We spend more time relaxing, playing and entertaining outdoors at this time of year. Your wish list might include a state-of-the-art outdoor kitchen and a pool with built-in spa but with todays gas and food prices those additions may be on hold for the time being. So what landscape design features can you implement on a budget to make your time outdoors really count?
Water features – relaxing self-contained fountains are easy to set up. Some styles incorporate child-safe pond-less fountains. What about a simple outdoor shower with a Mexican pebble floor and vine covered lattice for privacy?
Fire pits – you can warm your family and guests around a simple fire pit while you wait to install the pizza oven and outdoor fire place next year. Fire pits can be purchased ready-made or you can construct you own with fieldstone or concrete blocks. Either way they’re a fun addition to your patio or sitting area.
Outdoor lighting – you’ll be amazed at how beautiful your garden looks when you add some lighting and how much you’ll want to stay outdoors after dark. Light a path or uplight the trunk of one of your trees. Back light a plant with interesting foliage or wash a wall with light. Todays solar lights are getting better and better and low voltage lights are more affordable, too.
Stone in the garden – whether you want a seat wall to surround your patio or a permeable flagstone patio, stone lends a sense of permanence and elegance to your property.
Consider adding some new elements to your garden so that you can spend more time outdoors both in the evening and throughout the year.
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.
Stone is much more than the Wikipedia definition of “a naturally occurring solid aggregate of one or more minerals.” Granite, for instance, comes fromigneous 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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.