Stone: Can’t Get Enough Of It

– Posted in: Garden Design

In response to Nan’s topic this month for Garden Blogger’s Design Workshop, I have only one thing to say, I can’t get enough of stone: beautiful, authentic slabs of stone in different intensities and blends of color, textures, shapes and thickness. These stones are a real turn on for me,  perhaps because they are so directly linked to the earth.

For those of you who don’t know the history of my garden (and for those of you who do, please excuse the repetition), I spent the first nine years in my present home gardening on extremely steep hills. It was backbreaking, inefficient and overall, not aesthetically pleasing to my eye. When I finally came to the conclusion that I had to make a change, I turned to my travels in England for inspiration. It was during my visits there that I had been so taken by the magnificence by those hundreds of year old dry retaining stone walls. It didn’t matter whether it was a small village garden or one designed by Gertrude Jekyll and Lutyens. It seemed like every town, village or garden had stone walls that just blew me away.

Consequently, when sitting with a pad of paper and gazing out my kitchen windows to solve the conundrum of how to redesign my garden, it was ultimately a photo on the front of a House and Garden magazine with a Gertrude Jekyll renovated suburban garden that had me thinking “That’s it. This is exactly what I want in my garden.” From that point on, the rest was easy. I explained what I wanted and the architect (who was renovating my home) drew up the plans. What I ended up with was one shockingly massive stone wall (I knew the hill was steep but never realized how steep), up to nine feet high in one area and the length of the backyard garden, as well as a lower wall that was 3 feet tall.

Going to a local quarry to actually select the stone was the part of the process that most thrilled me. I was already familiar with a stone that I loved called Avondale. I had seen it used in Sir John Thouron’s garden, Doe Run, with great success. I knew that I wanted to use it as part of the mix. But I was searching for something more. I spent weeks rummaging around a local quarry, picking up a variety of stones that came close to what it was I thought I wanted, an antiquated subtle blend of grey and sienna tones. No matter how many different types of stones I brought home with which to experiment, it seemed that I wasn’t able to get the precise mix that I wanted: that is, not until I came upon a stone called Pocono Gold. Somehow, Pocono Gold counter balanced the deep sienna tones that Avondale leaned towards with more of an overriding grey color washed over in certain areas with hues of sienna. “Yes” I thought when I finally saw the two stones together, “I have finally solved the riddle.”

My philosophy when it comes to stonework is that simplicity and subtlety is what works. Too much variety confuses and overwhelms the eye. That’s the reason that I chose a simple dullish greyish blue flagstone for my 40 foot long patio that sits right next to the lower level. It doesn’t compete. It blends in.

Clearly, it is the stone walls that give my garden the structure that was so lacking previously. They also have given me the gift of more gardening space. Because of the separate levels and not having wasted space due to the hills, I now have distinct garden rooms and more room to play. And finally, although this may sound very hokey, I feel like I am leaving a non-animate piece of beauty on this earth. Hopefully, long after I’m gone and my house has been demolished, these walls will still be standing (OK….so maybe I’m fantasizing but it ‘s a nice thought anyway).

So, when it comes to stone work in the garden, I say, “bring it on!!”

Fran Sorin
The 10th Anniversary Edition of Fran's classic book, Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening, has recently been published. Updated with a new foreword by the renowned author, Larry Dossey, M.D., it has dozens of endorsements from renowned spiritual, gardening, and personal development authors and experts in their fields. A graduate of the University of Chicago with Honors in Psychology and One Spirit Interfaith Seminary, Fran is a renowned gardening expert, passionate gardener, deep ecologist, inspirational speaker, ordained interfaith minister, soul tending coach, and CBS Radio news contributor. See less Google+ | LinkedIn | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest

Comments on this entry are closed.

Northern Shade May 9, 2008, 10:08 am

Wow, your stone work is gorgeous. I love the shot of the 2 staircases with the level in between; it’s a classic. You’ve blended the stone and plants beautifully with the site.

