How-To Ideas

How to Use Rock and Stone in Your Landscape

Landscaping with rock

When I walked the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain, I was immersed in a culture built on rocky soil. I was so inspired by what they did with it, I spent hours walking and thinking about the stone projects I might do once home.

The grape orchards and fields of wheat were littered with stones that made their way over time to form walls around the fields. Through many centuries the stone was also used for roads, bridges, whole towns, and exquisite cathedrals that still stand and serve the people well.

Stone has been a favored building material since human prehistory; it is solid, strong, lasts forever, and can be stacked, carved and shaped. The textures and colors found in stone are often breathtakingly beautiful.

Choosing Rocks for Your Landscape

Here in the Piedmont of North Carolina we have access to native granite, which is our state rock, and limestone, marble, sandstone, and slate, among many others. Depending on your project, you may want very round or flat river rock, smooth slate for a patio or roof, stackable rough rock, or chiseled and uniform stone. You will have options for size, color and texture so prepare to fall in love with your many choices.

Landscaping Ideas Using Rocks and Stones
Landscaping with rock

Herb spiral / Jeana Myers

In our landscape we have added rocks in all kinds of ways through the years. First the small pond was edged in fieldstone, then an adjacent patio was made with rounded river rock and brick combined. The blue glass and stone front walk replaced a boring cement entrance. My spouse, Will Hooker, built an “herb spiral” from old chimney bricks and river rock so our herbs can tumble and grow in the niche that serves them best. For his 70th birthday, I selected 70 rounded river rocks and piled them around a wizard statue, a lazy stonemason’s project.

If you are laying a permanent walk or patio, you will want to carefully prepare the surface by leveling the soil, adding gravel, tamping it down, and adding sand or rock dust before placing the stones. Then you add more sand to fill in the cracks and water it in until it’s nicely even with the stones. If you want, add colorful glass beads, pebbles or shells to the sand. A cement mix can be used in place of sand if you need a more stable walk that resists weeds in the cracks, but a well-tamped gravel/sand base will hold nicely for many years.

Think of a project or visit a stone yard and get inspired. Research the different meanings of stonework through the history of human evolution. You may decide to build a garden wall covered in moss and ferns, or a geometrically patterned driveway, or perhaps even a fire breathing dragon to greet your guests when they dare to enter your realm. However you use it, stone will bring beauty and a sense of timelessness to your landscape.

Featured image – Stone and brick patio / Jeana Myers

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Jeana Myers, PhD, is the Horticulture Agent for Wake County. For gardening questions, contact the Extension Master Gardeners of Wake County at 919-250-1084 or email [email protected]