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!!”