Was there a Victorian or Edwardian fashion for making garden features from large lumps of white quartz? We have several examples in our garden in Argyll in the west of Scotland. I’m guessing the rocks were found locally rather than being brought in; websites on the local geology confirm that quartz-rich rocks, and metamorphic quartzite, are commonly found in this area. So maybe I should be celebrating the use of this natural material.
The problem is, I hate it. I remember a few years ago reading an article by one of the gardening gurus who bemoaned the use of white garden furniture, whether plastic or painted wrought iron. Its stark whiteness, he thought, was too much at odds with the greens, browns and greys that make up the backbone colour palette of most gardens.
I agree with him, and I think the same reasoning applies to the white rocks. They are just too dominant: the shiny white leaps forward towards the eye, eclipsing the softer colours of the planting around it. And the rough, angular shapes when used for walling are far too “rustic” for my taste. They remind me of gardens I’ve seen featuring artificial grottoes – also hideous in my view. In fact we even have a garden feature that looks as if it might belong in a fake grotto: a ghastly concrete wall topped with – you guessed it – a row of white rocks, and adorned with a curious sculptured head, perhaps supposed to be either Bacchus or a satyr. Oh dear.
My sister (who is also not enamoured of the white rocks) sent me some old photos – probably dating from about 1910 – of our grandfather and various unidentified friends or relations against a background of some very similar rocks. The photos were taken in Scotland but Grandad came from Edinburgh, not the west coast. Perhaps the white rocks were considered a “romantic” backdrop for photographs or were just a common feature of Scottish gardens at the time.
In a fit of madness I decided to get rid of as many of the offending rocks as possible so I started digging them out of various bits of wall around the garden. I pulled out dozens of them and dumped them in the old ruin at the back of the garden (the repository for all things I don’t know how to dispose of!) but that was only possible for the smaller ones, by which I mean up to about 25 kg.
Some of the larger ones turned out to be mortared in, so unless I attack them with a sledgehammer I guess I’m stuck with them. And even when the larger ones were loose I couldn’t lift them so I had to just roll them to the sides of the paths, where they are still sitting weeks later, reproaching me for hating them so much.
As my husband doesn’t agree that they are horrible, they are likely to lie there until I can persuade Jim D, who helps in the garden, to do something with them. However, as he informs me that he is now 79, perhaps his days of hefting large rocks are over.