. Trackback: Portable Rock Gardens « Gardora.net
  6. SoundEagle
    Jul 08, 2012 @ 21:15:18

    Reblogged this on Potted Plant Society.

    Reply

  7. Trackback: How to build a portable rock garden | Potted Plant Society
  8. Trackback: Before and After—Revisiting the Sites of Articles Past | Johntheplantman's stories, musings, and gardening.

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