The Joy of Landscaping

A Gardening Blog

Using Stone in the Landscape

The joy of creating landscape interest with a non-plant but natural material

Stone is a fantastic material to use in your landscape, as it gives such a sense of permanence, elegance and durability. One advantage I've found of living in the Northeast is the abundance of granite that is naturally exists here and is thus very appropriate for our designed landscapes. Different types of stone can work in both formal and informal designs. Cut or manufactured stone (called ashlar) is used for a more modern, formal look as the stone's shape is uniform with straight edges. Irregularly shaped and uncut stones (called rubble), such as fieldstone, gives a more informal look.

Stacked stone wall

Stone is most often used in walls, patios and walkways. It is either dry stacked, set with mortar, or, in the case of manufactured stone, is shaped to support an interlocking system. A flat(ter) stone (or concrete) header is typically placed on top to complete the wall. Walkways and patios can take on very different looks based on the type of stone used. Flagstone is most often made from limestone, sandstone or Pennsylvania bluestone. These rocks are porous so they hold up better in cold climates, and are not as slippery when wet as other materials. Bluestone is a popular patio option that is typically cut into rectangular or square shapes. A formal or clean, modern look is easily obtained using these types of stones in a patio or walkway. Conversely, irregularly shaped flat stones laid in a curvilinear walkway creates a very informal look. You can even go somewhere in between, by using irregular shaped stones, but cutting only those along the sides to create a straight edge along the edges of the path.

stone patiostone walkway

Stone stepsStone wall

Stone mixes well with other materials such as brick and metal. Stone columns with metal fencing looks nice, as does brick edging along a stone walkway. If you need a fairly tall fence, you can use stone for the base height of 18" - 36", then top it with a wood or metal fence.

Unfortunately, natural stone is expensive and will often require hired labor due to its weight. But nothing beats its permanence and natural beauty.

Stone wall sculpture

Here are some other ways stone can be incorporated into a home landscape, including several you can do yourself:

  • large, washed, round rock (river rock, usually 1.5" size) creates the look of water in a curvy relatively narrow "dry stream bed". This can be entirely symbolic, such as in a Japanese garden, or functionally serve a role in stormwater management in a low area of your yard.
  • flat stones used for stair treads
  • a large boulder as a focal point
  • use Belgian block to create a circular terrace with a center sculpture, large planter or fountain, as the centerpiece of a small formal garden
  • decomposed granite as the base material in Zen garden
  • line water features with rubble stones to not only keep down the lining edge, but to create a "natural looking" transition to the yard. Soften further with plants intermixed with the rocks. Stone/boulders are often used in waterfall features as well.
  • use rubble or fieldstone to create an elevated semicircle around a slightly sloping area you want to highlight in your yard, such as a specimen tree, or a brightly colored annual bed
  • create a rock garden using alpine plants
  • 18" wide river rock bed next to the house keeps vegetation/moisture away from house and helps in termite control
  • use large slabs of stone for benches
  • randomly scatter varying large size rocks into a hillside to help erosion control and offer foothold if you need to do plant maintenance
  • use stone columns in a pergola
  • build an outdoor barbecue surround or fireplace with stone