Incorporating natural stone into your garden is a way of introducing accents and drama. Not only can it inject texture and character, but it can evoke a timeless look. ‘I prefer to use natural stone because a garden is seen as a natural space,’ says David Loy, Principal Designer at Your Garden Design Ltd.
Hard landscaping needs to be carefully considered, however. ‘Most of the gardens we design aren’t about the hardscape, they’re about softscape and the ecology of the site,’ says David. ‘It is the planting that really brings the garden to life, but getting the hardscape right is essential to balance the design, ensuring the visual continuity, solidity, texture and practicality of the space.’
There are lots of ways you can be creative with stone in your landscaping. ‘You can do all sorts of weird and wonderful things with stone,’ says David. ‘You can build great structures with it. It allows you to introduce different surfaces and textures and do exciting things with it. You don’t necessarily have to use stone just for the paver or as a walling substrate - you can use it as a feature or use large blocks of unworked stone as a feature within a design.’
An advantage of using natural stone in a garden is that if it is locally and ethically sourced it is usually more sustainable than its manufactured counterparts. ‘We would use natural stone throughout a lot of our garden designs, especially for paving purposes,’ says David. ‘The great thing about natural stone is that at the end of its life it can be recycled. If it goes back into the ground, it has gone back to whence it came, whereas porcelain or composite materials aren’t natural, so recycling is more of a challenge.’
The most popular use of stone in landscape design is as a paving material. On a practical level, paving can be used to provide hard access such as driveways, car parking, terraces, and pathways. But in a garden design it can be used to zone areas, lead the eye, and create visual statements through the scheme.
A terrace or patio is a must-have in many gardens as it can be used for alfresco entertaining and creates an instant outdoor room, adding usable space and value to your home. Stone can be used to link different levels in the garden and between spaces to create a series of rooms. ‘Usually when we do this, we aim to use the same stone to give a sense of cohesion to the design,’ says David.
Careful consideration should be given to the type of stone you use. ‘What we try to do as a design practice is to try and select a stone that matches as closely as possible to the surrounding vernacular, so if it is an old property, for example, and the house is built of stone or old brick or flint, then we will try and choose a material that matches with those substrates, such as Artisans of Devizes’ Trusloe, which is a quite hard limestone,’ says David.
‘Our most used type of stone is limestone because it is hardwearing and more resistant to staining than sandstone - it is certainly easier to keep clean, especially on lighter colours.
We’ve used granite before for steps, setts and as a paving surface. It gives a much harder look so it is quite good in a contemporary setting, although not really in a rural/period situation. Slate is also a very good option as it is hard wearing, and its deep grey colour is an excellent backdrop to bright coloured planting - it is certainly quite an interesting thing to work with.’
It is best not to incorporate too many different types of stone. ‘The key thing about natural stone and most other hardscape substrates used within garden design is keeping the palette of materials simple and to a minimum. We would normally use three materials within a garden project,’ says David. ‘Usually if it is a large garden, we would try and use one of those as the paving material throughout. For example, if we were using something like Artisans of Devizes’ Buscot limestone, then maybe we would complement it with a Belgian brick, but we wouldn’t use more than a couple of additional materials because it can quickly look disjointed and overcomplicated, losing its feeling of being harmonious within the landscape.
‘We try to use a limited palette of materials and complement what is already there,’ says David. ‘If the house is brick, then we look at what the roof is. If you’re designing an outdoor space, look at the walls of the house, look at the roof and try and match to one of those. If it has got a slate roof, then slate might be an appropriate stone to use outside because you’re linking that surface with your paved surface and visually you’re linking the two spaces together. Likewise, if you’ve got a tile roof and a brick wall then you probably want to go for a natural stone, keep it simple and have something in a neutral colour and complement that with a matching brick to the house within the paving so you’re linking those things together. It is about joining the whole picture together and having a common theme running through it and then you soften that and bring it to life with the planting.’
You can also create a sense of flow by using seamless indoor out tiling. This works best in a rear room with bifold doors that leads onto an outdoor paved space. ‘We often look to use an exterior version of the stone or ceramic that has been chosen indoors as this will create a feeling of one room,’ says David.
Stone makes a practical choice for pathways that link garden features such as sheds, gates, ponds and patios. You may decide to use it for a functional straight path that takes you from A to B, or create a sense of adventure with a meandering path or a stepping-stone effect contrasting with an aggregate or low plantings of creeping plants. Not only do paths serve a practical purpose but they can be designed to be decorative and inject colour and pattern into your garden.
If your garden is on different levels, you can incorporate stone steps, risers and capping for retaining walls. It is a good idea to use the same stone that has been used on the pathways or terracing for cohesion.
A wall made of stone makes a wonderful framework for a garden. It can provide a permanent boundary marker, be used to divide up areas in your garden, provide a feature or retaining wall or simply be used to edge beds and borders. It should, however, act as an appropriate backdrop to your planting. Rustic dry stone walls using split sandstone are perfect for evoking an authentic feel in a country garden, while conversely, using a sawn and laid natural stone can also be used to create a clean-lined contemporary look.
Stone is also perfect for using around swimming pool areas. It is a good choice as stone is hardwearing and low maintenance but you’ll need to make sure you choose a stone with slip resistance.
Likewise you can also create standalone features in the garden such as a stone firepit - what better way to enjoy a cooler summer’s evening than enjoying food and drink around a fire? A sunken firepit with stone seating and retaining walls creates a statement. For added continuity, create a stone seating wall or a stone bench that matches the stone used in the firepit area. You can also create a stylish focal point with a stone fire bowl.
And, of course, stone makes the perfect finishing touch when used for copings on walls and steps, especially when worked to include details such as bullnosed, rounded, or grooved edges achieved by water cutting and routing.