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Stonescaping
by Dan Clost
by Dan Clost

email: dan.clost@sympatico.ca

First serious garden earned 25 cents from the Kemptville Horticultural Society when I was 12. Have been poor in horticulture ever since but rich in spirit.

Went to work writing the Good Earth column (over 500 articles published in newspaper, magazine, website and journal.) and learned that what was printed wasn't what I wanted to say and certainly not what Gentle Reader understood me to say. Subsequently have developed a certain clarity and economy of words.

Day job- nursery and production manager for a large nursery/garden centre
Side job- Garden restoration and renovations, design consultations, remedial pruning.
Night job- garden writer and communicator (overnight success in another 20 years)

Dan gardens in Canadian Zone 5b


July 31, 2011

Here's a new term for you, Gentle Reader: stonescaping. We're not talking about a couple of chunks of white quartz edging a flowerbed or a garden path filled with pea gravel.

We're talking about the "bones of heaven and earth", according to one of the first applied stonescapers, Du Wan. Also described as a poet and philosopher, this Chinese gentleman of the twelfth century wrote one of the first known dissertations on the use of stone in a garden setting.

Stonescaping is a difficult art to master. It is much more than figuring out how to move a two-ton rock into the backyard. In fact it is surprisingly easy to remove a chunk of granite from its natural surroundings, place it into a poorly chosen spot and cause it to appear ridiculous. To quote Jan Whitner, "...they were comically irrelevant to the surrounding landscape, sticking out like stony sore thumbs." To add insult to injury, Michael Boers of Hollandale Landscaping has said that the most common error that novice designers and installers make is to place the rock upside down.

One of the most inspiring uses of stone that I have seen was in a courtyard at the Canada Blooms show a few years ago. It was a Zen styled garden edged by a slightly raised deck. It was nothing more than a square filled with small, rounded gravel and three large bits of blue stone. However, the gravel was raked in a pattern that suggested an ocean surface rippled by the wind with a strong undercurrent pushing it toward the land. The three stones were carefully selected for their shape and proportionate size. They appeared to be large land masses thrusting themselves above the waters with immutable resistance. Inside a building filled with hordes of people imitating the madding crowd, this garden provided an oasis of calm. What was most remarkable was that everyone immediately recognised this to be a garden yet there were no plants. It was stonescaping raised to its most artistic level.

In our area we see stonescaping presented in three distinct manners: a single specimen usually near the entrance of our estate, used as some form of retaining wall, or imbedded into the landscape anchoring a shrub border or a copse of trees. To view an excellent example of the latter take a Sunday drive out to Settler’s Woods in Bayside, follow the road to its end. Brian Van Dyke of Landtech Design has done some work that combines the practical use of stone with an understanding of its elemental nature. In other words, these imported chunks of rock look like they’ve been there since the beginning.

The history of stonescaping is fascinating. Chinese and Japanese style gardens present different approaches to replicating natural harmony. The European approach was emphasized by the formal courtyards of royalty which depict a contrived subjugation of this natural element.

English styled gardens play with stones and water. Relatively new to the scene are we North Americans. It will be interesting to see what we do with our bones of heaven and earth.

One of the best books available is called Stonescaping, A Guide to Using Stone in Your Garden by Jan Kowalczewski Whitner. It gives us the history and philosophy behind the art and its evolution. The colour photographs are absolutely stunning; there’s just not enough of them. Apart from its inspirational qualities, the practical nature of this book is what causes me to recommend it to you. Easy to understand explanations accompanied by line drawings showing you what to do and, most importantly, what not to do, put stonescaping into the hands of most DIY-ers. The clear, concise outlines on how to select stone, move it and construct features will inspire many of its readers to include stones in their next landscape design.

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