• Mary Roper

Creation of a mountainscape


Landscapes are born in stages, whether geologic or human induced.


In 2017 the late fall window for garden projects was closed due to torrential, delayed rain following summer drought. Then again the following year we were rained out in the fall. This past year, we had planned to install the new stones boldly in August, determined to preempt the rain cycle now common. When the west side was built in 2008, fall had been an easy project opportunity, but all that has changed. Our August plan shifted under the weight of the pandemic last season, but also allowed time for the ample collection of stone.


This past fall, we were working with the stones that we gathered in 2016 and the cascade of fall color was still in play. Momentum was building but it was clear that three or more stones were still needed, and yet to be found. A few days of collection in the woods was the next step thanks to our Asticou Azalea Garden Committee Co-Chair Martha Jackson. This was followed by a collection of ideal stones from Preserve property. This is a process that is aided by many hands. First, we will have the help of Ed Hawes and Dave Ouellette, Preserve Land Stewards, assisted by Larry Tozier from our Facilities Department who is a master at operating heavy equipment with a fine touch. Finally, my Asticou Azalea team of Jacob Wartell and Grace Brown have been present through it all, helping to locate the stones in the woods and guiding the unwieldy ones as the cable generates some unexpected lurching on the line. The momentum comes with many eyes at times.


So now with more stone and a well-seasoned design, we have selected early May of this year to place the stones, even though spring bloom will arrive a few weeks later. So be it. We are ready, the stones are beautiful, and the garden awaits bold action. Any action requires the understanding of views, excellent stone, and copious planning.


The garden has so many views to satisfy. To aid this effort, facsimiles are made in craft paper of each stone. The highest and best use of every stone is determined and its placement aims to reveal this character from multiple views. Their granite faces are paramount.


Pictured here are four stones tentatively joining the existing Blake Bench. They establish a desired view, balanced and integrated, even here in the cardboard patterns. Snow on top is no problem.

It becomes hard to take the patterns away as the design builds, because the new stones are really needed in a given location. Our west side stones have had to wait many years for this third installment, and as plantings follow stone, our mountainscape plantings that will replace the existing lawn have had to wait too. There is such a need for native blueberry, mountain cranberry, rhodora, and a few kyushu azaleas to create the needed cloudland of green. But with stones defining the site, plantings wait.


Planned stones will be set in the same orientation of their birthright, meaning that their volcanic emergence is preserved. If they were created in geologic time as a standing stone, this is the way we will place them onsite. If the granite details tell us the stone emerged as a horizontal element, it will retain that orientation in its new location, often also retaining the members of its stone family that were found with it in the woods. It is a way of “following the request of the stone” expressed as kowan ni shitagau in Japan. But the stone’s depth must be planned in advance, so we give the stones white painted lines in advance to guide us on boom truck day.


The part of the stone that faced downward thru millennia of weathering on a mountaintop is always sharp and fresh looking. The upward face offers fissures and cleavages, a softened rugged surface, grey and pink with lichens, revealing a millennial record of time and lending the stone its essential character. If the stone was buried under growth, roots, accumulated soil and debris, the hidden face will need to be brought to life again. Surprisingly, this resurrection only takes a few years and then the fissures sing. Maybe you will hear a sigh of relief as you uncover a stone’s hidden face.


Mary Roper, Asticou Azalea Garden Manager


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