Drystone walls, paving, wall cladding and sculpture … there are myriad ways to use stone
The warmth and beauty of stone makes it a natural fit in any landscape. With such a wide range of colours, patterns and textures as well as ways of using stone in walls, floors and decoration, there’s a natural stone to enhance every landscape.
Traditional drystone walls, stone flagging and stone sculpture give a garden a timeless quality, as stone never goes out of fashion. However, new ways of using stone now make it the most modern of materials, too. Tessellated tiles adorn walls, rubble-packed gabions form retaining walls, stone cladding gives new buildings a colourful and textured look and decorative ways with pebbles make pictures and patterns across our outdoor floors.
Create a sense of place
Using stone in your landscape is one of the best ways to give it a unique sense of place. Look around your district to discover your local stone in bushland and buildings. By uncovering and enhancing natural outcrops as well as choosing something similar to the local stone for your walling and paving, you’ll make your garden really belong to its environment. In Australia, we have a wide range of stone that reflects our natural and built heritage, such as the limestones of Western Australia, the golden sandstones of eastern New South Wales and Victoria’s basalt.
Solid stone gives a feeling of weight and permanence in a garden. You can also use stone to evoke a particular garden style. Marble immediately says Italy, volcanic lava stone takes you straight to tropical Bali, and granites and basalt gives the deep grey contrasts much loved in English-style gardens. Carved granite lanterns and water bowls are an essential part of a Japanese landscape.
While in the past couple of decades we’ve seen new concrete products arrive on the market, most try to replicate the look of stone but with less variability and cost. More imported stone products, greater market competition, concrete sub-surfaces allowing the use of thinner pavers and tiles, as well as new surface treatments, supply styles and fixing methods mean that the real thing is now both affordable and usable in a wide range of applications. From an environmental point of view, concrete products also have manufacturing energy costs to consider, whereas stone is only cut and finished; however, if it’s imported you need to consider those transport miles. Many paving suppliers also recommend a concrete base for thinner and larger stone, which obviously has its own energy costs.
A plethora of paving
Flooring options include pavers in sandstone, travertine, bluestone, granite and limestone, ranging in size from 300mm × 300mm up to huge metre-long slabs. Popular new looks are moving away from rigid, grid-like patterns to random French pattern paving and even crazy paving. Sandstones imported from northern India (often called Himalayan sandstone) are often harder than local products but also show greater colour variation. Travertine is quite porous, which means in never gets hot underfoot, although you may find the pitting is hard to keep clean without filling. Bluestone is often used in an appealing “river” style, with large irregular slabs surrounded by small fragments. Granite cobbles are a good choice for a hard-wearing driveway and larger pavers are very consistent in colour. Many limestone pavers are actually reconstituted, so you need to shop around to find the real thing, which has a creamy colour, pale gold mottling and beautiful veining.
Traditional stone walls use large blocks fitted together by an experienced stone mason to make a gravity wall. Dry stone walls can become the defining feature of a garden, whether in a rustic random style or more elegantly coursed or ashlar. If you can’t afford either the cost or bulk of real stone, there are many cladding products that will give you the look, adding warmth, character and texture to formed concrete or a cement sheet substrate.
Stacked stone from DécoR Stone uses narrow layers of highly textured travertine and quartz, or the rich russet or grey onyx of range features quartz, granite, slate or mica pieces attached to an easy-to-fix mesh backing. Specially fitted corners make it indistinguishable from a solid stone wall. DécoR Stone’s Geoff Iles also says that wall crazy paving is becoming the latest new retro look for feature walls, also in interlocking russet or grey slate attached to a mesh backing.
Get a little creative
Gabion walls can be used as retaining or free-standing walls. Zinc-coated wire mesh boxes are packed with stone rubble on-site. Like a drystone wall, they drain naturally and can have interesting found objects added for a unique installation.
Pebbles and crushed stones are excellent low-humidity mulches for succulents and a good way to stabilise pots in windy areas. Pebble paths allow essential drainage through but will need regular maintenance to stop them filling with dirt and leaves. Larger pebbles roll underfoot, making them very hard to walk on, so include flagstones as stepping stones.
Pebble mosaics and paving inlays feature the full range of pebble colours, including pristine white, green, red, gold, brown and jet black. Some darker pebbles come with a wax coating to give them a very shiny, wet look, but be aware this will rapidly wear off outside. Make sure that the pebbles you buy are from a renewable resource, such as rumbled rock waste, or have been collected under licence.
Stone sculpture can have a particularly earthy, almost primeval feeling about it, with a texture that is hard to resist. Australian animals and plants evolve from beautiful natural sandstone pieces carved by Ishi Buki as well as the birdbaths created by Kooper Tasmania, and many artists such as Richard Kloester, Jenny Whiteside, Jeffrey Frith and Roger Apte explore the softer, smoother feel and creamy colours of limestone. Antone Bruinsma works with Helidon sandstone in southeast Queensland, creating sinuous pieces on display at his Cedar Creek sculpture park.
Position free-standing sculpture nestled within the garden for best display, incorporate a carved wall plaque into an outdoor room or use a simple hollowed-out piece of beautiful stone filled with water as a natural birdbath.
Choosing the right stone
When deciding which stone is best for your needs, look at its specific characteristics:
• Hardness determines how hard wearing it is to scratching and erosion. Marble can scratch quite easily, while quartzite and granite are much more hard-wearing stones for heavy-duty areas.
• Density describes both its weight and how • much the stone will absorb water. More porous stones such as sandstone and travertine can fill with salty pool water, which expands as it crystallises, causing fretting and flaking.
• Chemical composition, as stone can react • with alkaline and acidic cleansers or even fruit juices. Stones with high levels of calcium such as limestone, marble and travertine can be badly damaged by acidic liquids.
• Slip resistance, especially for use in wet • areas such as pool paving. For example, bluestone and travertine may not be as slip-resistant as sandstone.
• Surface type describes both how the stone • was cut and then treated. Some stones like sandstone are often split rather than sawn, which leaves a slightly uneven surface and stronger colour, including the dark dendrite manganese staining found on Indian sandstones (mistakenly called fossilisation by many paving companies). Shot blasting removes some of this surface colour and unevenness. Honing creates a very smooth surface and usually removes most of sandstone’s colour. In larger blocks used for walling, sandstone decorative surface treatments include bevelling and sparrow-picking. Some of the denser stones such as bluestone and granite can also be polished to an almost mirror finish. Flaming or exfoliating gives a more textured surface to an otherwise slippery stone, like granite, making it suitable for wet areas.
• Colour, as the same stone can be available • in a wide range of colours, may have considerable variation within a pallet of supplied stone, or can have extensive mottling and striping. Slate mixes include gold, green, red, grey and almost black. Sandstone is anything from a deep, pinky-brown through to almost white. Granite has a distinct flecking, which is more pronounced in the lighter colours of pink, gold, pale grey and red, but hard to see in dark grey and black. Basalt, often called bluestone in Australia, is an even, deep blue-grey. As travertine has a lot of small holes, its apparent colour can be changed by filling the pitted surface with different coloured resins.
And, finally, maintenance
Maintain stone in good condition with regular cleaning, but don’t use pressure cleaners on softer stone. Many paving suppliers recommend sealing stone to prevent staining and dirt becoming permanently ingrained; however, this is not a substitute for choosing the right stone for the job. Some topical sealers may darken the stone and prevent moisture from escaping through the paver, so look for a solvent-based impregnating sealer.