Debra Prinzing

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Got Rocks? Here’s a savvy design solution for all those nuggets you’re digging up

Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

Love this tall console-style table made from hog fencing, rocks and a stone top — Design by Greg Graves and Gary Waller of Old Goat Farm.

If your garden is like ours, well, rocks are in abundance.

Our six-month-old garden occupies the 20-foot-by-60-foot backyard of a suburban home completed just months ago, right before we moved in on February 11th.

By the time we started working on the garden, no surprise! We realized what everyone who moves into a new-construction house learns. Landscaping crews simply move a lot of dirt and rocks around (usually destroying topsoil in the process). Then, they push any excess mixture of native soil, debris, the random screw or nail, and rocks up against the perimeter of one’s “new” yard and toss some bark dust on top. Not exactly “prepared soil,” right?

Rocks of all shapes and sizes have been piling up. We’ve had to muscle them out of newly dug planting holes for shrubs, perennials and trees. Said rocks range in size from a pingpong or tennis ball to something the size of a large dinosaur egg.

Case in point:

Yes, this is from the ground in our backyard. It was definitely a “two-person” rock, as they say.

Clearly, the rocks are winning. And it’s not like you can toss them into the compost bin and let the city deal with the mess.

Right now, along the side of our house next to the foundation, a long row of rocks is on display. There are mostly 6- to 12-inch diameter nuggets; some are surprisingly smooth; others more shard-like. I wasn’t sure what to do with them until I returned to Old Goat Farm this past weekend. And I was reminded that it’s possible to turn unwanted rocks into very-much-wanted garden furniture and art.

Old Goat Farm is owned my my friends Greg Graves and Gary Waller. Old Goat Farm is out in the country, as one might expect, in the town of Graham, about 45 minutes south of where we live in Des Moines. It is a combination display garden, specialty nursery and animal sanctuary, all of which surround a charming Victorian farmhouse where Gary serves his famous holiday teas (there’s usually a waiting list, so check it out ASAP if you’re interested). I have written about Old Goat Farm’s holiday teas a few times, and you can read those posts here from 2010 and 2012.

Both men say they themselves are “old goats,” but the only reason you would believe that is their combined gardening and horticulture wisdom. Together, Greg and Gary know more than many of us will ever learn in one lifetime, not to mention two. Old Goat Farm is always open to the public the second weekend of the month, April through October. You can learn more about other special sales and events by checking out the Facebook page here.

Bruce and I spent a lovely evening last weekend at Old Goat Farm, where the guys hosted their first ever farm-to-table dinner in the garden. The food was out of this world – all vegetarian, of course – and presented in such a visually appealing manner by local chef Meghan Brannon of Conceptual Catering.

Between courses, we were encouraged to stroll the display gardens, and they are magnificent. I hadn’t been to Old Goat during the summer months for several years, and so I’d missed how much these borders, paths, islands and vignettes have matured over the dozen-plus years that Gary and Greg have tended to this land.

With rocks (and what to do with them) on my mind, what jumped out at me during this visit was how masterfully the guys handle their rock containment. Let’s review a few of these special pieces:

Twin gabion towers that serve as pedestals for beautiful urns to mark the entry into Linda’s Garden, a special destination honoring our late friend Linda Plato.

A small garden bench (right) and a square side table (left). Both utilize stone slabs for the “top.”

Another view of the fantastic gabion fern table. This is a stunner!

A detail of the planted surface of the table.

Another beautiful view.

You’ll want to read Greg’s blog post  from a few years’ back, in which he discusses his wire-cage designs and his personal relationship with the rocks in his garden. I found it inspiring!

Simply defying gravity, Greg and Gary make stone-filled metal orbs, too.

What a lovely way to punctuate a turn in the pathway.