Thursday, August 18, 2011

Romancing the Stone

The beauty of natural stone, it is beyond words sometimes. The look and the feel of such a natural product can be beyond compare. A creation of nature, no other material can bring so much character to it's surroundings, and so effortlessly beautiful whether used indoors or outdoors. And outdoors, the garden is for me where it looks its finest, looking at home and rarely out of place. No other product can you put in a garden that is inherently unique, architectural, statement, and complemental to it's surroundings. 

One of my favourite places to frequently visit is a specialist outdoor rockery centre near where we live. It is a huge place, stocked mainly of different rocks, stones, and a few other related hard landscaping materials. At one point this centre also had an Alpine plant nursery but the model of the business has changed and it is now concentrating on being a specialist rockery centre.

Pre-drilled flints for a water feature

Large Stones, Statement pieces for the garden
I love this place, I could happily spend hours wandering around, looking and thinking about the possibilities of what can be done with all of these natural products. Like a child in a candy store, or a painter in a paint shop, the choices are bedazzling and it's a wonderful sight. The place is a personal treat, for more than just the gardener, but for also the designer and landscaper in both of us. 

On our previous visits, most of the time it is just about having a look at what's available and incorporating what they have in some of the ideas we play with or with the inspirations we see from elsewhere. Since then we have made our decisions and considering the design, colour scheme, technical details, and personal creative flair on our new area, the time has finally arrived that we have to start acquiring some of the natural materials we have chosen. A very exciting period for us, and that's an understatement.

At home with the colour scheme....
Raving about Paving - tiles, slabs, and cobbles, as you can imagine the place stocks nearly every possible stone that can be used as such, whether the finish may be rough, smooth, or polished. 

Bedazzled by Sandstone, spoilt for choice...
Love at first sight, but the love affair has to wait until the next project...
and then there was 'The One'....
the one of many, and they were perfect!

Mulch made in Heaven - gravel mulch, so many to choose from, so many colours to consider, and in different sizes too.

Too Dark...
Too Brown...
Too Colourful...
Too Green
Nearly there...(Cornish Granite)
Too Perfect...
When choosing mulch for outdoor use, it's worth considering how it will look with organic matter and leaf litter falling on to it from time to time, and not just the short term appearance of looking pristine and matching the design of your garden. No matter how much and how often you pick up debris that falls in your mulched border, it will never be perfectly pure as the very first hour you mulched it, guaranteed. Will it be forgiving? Will it still look good? Or will the debris also stick out like a sore thumb?

Another thing is the porosity of the mulch you choose, especially light coloured ones. If the type of mulch turns out to be porous then it's bound to absorb some of the substrate it is resting on, as well as dirt, footprints, and soil that falls on to it, and you'll find that your 'whites and lights' will look dirty quite soon.

And so is the case for the above mulch. I think it will look great as a mulch in an indoor garden or courtyard, sheltered from the elements with very little dirt falling on it, it will look pristine for a very long time. But outdoors, it will quickly lose it's purity in appearance. 

Just right, Truly Perfect!
Sculptures, made by Nature - this is the best bit about the place, they have so many large rocks, stones, and boulders that are very sculptural and decorative. So many statement pieces that effortlessly add that something extra in your garden.


If we had the space and the budget, I can imagine using these balls to construct the solar system and surround it with formal planting and box hedging. Quite Italianate in concept but executed properly, it will look stunning (and what a feature!). But for now it stays in my imagination.

Sumptuous and Beautiful Green Slate, Perfect!
with Gaz for scale
With large stones like this, weight is a major consideration too, and not just the right shape and colour. We don't have the space and access for a crane so we had to limit ourselves to choosing the biggest pieces that can be lifted by a maximum of four people. We needed several, some went in on the car and had to do a couple of special trips to take them home, whilst the biggest ones of the lot will have to be delivered.

Also it's worth keeping in mind that when using large stones like this in the garden, a certain percentage of it's height, up to a third of it on some instances will have to be buried under ground to give it stability. So consider this when making measurements especially if it has to fulfil a certain look or design.

Limestone and fish keeping can be a tempestuous relationship
A little note on using limestone near ponds and watercourses. If you're intending to use rocks and stones near ponds and watercourses that will have ornamental fish in it (Goldfish and especially Koi), it's best to avoid Limestone altogether and opt for some of the more inert rocks (pH stable) like Granite, Sandstone, and Slate. Limestone will constantly leach out lime onto the water whenever it rains or the water surface comes into contact with the stone, raising the pH reading of the water and making it more alkaline. It's not so much of a problem on large or open bodies of water, but on smaller, man made pools and ponds the alkaline rise can be fatal to your fishy pets. So thinking of keeping Koi and Goldfish in your pond? Then steer clear from limestone to avoid floating and belly-up heartaches.

Petrified Wood, great with ferns, conifers, and 'Jurassic' style planting
I'm smitten with these stones and really like the earthy shade of pink swirling with the browns and whites, reminding me of cherry, chocolate, and vanilla ice cream! The colours are totally out of place to any part of our garden (for now) but I would like to keep these in mind if we make future changes. The colours would be of influence so I can incorporate them with ease.

Natural stone and gardens, a long lasting love affair that I'm happy to be involved with. We've made our choices and some of them are already in place. I'm satisfied but also can't wait to have more. 


  1. Like you, I could spend hours at a "rockery," as you call them in the UK. I have rarely seen such a large selection of different rocks and stone products, and I could easily spend thousands of dollars/pounds if I had them. Are all the stones native to the U.K. or do they come from everywhere?

    I can't wait to see what you've picked out!

