Category Archives: stone

A World in Stone

wall-fountain.1600Lion’s head wall fountain

There’s a reason that stone in a garden gives us the feeling that it has been there a long time. The rustic elegance of a dry laid stone wall, natural stone paver patio, huge stone slab steps, outdoor stone fireplace or flagstone garden path reminds us that we humans have used stone for over two million years when we first started making stone tools.

sauna_wall-closeup.1600Ocean Pearl sauna wall detail

Stone is much more than the Wikipedia definition of “a naturally occurring solid aggregate of one or more minerals.”  Granite, for instance, comes from igneous rocks formed slowly as it cooled deep under the earth’s surface. Sandstone and limestone are sedimentary rocks formed by the compaction of grains or pieces of any kind of existing rock material then cemented over millions of years by the movement of the earth’s tectonic plates and sometimes contain fossils formed at the time of deposition. Then there is metamorphic rock like marble and slate that were formed at extreme high pressures and temperatures beneath the earth’s crust from other types of rock. The presence of swirls, linear patterns or banding is a key characteristic of this kind of stone.

wall_inserts_anchor_agate_shell.1600Whimsical wall detail- anchor, agate, shells

In Ben Lomond lives a stone advocate who has created a spectacular decorative stone wall, a stone shower and sauna room, stone patio, paths and slab steps and he’s invited me to come and view them at his home before he puts it on the market.

Jon Troutner has been in the stone business for a long time. He owned Antolini Masonry and Landscape Supply in Santa Cruz for 20 years until he lost his lease and sold the company in 2008. Afterwards he used his expertise and some choice materials he saved to use at his home in Ben Lomond and another in Aptos. Jon’s primarily a musician these days but his creative vision in stone is a magical experience as he walks me around his home.

eel_head_rock.1600“eel-head” rock peaking out of wall

Jon’s property is located near Love Creek up on a hill and has a lovely canyon view. When he bought the property 5 years ago the backyard was just sand but now it is fully landscaped. Ocean Pearl, one of his favorite stone types that he used in his whimsical wall and sauna, comes from a quarry on Vancouver Island that he used to own. Jon gave this this type of quartzite it’s unique name because of the subtle hues and shadings in the stone.

whimsical_stone_wall.1600“Where’s Waldo” stone wall

Jon’s creations in stone have a look of their own. Being a harmonica player he puts an old harmonica somewhere on each of his unique walls. It’s his personal signature and he pointed out one in the sauna and one in the “Where’s Waldo?” wall as he calls it.

mermaid_in_wall.1600mermaid in stone wall

“What’s a ‘Where’s Waldo’ wall, I ask?” Jon just laughs and explains that this 1987 children’s book is about the travels of Wally where readers are asked to locate him hidden in an illustration and to re-explore each scene locating other objects too. Jon showed me three mermaids, five otters, two turtles, three seahorses and an eel-shaped rock poking out from the “waves” of ocean pearl stone veneer on the showpiece wall he created to enclose the patio. There are also ship net balls, an anchor, abalone shells, fossils and his signature harmonica. “I pictured this wall as the ocean floor,” Jon explained.

fossil_in_wall.1600fossils in stone wall

As we walk around, Jon points out the Vermont slate floor and the ocean pearl veneer sauna room, the basalt shower with rounded cobble stone floor, the Indian rainbow cut sandstone shady patio, the Connecticut bluestone slab steps, the ocean pearl columns, the tumbled Arizona gold flagstone path and the 125 pound crystals from Brazil that are lighted at night.

This place is magical and timeless. Jon’s creative vision will live forever in his stone creations.

Hidden Gardens of Bonny Doon

Enter the Hidden Gardens of Bonny Doon with me as I preview several gardens that will be featured on the tour this coming weekend.  While some of our gardens have a few areas with a "wow factor" , the gardens I was privileged to visit have this element at every turn. I was amazed, impressed and truly honored to spend time in each of them.

First stop was a garden that took my breath away. Looking past the lush lawn, the view takes in all of Monterey Bay. It wasn't always this way, the owner explained. When she moved to the property in 1981, she didn't even know there was an ocean view. It was only after some judicious pruning that this stunning view was revealed.

We  ambled through the many paths that took us up close and personal with perennial beds overflowing with blooming iris, spirea, weigela, succulents, hardy geraniums, coprosma and coleonema to name just a few.

Rabbits are an ongoing problem in this garden. Seems they love her Angelina sedum, coprosma, and Rose Campion as much as she does. Little 12" tall fences surround several of the beds which looks comical but apparently works as the rabbits don't like to jump over them.

Stained urbanite has been stacked by the owner to make short retaining walls and the look is quite classy blending in the flagstone and gravel paths. She explained how easy it was to stain the broken concrete from the old driveway by slapping on some concrete stain. "Piece of cake", she told me.

Other flower beds she edged with Sonoma fieldstone, stacking them herself. At every turn you can see the personal touches that make a garden unique. An old rusty mailbox was tucked into one of the beds overflowing with blooming pansies and million bells calibrachoa.  I loved this garden.

Next stop was another garden 30 years in the making. You won't believe the "before" pictures when you see this garden now. I could barely see the potential in the old pictures but the owner could and started to build up the rock hard soil bed by bed. After many years she has created  an organic garden full of flowering rhododendron, roses, viburnum, herbs, vegetables, citrus, apples and a 5 year old  Staghorn fern that measures 4 ft across.

