The timeless nature of natural stone is just one of the many reasons why this product is always in demand.
Story: Natalie Raad
The elegance, beauty and earthy qualities of natural stone make it an enduring product, and one that is always in demand. Natural stone has a timeless appeal, and its ability to be reused, reworked and reinvented into new and exciting forms has ensured its popularity over the years.
Using a natural product over a manmade one adds a magical touch to gardens. Not much can rival the subtlety, durability and complementary qualities of natural stone. And with so many different ways of incorporating natural stone in your garden design, finding a place for it in your backyard couldn’t be easier.
Michael Webber from Michael Webber Design believes there is no limit to the number of different ways that stone can be used in garden design.
“Almost any surface, anywhere, could be stone,” he says. “All walking and driving surfaces, walls, columns and even beams could be stone. Then there are water features, furniture, sculptures and so on.”
In natural or dressed forms, stone can be used for retaining walls, garden edging and rock gardens.
“Stone in the form of pebbles can also be used as a lawn replacement,” says Michael. “Cobblestones can be used between concrete pavers or pieces of stone can be inlayed into concrete in bands or patterns for specific effects.”
Apart from the more obvious uses of stone for retaining walls and paving, Corinne Meunier from Benzini suggests using stone for wall capping and pier caps.
“A stone or rendered wall/fence looks beautifully finished with a double bullnose stone capping and some pier caps on the pillar sections. The stone capping can either match or contrast the wall,” she says.
Natural rock or quarried stone can also be used for water features and fountains, adds Corinne, creating a wonderful focal point in your garden.
Corinne also recommends adding street appeal to you front yard by using stone for your letterbox. “This can be a quarried piece of stone with mail fittings.”
According to Corinne, when it comes to stone larger rectangular pavers or stepping stones are currently in vogue, such as 750mm x 500mm pavers or 900mm x 450mm pavers.
“In terms of colour, deep greys and charcoals are very popular,” she says.
When it comes to trends though, Michael encourages clients to find what it is they like, rather than adhering to a trend for the sake of it.
“If the trend fits the client, then great, but being trendy for the sake of it is a sure way of getting sick of something in a hurry,” he says.
Given stone has been a popular choice for many years now, Michael is finding that more and more people are looking for something different for their stone. Whether it is a different colour, form or use, people are opting for a bit of individualism when it comes to using stone in their gardens.
“The great thing is that there is so much stone coming out of China, India and South America that there is a variety to choose from,” says Michael.
Michael doesn’t believe there is a ‘best use’ of stone in garden design. “The best use of any material is a creative one,” he says.
Michael recommends using the least porous stone you can, unless you’re going for the old weathered look. “More porous materials will stain and grow moulds and funguses very quickly and soon become a maintenance nightmare,” he says.
Although sandstone is porous, you can use it as a walling in undercover areas where it is kept relatively dry. Sandstone used out in the garden, however, will soon stain and look dirty if not properly sealed and you fail to sweep up leaves and mop up spills.
“Limestone on the other hand is much less porous. Most people will not be able to tell the difference between the two but will certainly appreciate the fact that it will never need cleaning,” says Michael.
As a word of advice, Michael suggests you don’t just stick panels of sheet stone or tiles randomly on the walls and fences of your home. “It looks really tacky,” he says.
“Instead, be deliberate and bold. Stone looks best if used to fill a recess or between a fence of wall columns where it is framed, not on the face of a column where the edges of the stone are showing.”
If you want stone on the column, Michael suggests covering the whole column. “This needs to be done properly,” he emphasis. “As the stone comes to the corner it needs to be cut, mitred and stuck to the adjoining face — it will look like the column is built of larger pieces of stone.”
“In addition to the structural uses of stone as retaining walls and paving, natural stone can be used as a design feature to contrast the rich greens and browns of plants and soil areas,” says Corinne.
“Natural stone adds more textures to your garden, with smooth surfaces reflecting light and rough surfaces contrasting grassy or planted areas.”
There are a few things to consider when it comes to choosing natural stone, colour being just one. “Choose colours that will suit your design and bear in mind that given stone is a natural product, there will be some variation in each batch,” says Corrine.
Another thing to consider is the non-slip aspect of stone: is the stone slippery when wet? If so, consider placing it in an area that will remain dry. Salt attack is another issue; will water from the pool affect the surrounding stone? Sealer — what sort of sealer is required for the stone? And lastly, what are the costs involved for delivery and installation?
When it comes to finishes, there is a broad range of combinations that will change the look and colour of your stone. As a simple rule, the rougher the surface the better suited it is to being outdoors.
Honed finishes vary in texture and the more polished it is, the less you want it somewhere where it will get wet. Polished stone is best suited to benches and indoors; rough honed, sawn and natural finishes work best outside.
Stone’s big drawback is that it’s permeable, meaning oil and red wine stains are going to last although proper sealing can minimise this. It’s important to remember that stone is a natural product and the key is to work with it not against it. A carefully designed garden will resolve these issues and embrace natural stone and make the most of this natural and timeless product.