Thanks northern shade for your generous comments. it’s funny, when I’m working in the garden in a micro sort of way, I don’t focus on the larger picture. But by the end of the day when I’m cleaning up, I may happen to take a glance and see the larger composition and think ‘Yes, yes, yes. I love it!’ Fran

SuzyQ May 9, 2008, 10:16 am

I love stone! I really want to put in a stone patio opposed to wood or anything else. And I keep carrying field stones back from the walks we go on with our dogs….lol. I like rocks! :)

Suzy Q….not a bad idea…..keep on collecting and who knows what you end up with? Whenever i am near an ocean, i collect stones and then place them on counters and shelves back at my home. There is something eternal about stones, no?? Thanks for your comments. fran

Heather's Garden May 9, 2008, 11:53 am

Oh how I covet! Maybe someday after I win the lottery.

Heather-
It wasn’t cheap. But I did have to have them built over a period of a couple of years because I couldn’t afford to do it all at once. It was a true extravagence…but I have never felt sorry for doing it! fran

Gail May 9, 2008, 2:29 pm

Beautiful stonework, master stonemasons have given you wall a timeless look.

Gail

Gail-
Thank you. I was very lucky in having an Italian stone mason build these walls. I’m telling you that I felt I was living in Italy each morning when I woke up and heard his and his workers’ voices and the sound of them working with the stone. It was very, very sweet and memorable. Fran

Phillip May 9, 2008, 4:19 pm

It is absolutely beautiful!

Phillip-
thank you. I love those walls more than anything else on my property. At the risk of sounding hokey, they feel eternal. fran

Ann May 9, 2008, 5:10 pm

I spent a lot of time as a child playing on stone walls in the Vermont countryside and as an adult travelling in Ireland, I was often stopped in my tracks b/c of the beauty of the stonework. This is one element that I would love in my garden. Your stone is beautiful.

Anne-
I so appreciate your memories. Isn’t it amazing how we carry them with us throughout our entire lives and resonate from deep within about our needs, desires, etc? thanks for your kind comments. Fran

Lisa at Greenbow May 9, 2008, 6:28 pm

What grand stone work you have in your garden. It is truly an heirloom for whom ever might come along.

Lisa-
thanks for your comments. there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t appreciate it. Fran

Pam/Digging May 10, 2008, 1:15 am

The stone walls in your garden are timeless, and it would be a sin for anyone to ever think of tearing them out. I’m sure they’ll be there indefinitely.

When I worked in Chapel Hill, NC, a number of years ago, I used to admire the low, round-stone walls lining each wooded, residential lot in town. It was the perfect accent for that place. Here it’s all limestone, which is a different aesthetic but also lovely made into walls.

Pam-
Thanks for chiming in. Yes, it is interesting to see how different locations make use of different stones…which is in keeping with the materials that are used to build homes. Each geographic location has an established set of materials they use for building. I am assuming (and hoping) that the Pocono Gold that I selected from my walls is actually indigenous to the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania! Fran

Della May 10, 2008, 2:25 am

I love your stone work!! Isn’t it nice to have that happy feeling every time you see it! Where did you get the stone bowls on the steps?

Della

Della-
Thanks for your kind words. I got the troughs (stone bowls) from a wholesale nursery on the East Coast. They can usually be found at a fine garden center near you…or else you can make them yourself…supposedly it’s not terribly difficult, although I have never tried. Fran

Layanee May 10, 2008, 8:28 am

Natural stone is wonderful and reminds me how disturbing I find the new trend toward ‘block walls’ which are being built into the landscapes of multi million dollar homes. It takes talent to build with natural stone and there are fewer artisans around as it is hard, heavy work. I always think of the stone mason when I see a beautiful wall.

Layanee-
How true that is…especially with all of the McMansions that have cropped up in the ‘burbs. And yes, it is heavy and hard work…my Italian stone mason was in his mid-40s but had an elder Italian gentleman (in his 60s) working with him. It was divine to hear them speaking Italian with each other…and I felt privileged to have them creating a work of beauty on my property. Fran

Nancy Bond May 10, 2008, 4:52 pm

Stone is one of my favorite features in the garden…this is simply beautiful.

