Bringing Traditional Proportion into the Design of a Rock Garden

Traditional proportion can be incorporated into the design of just about anything once you know how. Here is an example a rockery (as we say in England) or ‘rock garden’, as I think Americans refer to it. It is part of the developing garden at the Thomas More College future campus at Groton, Massachusetts.

We placed rocks into a steep bank in three tiers. The relationship between the three lines is based upon traditional proportion in which the first relates to the second as the second relates to the third. The spacing and change of angle is intuitively applied. Top left are three lines I have painted in watercolour on paper to illustrate. The designers of the basic shape of the arrangement of rocks in the garden were three students at Thomas More College in( alphabetical order!) – Cecilia Black, Nicole Martin and Erin Monfils. Once three walls had been put in, it was clear that they were unstable. We get heavy snow in the winter and it was likely that the snow would collapse each little wall. So without straying from the basic shape I stepped each wall into the bank in such a way that it imitates natural outcrops of stratified rock (or that was the idea anyway – I’m just a beginner and this looks as good as I remember in my parents’ garden).

I also introduced some deviations from the simple original shape so that while still following the general form, it looked less rigidly applied. So occasionally the line twists in a concave rather than convex way. In doing this I was trying to remember what I had seen my dad do in the rockeries at home. He was using sandstone (the natural rock of the Wirral peninsula in Cheshire, England). The photographs below show the gradual progression.

First, the bed is full of giant and old lilac plants. These were removed.

Then our gang turned their attention to putting the stones in the steep bank you see at the back of the above picture. You can see also how we have gradually planted it out with perennials. The hope is that next year these will come back more strongly and fill in the gaps. I don’t feeling like another season of constant weeding.

Above, the three ‘walls’ and below after they have been stepped and softened.


David is an Englishman living in New Hampshire, USA. He is an artist, teacher, published writer and broadcaster who holds a permanent post as Artist-in-Residence and Lecturer in Liberal Arts at the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts. The Way of Beauty program, which is offered at TMC, focuses on the link between Catholic culture, with a special emphasis on art, and the liturgy. David was received into the Church in London in 1993. Visit the Way of Beauty blog at

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