Rock walls look better than ever, as gardeners around the West give a fresh spin to a landscape classic. One reason for their popularity is that they work in so many styles of gardens: They can look charmingly rustic, or as fresh and contemporary as the wall shown above, designed by Topher Delaney. "In gardens, stone walls tell a geologic story," says Delaney, who likes the sense of history and permanence they bring to the landscape. Unlike wood, stone is weather-resistant and requires little or no maintenance. If built properly, a rock wall will last nearly an eternity.
Some rock walls are freestanding, but often they're used to hold back a slope. Dry-stacked stone walls are held together by friction and gravity rather than mortar. Not only is this informal style perfect for casual Western gardens, it's practical as well: Water draining off the slope can seep through the cracks, instead of causing pressure on the wall.
When picking out stones, choose a regional variety―moss rock in the mountains, sandstone in the desert, Sierra granite in Northern California, for instance―and coordinate it with the architectural style of your house and garden. Rocks can be flat or chunky, irregular or uniform. Use the walls shown on these pages to guide your design.