How to build a portable rock garden

I published this article four years ago. I thought it would be a good time to dust it off and put it back up for my new readers.

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 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!! I’ve changed this picture from the original article because the rock garden–four years later– is visiting our house for a bit of R&R. Bob kept it alive for all that time

I first documented the building of this garden four years ago. It's still

I first documented the building of this garden four years ago. It’s still going strong.

For more adventures of johntheplantman, read “Requiem for a Redneck”, a novel by John P. Schulz.

As usual, I would just love for you click here to go to Amazon and purchase the ebook edition of my wonderful book, Requiem for a Redneck to go on your Kindle. I have also noticed that Amazon now has a free Kindle app for iphones and tablets. Is that cool or what?

 

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Before and After—Revisiting the Sites of Articles Past

I think my adopted art form has five dimensions. There are the usual three—depth, width, and height. I like to add the dimension where you stand inside the creation and look at it from that viewpoint (I’m not sure, though, if that is a dimension or a perspective). The next dimension is that of time. If the plants don’t croak they grow and change the total feel of the project as time goes by. My main professional compensation other than making a modest living is to visit the projects after a period of time and enjoy the changes. This past week I said, “Wow” several times.

Several times this past week I found myself in the presence of sites that I have written articles about. Everything has changed—as gardening projects have a habit of doing. At any rate, here are some pictures of my visitations during the first week of December, 2013 and the links to the articles that tell about the inception of the projects.

I think one of the most significant projects was the Boys and Girls Club vegetable garden that we built in spring of 2009. Diane Harbin and Rome, Georgia’s Three Rivers Garden Club were the moving factors behind the project. After four years the garden needed a bit of physical reworking and maintenance. We tackled the job. Some of the timbers had rotted out, and there was a significant amount of weeds that needed removing as well as some irrigation concerns.  Jobs that are right down my alley. Here’s a picture of one of the main problems:

Weeds and a few rotted timbers in the garden

Weeds and a few rotted timbers in the garden

Here is a picture of this delightful garden after the clean up and rebuild.

Rome, Ga. Boys and Girls Club vegetable garden after clean up and repair

Rome, Ga. Boys and Girls Club vegetable garden after clean up and repair. December 2013

You may click to visit The Boys and Girls Club Vegetable Garden Project. The article was written Nov. 29, 2009

A year after the building of the vegetable garden it was added on to. Go to: The Garden Gets a Gazebo from May 9, 2010.

I started this blog series in 2009 and one of the first articles was about building a portable rock garden. I presented the finished rock garden to my future father-in-law for his birthday. He has kept it alive and asked me a couple of weeks ago to take it and shape it up. All I’m going to do is give it some light, fertilize and prune it, and it should be all right on its fifth birthday. Here’s the “how to” article: How to Build a Portable Rock Garden from Jan. 17, 2010. And here is a picture of the garden on December 8, 2013.

Portable rock garden from one of my first articles

Portable rock garden from one of my first articles

I have probably been gardening for Betty for thirty years or so. I took this picture of one of her bonsais on Dec. 7, 2013.  Then I remembered that I had written an article including this plant on August 13 of this year that contains a picture of me pruning this very same tree about 20 years ago. See if you can find me. Here is the article—Pruning For Betty from Aug. 13, 2013.

Betty's bonsai

Betty’s bonsai

Just yesterday I had to go see Mabel and I noticed a little cedar tree that I had pruned a year ago and that was doing well.  The article is Mabel’s Topiary from Feb 26, 2012

This tree started as a weed but then a weed is only a plant that's in the wrong place

This tree started as a weed but then a weed is only a plant that’s in the wrong place

And, Oh, over the years, Patricia’s landscape garden in Buckhead is looking better and better. We did some clean up work and pruning Dec. 6 and 7 2013 and I took the picture below. There are two articles that relate to this garden: Making Stepping Stones With Whiskey Barrel Rings from October 2, 2011 and part two of the project, Patricia’s Side Garden from October 9, 2011.

Patricia's shade garden with hand made stepping stones and pea gravel

Patricia’s shade garden with hand made stepping stones and pea gravel

 Thanks for visiting John the Plant Man. Remember the next time you want a good read you need to try “REQUIEM FOR A REDNECK”, a kindle ebook from Amazon that features John the Plant Man with his Georgia mountain friends. It’s quite the adventure. Check it out, buy a copy, and tell ALL your friends about it.

A garden path with hand made stepping stones, pea gravel mulch, and a rock garden.

Making stepping stones with whiskey barrel rings–part two

 There was a multi faceted landscaping problem to solve. I stood there looking at a long narrow pathway down a side yard. The drainage was critical to prevent flooding, and we had tried to grow all kinds of grass but it was just too shady. A few years ago, I had put in a rock border down part of the area with underground drainage and catch basins. Now, I was trying to figure out how to cover the ground between the rock garden and the house.

A solid walkway would inhibit the water flow, so we decided to make stepping stones from whiskey barrel rings and let the water flow around them. As for a ground covering, I was afraid that any kind of wood mulch would float and cause a problem, so we decided on pea gravel. To see how we built the stepping stones, read this article

 The stepping stones had been built and we decided to install the pea gravel before finishing them in order to avoid damage from the wheelbarrow. Finally, the gravel was in and we had removed all of the barrel rings. It was time to finish the job. We washed and cleaned the stepping stones. I used a wash of muriatic acid to remove the cement powder and to help to free up any plant material left from the impressions.

Washing stepping stones in preparation for staining.

Washing stepping stones in preparation for staining.

Next, we applied the stain. There are many choices for stains for concrete. I wanted one that was easy to use and which would be translucent, providing me with a variety of tones. I chose a water based stain that was recommended highly by my friend at Basic Materials, a company that specializes in concrete related applications.

water based concrete stain

water based concrete stain

The concrete stain was a bit expensive, but it mixes with three parts of water. I mixed it up and sprayed it on with a pump up garden sprayer.

applying concrete stain with pump up garden sprayer

applying concrete stain with pump up garden sprayer

 I didn’t want a solid color, so I concentrated on getting more stain in the impressions and then leaving a mottled effect on the flat surfaces. I thought it came out well, but we will watch the stepping stones as the color cures and decide whether to add more or not. With concrete stain, you really don’t see the true color until after the sealer is applied, but when the sealer has been applied, it is too late to add more color. I thought the stepping stones looked pretty good at this stage

concrete stain on home made stepping stone

concrete stain on home made stepping stone

We raked the gravel out around the stepping stones and ended up with a finished product that please me. The ground has been covered and the water should now flow through the pea gravel into the catch basin.

Stepping stones and pea gravel with a rock garden border

Stepping stones and pea gravel with a rock garden border

The next part of the project will be to plant the raised rock garden with plants that will tolerate deep shade. I’m researching the choices.

********

If you like this article on stepping stones, you may wish to see “Building Rock Steps,” parts one and two.

Would you like a consultation with johntheplantman in your yard? Contact John Schulz BY EMAIL

Do you have a landscaping problem that needs solving? Leave a comment.

As usual, I would just love for you click here to go to Amazon and purchase the ebook edition of my wonderful book, Requiem for a Redneck to go on your Kindle. I have also noticed that Amazon now has a free Kindle app for iphones and tablets. Is that cool or what?

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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