  2. What a great place. We have a very small local place but not anything close to that.
    Cher Sunray Gardens

  3. wow! You are spoiled for choice! In Australia, garden centres have about four varieties...and it varies from state to state. In Victoria, volcanic rocks and bluestone are big as the state has a very old volcanic past, in Sydney and N.S,W, , sandstone is the most common. Are you concerned that the rock is sourced ethically. That limestone worries me. It takes eons to form stalagtites and stalagmites and there they sit in the rock emporium. Mmmmmm.?

  4. Looks like fun. I've recently become enamored with stone mulches mostly for potted specimens. Living near the beach there seems to be no shortage, then when I'm away from home I find myself seeking such things. There I was in the Rockies, spade in hand trying to pry out this beautiful purple stone I found, like an iceburg it was bigger underneith the surface. It always seems like a good idea to bring back a cool stone, until you have to hike it out 2km. 20 pounds compounds in heaviness every 200 steps. Fun post!

  5. I am extremely fortunate in that on my 80 acres of propery I have huge amounts of sandstone out cropping, from pavers to rectangular shapes and some really big 700-1000lb pieces. I also have one gulley that is loaded with fossil filled limestone. For the 35 plus years that I've owned my place I've been dragging rocks up and stacking it. Now in my retirement I have (literally) tons of toys to play with in my gardens.

    With a blog so filled with great and fun ideas, you guys are my go-to site for insiration. Thanks Mark and Gaz, wish I could see your place and you guys in person. Warm regards, Steve

  6. I love that you mention all those considerations for rock mulch, living with it for 5 years now I know how much a little forethought matters.

    How exciting for you that you're to the rock shopping stage!

  7. Goodness, I'm glad I didn't have a place like that near me when I was picking the hard landscaping for around our pond. The budget would have been blown, and I would have been there until they closed, covered in dust from fondling rocks! As it was I got some strange looks, because I carried a water spray with me so that I could see what the different aggregates looked like when wet. In this climate, it has to look good when wet too. Look forward to seeing more of your new acquisitions, the green slate you have chosen is beautiful.

  8. I love stone, thanks for all the nice pictures....

    I dont know if you follow this guys blog but he is similarly obsessed and does natural stone mosaics which are beutiful... I particularly want his own garden for my own!

  9. You bring new dimensions to stone with such a detailed post. I have always liked gravel paths or chuckies as we call them. Its true they always look so perfect when first put in place. The regular grey granite seems to hold their look best of all.

  10. Hi Gerhard, you would have indeed loved this place if it was near you, and like me could happily spend many hours there choosing and being creative with them. Imagine the possibilities with your succulents :) I’d say about half of the stones are sourced locally, the others are from abroad especially from south asia.

    Thanks Cher! We’re spoilt for choice in this rockery centre :)

    Hi Hazel, we’re so spoilt for choice with this rockery centre indeed. Whatever is seen on the photos is just a tiny fraction of what they stock. If I featured them all the post will be very photo intensive, lol! :)

    There is an information wall in the rockery centre, quite an extensive one explaining about the ethical sourcing of the rocks and fair business with the local workers and their communities, as well as process of extraction all the way to importation. There is also further information about environmental implications and is being done to maintain balance, etc. I’m glad they have put this up, which also shows that there is awareness out there for the need to have ethically sourced natural resources. I just hope all is as well in reality as is shown on the boards.

    Hi Nat, you can have fun playing with different stones as mulches for different plants (and pots!). I can imagine the hard labour of lugging back all of those stones back though. Although here in the UK, taking rocks and gravel from beaches and other areas are not allowed, if caught can carry a hefty fine. Fortunately there’s loads of rockery centres all over the country to purchase them. But I think this particular rockery centre is one the best here :)

  11. You’re welcome Steve! I’m glad to know you’re enjoying what you read in our blog. And thank you too for the compliment and sharing an insight to what you have in your garden/area :)

    You’re so lucky to have so much stones/rocks to play with, and with your available space you can be extremely creative with them. You’ll need lots of machinery to move some of them though! Wish we’ll have the chance to see what you have in your huge plot, maybe do a blog too so we can see photos? And on the off chance you’re in our area, I would be delighted to show you our garden :)

    Hi Loree, very exciting indeed! Great to be able to do some ‘creative’ things amidst all of the building we’re doing still at the moment. So much more exciting than digging. You’re well experienced with maintaining gravel mulched borders, especially with that lovely front garden of yours :)

    Hi Janet, you would have absolutely loved it, like a child let loose in a sweet shop! Glad that you mentioned about taking a water bottle, I forgot to mention that on the post as it’s great to also what the rocks would look like when wet. Often that’s when they are their prettiest :)

    Thanks for link Clive, I’m now a follower :) I love his garden, and so full of inspirational ideas too!

    Thanks Alistair! Grey granite was nearly our choice but opted for the green slate in the end :)

  12. the pink rock is fabulous you boys should have some in the garden hahaha it would be appropriate!!

  13. I know Sabine, I should have bought it when I had the chance ;) Might buy it next time we visit!

  14. That's a lot of rocks, and too expensive. I've been thinking for a long time who between Mark and Gaz has roots here, now i know. LOL. I remember few years back my landscaper friend was doing a project, and he said he bought a few rocks. I asked if they are real rocks or semi-precious rocks. He said 'real rocks', and i said keep one for me to make me a pendant. He laughed so loudly, he said, visualizing the big rock as a pendant!

  15. The mystery has now been solved Andrea :) If you wear those big rocks as a pendant it will be like a prison ball, hehe!

  16. I was in Ireland and saw all the stone fences and walls that surrounding houses. I thought they were beautiful but I bet they would be very expensive to build now.


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