Hey Nancy-
Thanks! I agree. Stone is always my first choice of hard material to work with in the garden…nothing comes close to it for me! Fran

Anna--Flowergardengirl May 11, 2008, 12:50 am

I didn’t even know what to say when I looked at such beauty. It is well thought out and I want to go everywhere at once. I would love to see it in person. I would like to see it in every light. I can’t imagine how the seasons change it.

I can’t wait to get some rock work done in my new yards. You had commented on the rock work done in my last gardens and I appreciated it very much.

This post was so well written that I read it several times–thank you. It inspired me to keep on hoping for all the plans I have for the new house.

Anna-
WOW! Your comments were so expressive and beautifully written. Thank you. I know that you will create some magnificent stone walls at your new home….take your time and let the ‘land speak to you’ and get acquainted with your new property before making changes! Fran

James | Double Danger May 12, 2008, 1:41 pm

Wow – that is awesome. Thanks for sharing. We are doing just a little bit more (we did the garden path) to lead from our garden to our tropical pool area.

Mr. McGregor's Daughter May 13, 2008, 9:56 pm

I find it fascinating how a problem can end up being the basis for the most beautiful part of a garden. Your solution to the slope is elegant, classic & classy. Absolutely wonderful!

Thanks Mr. McGregor’s Daughter. Yep, it is interesting how limitations can help facilitate the creative process. I always had dreamed about gardening on a flat piece of land….and now I do BUT not without alot of years of frustration and angst in order to get to this point. Fran

Michelle Derviss May 13, 2008, 10:42 pm

Your stone masons crafted a timeless piece of art.
You are one lucky gardener to have such quality craftsmanship in your own backyard.
Timeless beauty.

Michelle-
You’re 100% correct. Each morning when I wake up and come downstairs and see the walls from my kitchen french doors, I feel both a sense of awe and an appreciation for their timelessness. Thanks for your comments. Fran

wiseacre May 15, 2008, 7:51 am

I’m bit jealous someone else had all that fun building your stonework. But then I look at all that stone and my back lets out a sigh of relief.

Absolutely beautiful, especially the steps. Talk about leaving your mark long after you’re gone. That’s one impressive wall :)

I too am like a kid in a candy store when I go look for stone. Unfortunately there are no ‘quarries’ digging up the sandstone I really like. A couple of property owners rip up some each year and I’m usually standing there waiting for it.

Heirloom Gardener May 22, 2008, 9:47 pm

Wow–that is some gorgeous stone work and a great way to deal with the steep hills. You have encouraged me to finish my post.

Heirloom Gardener-
Go for it! And let us know when you have finished your post so that we can get on your blog and see what you’ve done! Fran

Shady Gardener May 22, 2008, 11:18 pm

Beautiful!

Shady Gardener-
Am glad you enjoyed! Fran

Westfalia May 24, 2008, 5:03 am

That looks great. But where did you get all the stones from?

Westfalia-
I got the stone from a local quarry within 10-15 miles of my home. I loved going there and perusing all of the varieties available! Fran

Marie May 24, 2008, 8:11 pm

I loved looking at your stone work. It is all so beautiful. Do you ever use hens & chicks (common name) around your stones? It is simply beautiful!

Marie-
Good idea about the hens and chicks in the stone work. I do have a few but haven’t made use of them prolifically. Thanks for the idea! Fran

2greenthumbsup June 2, 2008, 11:41 am

Fran,

You’ve done a fantastic job of taming and organizing a challenging landscape with one of nature’s most beautiful resources – stone!

Cathy

Cathy-
Thanks! I may have ‘organized’ the landscape but as you can see, the stone did all of the work!! Fran

Denise July 21, 2008, 12:38 pm

Hi Fran,
I wanted to express my gratitude for you and your inspiring work and lovely words. If expressing your obvious love for and connection to our natural world – the eternal – is hokey, then long live hokey! I feel these ties to the Earth as the most real, the most vital experiences in Life. Please continue to express yourself truly, as I’m sure it resonates with many others besides myself. It is no small thing.
Thank you for Being,
Denise

Denise-
Your message is beautiful and means a great deal to me. Thank you. Fran

sunny February 5, 2010, 4:33 am

Nice to see somone share my passion for stone.