It happened again! Each time I write a Garden Designers Roundtable post, the topic initially seems so straightforward and simple but I soon discover it is anything but. This month, I join my fellow Roundtablers in exploring the seemingly simple topic of stone and how it relates to the landscape.
Stone Walls and New England Potatoes
I live in southwestern Connecticut where stone is literally everywhere I look. To say that iconic New England stone walls are ubiquitous here in Connecticut is definitely an understatement. On my one acre property, I am fortunate to have two different old stone walls.
In fact, it is the exception for a house in my neighborhood not to have at least one stone wall. Stones, from massive rock outcroppings to the ever present ‘New England potato’, are simply a part of the landscape here, the same way white oak trees (Quercus alba) and mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) are.
For those readers who have never had the experience of gardening in New England, the ‘New England potato’ is a decent-sized rock that can generally be lifted with one hand. They may not sound like a big deal, but in some gardens every time you put a shovel in the ground, you hit a New England potato. They can make the simple act of digging a hole maddening.
So with stone walls all around me, I had initially planned to write about the beauty of New England stone walls and the unique story they tell not only about this part of the country but also about the people who built them. But truthfully, I worried my fellow Roundtabler, Scott Hokunson who lives in northern Connecticut might tell that story. Scott loves stone and I knew if he did, he’d do a much better job than I could ever hope to do.
And then I remembered something about stone and its link to sustainable landscape design practices that I had heard at a lecture a few months ago. To paraphrase the presenter, ‘Hardscape materials, just like the food we eat, should be locally grown and as unrefined as possible.’ It’s a great analogy that really speaks to the way I think stone is best used in landscape and garden design.
Is Your Stone Sustainable?
Sustainable gardening practices are as much about our values and the role we see our gardens playing in the larger ecosystem as they are about finding solutions to landscape design problems. While I know many gardeners and garden designers who are committed to creating a sustainable garden and will work with native plants, retain as much stormwater on site as possibe and maintain their gardens organically. But I wonder how many consider the choice of the stone they use as a sustainable one.
Here in my corner of Connecticut, where utilizing stone in landscape design often involves an expensive game of one-upmanship, the value of using indigenous stone is enjoying a quiet renaissance. While I still hear comments from clients such as ‘my neighbor has a patio made of Tennessee crab orchard, can we use that?’ or from landscape contractors like ‘Don’t worry…I’ll just pick up a pallet of Mexican beach pebbles’, at least people are willing to consider the benefits of using indigenous stone in their gardens.
Regardless of where you live, using native stone, rather than stone that is trucked across the country, is an easy way to be more sustainable. The savings in energy and reduction in carbon footprint can be enormous.
Indigenous stone also helps to weave your garden into the unique fabric of your region. Using stone that literally can be found in your own back yard is the perfect way to allow your garden to showcase what sets your area of the country apart from every other area in a way that plants just can’t do.