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Using Classic Rocks Can Showcase the Rare Features of Your Landscape

By Rachel Eroh | Photography by Brian Lilley

Drive through virtually any Valley neighborhood, and you’ll see gardens punctuated with boulders ranging from the size of a beach ball to a midsize SUV. Recalling the rocky terrain of the unspoiled desert, the jagged forms appear to have been placed in the yards by Mother Nature. But what you see can be deceptive. While they may look indigenous, in most cases these statement pieces were individually chosen by designers for their shape, color and texture and meticulously positioned to showcase the landscapes’ unique attributes.

So where do these eye-catching boulders come from? The answer may surprise you: boulder farms.
“Boulders are our specialty,” says John Pingitore, owner of Radical Concepts, a 1,250-acre boulder farm located in the rolling hills of Congress, about two hours northwest of Phoenix. The farm, as one of Arizona’s largest big-rock resources, specializes in surface layer boulders, which include the lichen-covered granite forms favored by many homeowners.

“Most of the time, people want boulders that look like they were cherry-picked right off the side of a mountain,” says landscape architect and Phoenix Home & Garden Masters of the Southwest award winner Donna Winters, who often brings clients to boulder farms when they show an interest in hand-selecting accents for their landscapes. “One client even had a helicopter fly him over the farm so he could see exactly where his rocks were coming from.”

Pingitore equates boulder selection to working on a big puzzle. “You’re really trying to find what fits the space and what best re-creates a natural look,” he says. To simplify what can be a daunting selection process, he offers free consultations and can create a 3D rendering of a prospective client’s house and yard. With a surprisingly encyclopedic memory of rocks in stock, he then hops into his truck, bounces through the craggy hills and locates the perfect specimens.

“A client and I once had a full day’s adventure, which included traversing the dirt road into the selection area,” recalls builder Jerry Meek, also a Phoenix Home & Garden Masters of the Southwest award winner. “The client was very particular about choosing the perfect boulders for the landscape design. He photographed each boulder on-site and even identified them with GPS coordinates,” so there would be no confusion when it came to picking up and delivering his rock selections.

Meek stresses that in accenting a landscape, you walk a fine line between what is natural and what appears contrived. “Successful installations should enhance the environment in lieu of saying ‘look at me—I am a boulder’,” he says.

Pingitore agrees. “Whether homeowners need just a few accent rocks or they are building a mountainous display, boulders are an easy way to create an authentic Southwestern-looking setting.”


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