Volume XVII, Issue 21 # May 21 - May 27, 2009

Behind Every Rock Garden,
There’s a Story

Often, it’s a heavy one

by Ariel Brumbaugh

Bob Shelton is a master rock gardener.

Most fair days find Shelton in his perennial rock garden. He walks through his garden, planning how to divert pathways and where to plant roses. If he isn’t planning or arranging his rocks, he is searching for more.

“People pay a lot to get rocks,” Shelton says, grinning as he prepares to share his secret. He pays nothing. In an act of reuse and recycling, Shelton gets his rocks from the Millersville dump. “When companies or people do construction, they break up existing foundations and don’t know what to do with rocks except throw them away,” Shelton says. Shelton drives from Fairhaven to Millersville, rolls up his sleeves and fills his Dodge pickup with rocks for his garden art projects.

After two years in the armed services and 33 years as a parts dealer for an Exxon Service Station, Shelton retired to a hobby that’s turned into an obsession. The small rock garden he started several years ago now surrounds him. He surveys his creations proudly, training his eye to find beauty in each crevice of a mineral masterpiece splashed with dusty browns and stormy blues. Rocks of all sizes trim pathways accented by his favorite flowering shrub, crape myrtle.

Shelton’s public garden abuts Fairhaven Road in Southern Anne Arundel County, ever expanding along either side of his long and winding driveway. The garden that lines the street is just the latest of a huge project that decorates his yard. Closer to Shelton’s house, more rock gardens bloom.

Shelton’s geological art rises from varying layers and colors. He takes care in picking out rocks that don’t look like they all came from the same place. The dump has a wide variety, but Shelton finds even more interesting rocks in the hills of Pennsylvania.

“People travel to see the Grand Canyon; I go to see rocks,” Shelton says. “I’m crazy about them, the way they look after it rains, and the peaceful way they make me feel.”

Rocks aren’t all that Shelton is crazy about. Populating his gardens and yard are ornamental animal statues, all rescued from the dump and rehabilitated by Shelton. Plastic squirrels, deer and rabbits are cleaned, repaired, repainted and given a new home in Shelton’s sprawling gardens. Framing Shelton’s driveway, chicken statues liberated from the dump top a pair of entrance walls made of bricks — also found at the dump. Even the mulch that surrounds Shelton’s roses was brought home by the truckloads from the dump.

Rock gardening is less a project and more of an evolution for Shelton, who spends his days re-figuring designs for his pathways and water features.

“I’ve changed my mind a couple of times,” Shelton says. “But I think I’ll keep it like it is.”

We’ll see.