The lone voice of horticultural reason

Stone Statements

Travel to many of the world’s more beautiful locations, or view the most famous, historic and cherished structures on the planet, and quite often you will find yourself marveling at natural stone. Whether left untouched or shaped by the hand of man, stone has a power and permanence unequaled by other materials found on the planet.

Introducing this power and aesthetic grandeur into your landscape should be a goal of every gardener. No two pieces of stone are alike, be they boulders, wallstone or flagstone pieces. Stone need not be intrusive; even the subtlest stone accents can elevate that portion of a landscape to a new level of beauty.

I’ve pulled a large number of photographs of stone features that I as well as others have created through the years, and written a few words about each. Take a look, be inspired, find something you like, and let stone stamp its unique and indelible mark on your property.

Stone Accents

Sometimes, less is more. I’m always “thinking stone, looking stone,” so when I see a little area that will come alive with a stone accent, I’m on it.

The homeowner liked to place matching containers to the left and right of the entryway—in the mulch. Matching bluestone container pads are the answer.

This entryway was made underwhelming by the ugly timber wall on the right with nothing balancing the left.

Stonewalls topped with flagstone create spaces on which to place containers.



This is a BBQ grill pad I place just off the door to the kitchen, pushing it one-third of the way into the concept line rather than floating it out in the yard.

A narrow front yard strip where the lawn wouldn’t grow because of a neighbor’s giant tree just off camera. So I designed a rock garden featuring three square stone container pads.

Boulder Outcroppings

Outcroppings can serve a utilitarian purpose—keeping a hill in place—or be used simply to give more weight, color, form and texture to the scene. Once you start bouncing foliage color and form off boulder outcroppings, you’ll just keep adding boulders. I try not to do stacked, boulder walls if I can help it. If the degree of slope is seventy degrees or less, you can hold the slope in place with random boulder outcroppings to give the area a more natural look.

Photo from a garden tour in Homer, Alaska.

Not my work, but plenty to steal with your eyes!


Ready for planting.

Photo I took touring Jerry Kral’s famous conifer garden in Rochester, NY

Stepping Stone Pathways

The simplest do-it-yourself project for homeowners is installing a stone pathway. You needn’t base them with gravel, just excavate the soil underneath, tamp it with a hand tamper, then use coarse sand to stabilize each stone.

I remember this job, I didn’t cut or chisel a single stone, I just picked out steppers at the stone yard that wouldn’t need any manipulation.

Front yard renovation in St. Paul, MN, formerly grass lawn.

Flagstone Entryways

Builders are going to pour a concrete sidewalk to the front door of a house ten times out of ten. One of the simplest ways to give your front yard a new look is to replace it with a flagstone entryway.

This was the scene when new homeowners moved in. It was a nice, large, good-looking house, but the concrete entryway killed it.

Here’s the after. I used patterned NY Bluestone as the river, contrasted by a tan flag named Desert Bronze. Note how both stone colors contrast nicely with the house color. Think about that stuff when choosing your stone.

St. Paul job, NY Bluestone Full Color, formerly concrete that was cracked and breaking up. Note rounded concrete stoop.

Yes, I did mortar the rounded stoop with the same stone! Underbid that portion of the job to beat hell!

Stone Walls

Quarried wallstone is the term for the material used anywhere you want a wall, either to retain soil or to divide the property into separate spaces.

Backyard patio on a slope that we did in Golden Valley, MN.

Terrifically creative wall built by Jerry Kral in Rochester, NY.

You’ve seen this one before. Terraced walls we built and planted in St. Paul, MN.


Concrete pavers are certainly going to be less expensive per square foot, and if you study on the Internet, buy some special tools, rent the other necessary equipment and ask a lot of questions, homeowners can install a paver patio nearly as well as a professional landscaper specializing in paver patios. By your third one, you’ll be better at it than at least a third of the professional landscapers specializing in paver patios, but who needs three patios?

Flagstone patios are just as tricky, not to mention that instead of placing little one-pound pavers, you’ll be dealing with placing and leveling forty-pound to two-hundred-pound pieces of flagstone. I have witnessed numerous flagstone patios installed by homeowners that were very good-looking and properly engineered. They tended to be made of smaller stone pieces, and done in a loose, rustic style that I call Country Casual. If that look fits your home, have at it.

Most of the time, however, you’ll want to hire a contractor. Check a lot of photos of their work, and get at least three references. These things can be expensive, and you want to be sure that the contracted landscape company knows what they’re doing.

Close up of one of my patios, Minnetrista, MN. This is Chilton flag, out of Wisconsin. Instead of polymeric sand between the joints we set wider margins and filled them with eighth-inch St. Croix river rock, heavy enough that it doesn’t wash out.

Chanhassen, MN. We used Desert Bronze flagstone.

Then we popped in a different, more colorful stone here and there as accents. Wouldn’t be able to remember the name of the stone for a million dollars.

Rocky Mountain quartzite patio extension off paver area that we did in Golden Valley, MN.

Small bistro set patio for a client in St. Paul, MN

Stone Steps

There are a lot of ways to create stone steps. Small boulders in the twelve- to eighteen-inch range will very often have a flat or fairly flat side, and homeowners looking for a natural staircase up a slope should consider them. Small pieces of flagstone, called steppers, can also be dug into a slope and leveled on sand to make a staircase.

Quarried stone steps are available at stone supply yards ranging from three- to four-feet wide.

These are simple, I take a short piece of wallstone and use it for the rise, then mortar a relatively square or rectangular stepper to it, supported by the compacted soil behind the wallstone.


Garden tour shot.

Job of ours in Greenfield, MN.

Small boulders used as steps to bench area.

Stone staircase off patio, one of my first big jobs, years ago, Deephaven, MN.

Stone and Boulder Fountains

These are one of my favorite stone features, as they combine sculpture with the visual and sound of babbling water.

A beautiful Jasper boulder selected by the client, drilled at the stone yard, and ready for pick up.

The same boulder after installation on the edge of the patio.

Basalt fountain of mine, St. Paul, MN. You can buy these as kits. I have an article on the site with instructions, click here.

And I think that will do it for me for now. Enjoy the rest of the site, there will be new updates under Plant Spotlight, Top Pick, Don’t DO That and Myth of the Week. Also be sure to click on my updated 2017 Speaking Calendar, hopefully we will meet in a few weeks when I hit the road!

Don Engebretson
The Renegade Gardener