The owner explained that deer are not a problem because they won't jump the irregular picket fence. Seems the wide pickets confuse their eyesight. Unfortunately, the gophers have decided recently that after 14 years, her camellias are now on the menu and she has lost almost all of the original 40 in the past year. Instead of lamenting her loss, she sees it as an opportunity to add new plants. She has the optimism that all gardeners possess.

Chickadees nested in a box attached to the porch. Garter snakes and alligator lizards patrol the flower beds. A bathtub, sunk into the earth serves as "the poor man's hot tub". Old metal chairs are planted with flowers and ferns and other found garden art is sprinkled generously though out the garden. This is the garden of an artist whose studio is nestled back among the trees. At every turn you feel the peacefulness of this wonderful place. This is a garden to experience not just view.

The last garden I was lucky enough to preview, was an asphalt driveway just 6 short years ago. There are occasional unplanted spots that still show asphalt. What a transformation. With the help of lots of top soil and an auger this gardener has created a spectacular space.  "Everything grows like crazy here", she explained.

The front garden is open to deer and is planted with echium, leucospermum, arctotis, barberry, thyme, rosemary and New Zealand flax. One of her favorite plants is a huge variegated holly that buzzed so loudly with bees I thought the electrical line coming into the house was making all the racket.

In the back, a small orchard edged the fence. Blooming lilacs by the deck heavily scented the air. Succulents intermingle with peony, erysimum and gaura. This gardener explained she " she is one of those people who buys whatever she likes and then finds a place for it". Having had previous experience growing grapes and olives in Sonoma, she is a hands-on gardener who does it all herself. She's a self-described  "drip queen".

A ceramic artist, her sculptures are focal points though out the garden. There is a lot of other garden art in this garden, too.

Where do these gardeners find the garden art, water features and other items that give their gardens that personal touch? One explained, she is always on the lookout for estate sales as she drives around or sees advertised in the paper. "That's were you can really find the treasures", she explained. "Little old ladies have some great plants and other wonderful finds in the back of the garden".

The Hidden Gardens of Bonny Doon Tour takes place Saturday and Sunday, May 19th and 20th. Don't miss it.
 

Stone in the Garden

One of my fondest childhood memories is the Tahoe camping trip in the rain that my Dad saved by digging a moat around our tent. So it was with unbridled enthusiasm that I started off in the rain a couple weeks ago to camp at Pinnacles National Monument.

Spring rains have unleashed a bounty of wildflowers nestled among the rock outcroppings, sprouting along creeks and covering meadows with dazzling color. There are over 100 species of wildflowers that live in the park. The spectacular rock formations and lichen covered boulders catch your eye and at every turn I pictured how this stone or that would fit into my garden. Be creative in your own landscaping with plants and stone to add a touch of timelessness and permanence.

Stone makes a garden look like it’s been there a very long time. Think of it as durable art – guiding you up a slope, channeling water away from your door, holding back a hillside or marking a path as it changes direction. Flat stones are good for sitting and resting as you wander through the garden.

You don’t have to design a massive project that requires heavy equipment and thousands of dollars to enjoy the magic of working with stone. With a little imagination you can create a place of enduring beauty with stone that you can move yourself or with just a little help.

Every gardener probably has a collection of special stones found while visiting different places. Are rocks different than stone? Technically, stone is a rock that has been exposed to the elements and smoothed, shaped, etched or altered by wind, water, ice and sun. Free stone can be found at construction sties, rocky hillsides and empty fields. Don’t gather stone from public parks and check first with the Forest Service before gathering in a national forest or other public lands. If you want larger quantities or sizes of stone you can find them at local rockeries.

Wherever you find one stone in nature, you usually find many more. Small stones are formed by the breakup of larger ones, so nearby stones are related. In your garden you can re-create these relationships by placing stone features of varying sizes in positions that make them appear to have always existed exactly as they are. Then add carefully chosen plants to tie the stone family together.

When you use stone to pave a walkway or to build a low wall, it defines the lines of your landscape. Lines can lead to the front door or a flower bed or water garden. In the backyard, curved paths lined with stone feel more relaxed. Slopes can be tames with curved retaining walls built with stone.

What plants pair well with different types of stone? Rounded weathered stone always appears more settled and relaxed than jagged broken pieces. That’s why ferns and woodland plants typically found near streams combine well with rounded stone. Douglas iris, bleeding hearts, armeria, blue-eyed grass and carex grass make good companion plants, too.

Jagged stone that looks like the craggy peaks of distant mountains looks more at home with conifers, Japanese maples, mahonia, creeping thyme, bush poppy, phormiums and coffeeberry to name just a few.

You can move small to medium sized stones once you have collected them or had them delivered to your yard by dragging them atop an old tire or putting them in a flat bottomed bin. Be sure to protect the stone with a covering to preserve that precious lichen and weathering. You can also use a mechanics dolly, garbage can, garden cart or wheelbarrow. Pry bars and planks can also be used to roll stones around like the ancient Egyptians. Ropes, chains, winches, and straps are useful, too. Should you find that the task you have undertaken is beyond your strength or abilities, get help. 

Get the WOW factor by adding stone to your garden.