The Spirit of Stone: 101 Practical & Creative Stonescaping Ideas for Your Garden

The Spirit of Stone: 101 Practical & Creative Stonescaping Ideas for Your Garden

by Jan Johnsen


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The element of stone in a garden has two important qualities: function and beauty. It also conveys a sense of permanence and place. Since ancient times, stone has been revered for bringing a special “feel” to a garden. In The Spirit of Stone, award-winning designer Jan Johnsen presents a richly photographed, authoritative guide to creative and practical uses for stone in the landscape: steps, paths, garden walls, dry streams, benches, rock gardens, driveways and more. Stone’s practicality is especially appreciated by homeowners concerned with low maintenance, sustainability and water conservation – with the side benefit of enhancing property value. The Spirit of Stone is an essential idea book and how-to for designers, stonemasons, builders, homeowners and DIYers.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781943366194
Publisher: St. Lynn's Press
Publication date: 02/15/2017
Pages: 192
Sales rank: 590,902
Product dimensions: 8.20(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author


Jan Johnsen is an award-winning instructor at the New York Botanical Garden, author of Heaven is a Garden (St. Lynn’s Press, 2014) and a contributing editor for Garden Design magazine. A landscape designer and a principal of the New York design/build firm Johnsen Landscapes & Pools, Johnsen was awarded a 2014 Merit Award by the Association of Professional Landscape Designers (APLD). She is an adjunct professor at Columbia University and has worked in landscape architecture offices in Japan, East Africa, Hawaii, Vermont, New Orleans and New York. She blogs at Serenity in the Garden.

The author resides in Westchester County, New York.

Read an Excerpt

[from the Introduction ] Stone is often an overlooked player in a landscape. While we may swoon over the many shapes and colors of plants within a garden, the stone walks and walls stand silently by, perhaps unnoticed. This book shines a light on the beauty and enchantment that natural stone adds to an outdoor setting. It is a celebration of the versatility of solid, durable rock and showcases the many ways stones and stonework can be featured in the landscape.

If you have ever thought about adding this resilient natural element into your garden, then this idea book is for you. In these pages I offer illustrated design tips and practical techniques for using stone in rock gardens, walks, walls, steps – as artful accents, and much more. You will discover how many possibilities are open to you; rocks can be a still, small voice or a dramatic booming song, depending on how you use them. Bringing natural stone and stonework into your garden can elevate it and anchor it, all at the same time.

I have a soft spot for hard rock. During my four-decade career as a professional landscape designer, I have incorporated stone in a variety of outdoor settings. It is, in my opinion, an indispensable part of a garden. My love of stone was fostered by my time living in Kyoto, Japan, as a college student years ago. I interned in a landscape architecture office and on weekends I would visit the historic Japanese gardens. I saw how natural stone and stonework were of central significance in their landscapes. I subsequently studied landscape architecture in Hawaii, where I experienced the fiery beginnings of rock by watching molten lava, up close, flowing.

As a young adult, my relationship with stone deepened when I became a rock climber. During ascents on New York's Schwangunk Mountains, I would examine the vertical cliffs up close and see the cracks, fissures and protrusions of the rock as a challenge and an opportunity. I learned to place my fingers inside the crevices in the stone as a climber does, which sometimes meant strong handholds and other times a delicate fingertip grip. I later lived near Barre, Vermont, home of world famous granite quarries, and I would stand in awe as I watched giant granite slabs being hewn from the earth. Ultimately, I settled in Westchester County, New York, where rough fieldstone walls, quartz-laden boulders and classic bluestone walks and patios are found in abundance. From these diverse experiences, I have learned to cherish stone’s quiet beauty and its steadying qualities.

Table of Contents

Introduction xi

1 The Spirit of Stone 15

2 In Praise of Rock Gardens 35

3 Sustainable Stone 59

4 The Many Faces of a Stone Walk 81

5 Garden Steps Steal the Show 107

6 Stone Walls and More 125

7 Stone Accents For Your Garden 147

8 Plants and Stone 163

9 In Closing 181

Places to Visit 184

Bibliography and Books of Interest 186

Index 187

Acknowledgments 190

About the Author 191

What People are Saying About This

Robert E. Grese

The Spirit of Stone is an elegant paean to the use of stone in the garden. Jan Johnsen explores the rich traditions in using stone by artists and craftsmen through the age, and provides helpful suggestions for today’s garden enthusiasts.” ~ Robert E. Grese,—Director, Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum;—Professor, University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment

David Beaulieu

"Jan Johnsen leaves no stone unturned in introducing readers to the wonderful world of masonry. Her marriage of hardscape and horticulture assures The Spirit of Stone rock-star status on your gardening bookshelf." ~ David Beaulieu, Landscaping expert for

Jim Peterson

“In the same loving and passionate spirit with which she brought garden and design lovers Heaven is a Garden, Jan Johnsen now brings us The Spirit of Stone. This book provides insights and photos of every possible way to use stone in your garden: as accents, as art, as walls, as drainage, as steps, with plants or for paths.”
~ Jim Peterson, Publisher, Garden Design magazine

Devin Devine

“Jan's great love for the art of gardening and enthusiasm for great stone work is apparent on every page. The Spirit of Stone is a great resource for inspiration in the garden.” ~ Devin Devine, stone artist, mason: Devine Escapes

Miriam Goldberger

“Celebrated garden author and landscape designer Jan Johnsen has distilled her sophisticated natural stone expertise into a clearly written, companionable guide to stone gardening success. I predict The Spirit of Stone will be treasured by beginners and garden experts alike.“ ~ Miriam Goldberger, author of Taming Wildflowers

Carolyn Mullet

“ Johnsen's intimate relationship with stone, honed over a long design career, shines through every page of this practical guide to using stone in residential gardens. Perhaps more importantly, she explains why this most elemental of materials creates a timeless sensuality that no other garden material can.”
~ Carolyn Mullet, designer; on Facebook: “Garden Design by Carolyn Mullet”

Bill Thomas

The Spirit of Stone is an insightful look into the many ways of using natural stone in a garden. Jan's crisp descriptions and wonderful photographs open our eyes to the unique addition of this material – in all its forms – into landscapes.”
~ Bill Thomas, Executive Director, Chanticleer Garden, author of The Art of Gardening

Fran Sorin

" The Spirit of Stone focuses in on the soulfulness, authenticity, beauty and practicality of stonework in an outdoor setting. …a delightful celebration of the versatility of this solid, durable natural element." ~ Fran Sorin, author of Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening

From the Publisher

" The Spirit of Stone focuses in on the soulfulness, authenticity, beauty and practicality of stonework in an outdoor setting. …a delightful celebration of the versatility of this solid, durable natural element." ~ Fran Sorin, author of Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening

Richard Alomar

“Jan Johnsen successfully conveys the poetic qualities of stone through insightful observations, descriptive examples and, more importantly, with practical advice for novice and professional garden designers.”
Richard Alomar, RLA, ASLA, Department of Landscape Architecture, Rutgers University


If you are looking for inspiration for your own landscape, along with the background on the many ways to add stone, The Spirit of Stone is a great place to start.

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