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Garden Designers Roundtable : Stone – I Like It Small

by germinatrix | May 23rd, 2011

a handful of plain pea gravel - the possibilities!

Stone is fancy.

I am not.

Well, I DO like the finer things in life, but when it comes to one of the most coveted materials in the garden designer’s palette – stone – I must admit to liking mine cheap and easy, tiny and fast. Mortarless. I love gravel. Pebbles. Grit! I love everything about it, and use it in almost every garden I do.

When I was a little girl, I would collect the prettiest pebbles and pretend they were a huge pile of jewels. My friends and I would play Treasure Cave, and when the game was over and we were called home we’d throw the stones down back onto the driveway. The jewels became gravel again, but the next day, if we were up for another game of Treasure Cave, they would be ready to morph right back into rubies and emeralds and diamonds.

my favorite pebbles of the moment - Mexican Mix 5/8"

Pebbles, or gravel, are democratic. You don’t need a degree in design to use it well. You don’t need to be a contractor to install it. In fact, you can pretty much throw it down and you have yourself a patio, or a path, or a mulch, or a top dressing for pots, or a way to keep your candles upright in your homemade hurricane lamps …

teensy weensy chipped granite looks like cous cous

Gravel is smart. Economical. It is a permeable surface, meaning water percolates through it into our soil and stays on site rather than being collected on large expanses of hard surface and then channeled through a series of drains into our waterways.

ooooo lala, check out these tiny stones in a soft jade green

beautiful tiny speckled rocks - like a small gothic bird's eggs

Were you like me when you were a child? Did you collect small stones and pebbles as treasures? Did you pretend they were rubies or sapphires or diamonds? I still feel the same way about them. Even though they are common rock, I believe in their power to change a space by adding color and texture to the zones of visual rest. And they can still mesmerize. The other day I saw an older woman standing in my Hellstrip, collecting some of my small dark polished stones. At first I thought – “NO! MINE!”, but when I saw how carefully she was choosing, how she would fondle some and toss others aside until she had a small handful, well – how could I begrudge her a small handful of rocks? I understood the pleasure they brought her. I wonder what she did with them.

oh! mauve river rocks! I want to bite them, but I'd break my teeth!

I always joke around that I am the kind of garden designer that likes to throw down gravel and then plant the hell out of a space. I realize that it is no joke. I’m not likely to use stone trucked in from someplace far away – and if I do use flags or pavers, you can be sure I am going to be sweeping my latest favorite gravel in between the stones. Maybe the children that live or play in the space will pretend the pebbles are jewels, just like I did.

XOXO Your Germinatrix

You know the drill! Follow the links around the country and see what my talented colleagues have to say about STONE!

Deborah Silver : Dirt Simple : Detroit, MI

Sunny Wieler : Stone Art Blog : West Cork, Ireland

Debbie Roberts : A Garden of Possibilities : Stamford, CT

Douglas Owens-Pike : Energyscapes : Minneapolis, MN

Jenny Petersen : J Petersen Garden Design : Austin TX

Rochelle Greayer : Studio G : Boston, MA

Susan Cohan : Miss Rumphius’ Rules : Chatham, NJ

Tara Dillard : Vanishing Threshold : Atlanta, GA

Scott Hokunson : Blue Heron Landscapes : Granby, CT

21 Responses to “Garden Designers Roundtable : Stone – I Like It Small”

  1. As a girl of about 10 we went to this remote beach called Los Iros and there was piles of large multicolored pebbles-in reds and oranges and browns! I collected as many as I could and took home. Then I found they came with a bonus-they actually marked the concrete-so I used a few as cool hopscotch markers. I had these pebbles as a treasured collection for years.

    I still love stones, on my trips to Asia I enjoy getting the semi precious stone jewelry both for myself and as gifts. This time I got myself a lapis pendant.

    Those mauve river rocks look lovely.

  2. Yes, I collected my share of rocks as a kid! I even had a polishing machine to transform them into glossy “jewels” that I could set in little bracelets and rings. Now we’re older and still playing with rocks. And these days I get to watch my daughter collect pretty stones and ooh and ahh over them.

  3. Now I see why you are a fan of Stephen Orr’s new book: he’s a gravel nut, too! A wonderful post about the power of the most ordinary of stones to transform a space.

  4. My friends and I played with mud – we’d make pies, cakes, cookies – when we were growing up. We lived across the street from a golf course and used to ‘sell’ them to the golfers along with lemonade. Looking back, those golfers sure did play along!

    As Susan so aptly commented, this is a great post about the power of something so small, simple and unassuming.

  5. Pebbles to jewels, oh my! I totally have a thing for small stones too! Sometimes I just wish it was easier to harness the alchemy of my childhood imagination … the capability to transmute the mundane into the exquisite isn’t always obvious to my mature brain. In addition to bang for your buck and visual complexion, another thing I relish about a nice gravel surface is the crunch underfoot, the sound and the texture (growing up on the beaches of Southern California precludes a penchant for shoeless gardening). I was obsessed with Beth Chatto’s Gravel Garden book for awhile, which is probably why I used gravel in my own garden … and my neighborhood cats couldn’t be happier.

  6. Add small stones to your container gardens to cover any bare spots. Important finishing touch.

  7. Used to collect stones as kid and still do!
    Thanks and best

  8. It’s the sound of gravel being walked on that I think I love the most. Music and movement. I want to lick the speckled ones BTW.

  9. I, too, used to spend hours collecting the prettiest pebbles from our neighbor’s garden. In fact, I’d even go so far as to dig them out of the asphalt in our cul de sac! I don’t know why, but there were beautiful pebbles stuck in that ugly, black tar!! Jeez – I haven’t thought about that for YEARS!! I, too, absolutely adore the crunchy sound of pebbles. But I also learned a trick from my mother – put a pea gravel pathway outside of the bedrooms and you always know when your kid is sneaking out at night! Yes, I never quite mastered the fine art of walking silently on that pathway!! ;)

  10. I LOVE small rock, too! I have bags and bags of it just waiting for the right project. I use gravel and various types of river rock in almost all of my container plantings–my favorite du jour is Tejas Black. And, awesome pics, Ivette!

  11. YES! I collected also, but not as jewels. To this day I have stones and pebbles lying around all over the place, in the garage, the shed, in my office. The plan is always to find some artistic way of using them, but they are so cool by themselves, I usually just let them sit where they lie and admire them. Your pictures are great! What plant are the speckled rocks sitting on? I imagine they are in a crock’s mouth.

  12. I love your gravel and small stones. Whenever I visit the ancestral farm on Lake Champlain in Vermont I bring home bags of the smooth gray slate stones from the lake beach. My cousins think I am crazy.

  13. Love your little vignettes, Ivette.
    Always a pleasure to visit here!

  14. I love the vignettes and your stories, as usual Ivette. You bring such vivid mental pictures with your writing, and then the photos bring your words to life as well. Lovely.

  15. I like local stone in a garden. It just seems right to me.

    One summer, when I was working in southwestern Indiana, and carpooling to the studio, I noticed that the chunky gravel where I was being housed was full of fossils. I still have a shoebox of those fossils, a dozen years later.

  16. As a geologist with almost 40 years of practice under my belt, I have collected the big and the small for many years. Some of my favorites are colorful, stream-rounded pebbles from various places. I had them hiding in a 5-gallon plastic bucket until last year when I suffered a stroke. While I was recuperating, my son took and placed them in a dish fountain where my beautiful granddaughter can enjoy their colors and the sprinkling water on hot summer days.

    God works in mysterious ways!

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