Garden Designers Roundtable: STONE

by Jenny Peterson on May 23, 2011

in Garden Design,The Garden Designers' Roundtable

It’s hard to overstate my love of rocks. I love their texture and chunkiness, I love the visual weight they add to any landscape, and I love how you can incorporate them into a garden to address grade changes, create positive drainage, pathways and places to sit and play on. Stones are simultaneously functional and decorative. Moss rock boulders, limestone chop rock, fist-sized river rock, crunchy gravel—a trip to the rockyard is one of my favorite things to do! I work some type of rock in to literally every project I design. Interested but not sure how to bring stone into your garden? Check out these ideas to see if one works for you:

This yard had some drainage issues with lots of rain coming out of the downspouts and flooding the garden, and the owners also lacked a way to get from their back patio to the massive side yard where the kids play. Our solution was to create a dry creek bed using 1-3″ Cibolo river rock that pooled under every downspout and meandered through the landscape, and then to create a sweeping pathway with Oklahoma flagstone with zoysia ‘Emerald’ growing in between. Functional, lush and beautiful!

This client wanted a way for their two kids to access the inner depths of the garden; they didn’t want parts of the garden to be “off-limits.” So we brought in the largest limestone boulders we could find, making sure to choose ones that had relatively flat top surfaces. The kids love to run through the plants and scamper over the boulders–their mom tells me she brings them lunch out there, too!

Love to container garden? Add some small river rock or gravel on the soil surface to finish off the planting and provide a professional, artistic look. This type of treatment is perfect for containers with succulents, cacti, agaves, yuccas–any plant that needs to drain well and not hold moisture in at the base of the plants. I find these materials at nurseries, rockyards, garden shops and craft stores in the flower arranging area.

These clients had a front yard that dropped six feet over 30 feet from the house to the curb! We solved it by constructing a rolled steel planter up by the house and then creating two raised, terraced beds using 2-3″ thick ‘Autumn blend’ sandstone. We used hidden mortar joints so it appears the sandstone is simply stacked–the client did not want to see mortar on the outside of the wall. We finished it off with flowering perennials and an agave as a focal point. The clients love this side of their yard and are now planning with us to complete the other side!

Now, once you’ve decided you want–or need!–some rock to either address a problem in your landscape or simply add some organic beauty to it, add some creativity in to that retaining wall or pathway! Of course, this depends upon the overall style of your house and garden. But if you’re open to some artistic interpretations and methods, check out these examples below:


Visit these other sites for more designer perspective on stone & rock in the landscape:

Deborah Silver : Dirt Simple : Detroit, MI

Sunny Wieler : Stone Art Blog : West Cork, Ireland

Debbie Roberts : A Garden of Possibilities : Stamford, CT

Douglas Owens-Pike : Energyscapes : Minneapolis, MN

Ivette Soler : The Germinatrix : Los Angeles, CA

Rochelle Greayer : Studio G : Boston, MA

Susan Cohan : Miss Rumphius’ Rules : Chatham, NJ

Tara Dillard : Vanishing Threshold : Atlanta, GA

Scott Hokunson: Blue Heron Landscapes


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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Robin May 24, 2011 at 10:35 am

Jenny, maybe I’m prejudiced, but I liked your post the best. Great pics, and great ideas, too. Thanks!

Pam/Digging May 24, 2011 at 11:16 am

I’d like visiting stoneyards better if they weren’t so hot, sunny, and windy. ;-) Aside from that, yes, stone is a gardener’s best friend. Great examples of how to use it here, Jenny.

Susan Morrison May 24, 2011 at 12:00 pm

Nice job highlighting the versatility of rock in the garden! Your lovely photos show there are so many options beyond moss rock walls and accents.

Debra Lee Baldwin May 24, 2011 at 3:16 pm

IMHO, the most sophisticated designers use rocks as aesthetic design elements as much they do plants, and Jenny, your designs illustrate this perfectly! Btw, in my SoCA community, some large granite boulders were up for grabs (long story) and the homeowners’ association wondered where to put them. I suggested the skip loader deposit the boulders, flat sides up, near a greenbelt where parents drop off kids for the school bus. The association liked the idea of putting the boulders there, but since that area also is used by itinerant laborers hoping to get work, the boulders went pointy-side up to discourage loitering. (Sigh)

Robert Webber May 24, 2011 at 3:43 pm

Jenny, you ROCK!
Thanks and best wishes

Susan aka Miss R May 24, 2011 at 4:16 pm

When I was in Dallas last fall the single thing that fascinated me was the stone…so different from our grey granite and bluestone. So much more suited for the light in Texas. Thanks for the share.

Debbie/GardenofPossibilities May 24, 2011 at 5:46 pm

Jenny, I’d love to be able to say I designed a garden with an elephant sculpture in it!! I never think to use stones as a mulch in containers but I just might have to this season after that colorful photo.

Jenny Peterson May 24, 2011 at 6:55 pm

Thanks, everybody! I just got home from work so I’m looking forward to reading everyone else’s posts.

rebecca sweet May 24, 2011 at 7:26 pm

I LOVE that rolled steel planter bed with the stone terraces – probably one of the prettiest side yards EVER! You and your hunky contractor are definitely talented designers!!

Scott Hokunson May 25, 2011 at 6:27 am

Great use of stone to solve these problems in the landscape, and it doesn’t hurt that the solutions are beautiful also! Using the boulders access for the kids in through the beds is an awesome idea, what child doesn’t want to climb a rock?

P.S. I want an Elephant in my garden!

Ivette Soler May 26, 2011 at 6:27 pm

I know all about your love of the stoneyard and stone, and this post says “STONE LOVE” all over it! And I love those flat-topped lizard rocks that the kids scramble over – how perfect to site one of those next to a pool for sunbathing! Hmmm. Might be really hot. But perfect if you were a lizard!

Genevieve May 27, 2011 at 11:58 am

That second photo is my very favorite. I just love how welcoming the garden is! I can definitely imagine eating lunch and enjoying the garden on one of those flat stones. Lovely, Jenny.

roger vivier shoes December 3, 2013 at 10:01 pm

That taught me that family members need to know how to slip in a pill.

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