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Natural Stone for Landscaping

Natural Stone for Landscape Design

By Tobias RobertsRise Writer
Apr 9, 2019

Spring is finally here, for most of us anyway. After months of being locked up inside, homeowners across the country are ready to get outside and get to work on some of those landscaping projects that have been in the back of our minds. With summer and fall droughts likely through much of the western and southeastern parts of the country, however, homeowners would do well to think beyond those manicured, green lawns that have become a staple of most suburban landscaping. 

RISE has written extensively about how to incorporate water-smart landscapes around your home, and we have also detailed different smart irrigation products that can help to dramatically reduce your household water usage. Incorporating natural stone into the landscape surrounding your home is another sustainable way to add beauty and functionality to your yard. Whether you have a 25 square foot apartment patio, or several acre backyards, natural stone can add numerous beneficial elements to the landscape surrounding your home. 

Benefits of Natural Stone for Landscape Design

For most homeowners, the area around their homes is usually a mixture of impermeable hardscapes (such as asphalt driveways and concrete walkways) and green grass. The unnatural hardscapes are usually seen as a practical way to get from your home to your car or the mailbox. Both asphalt and concrete, however, come with an enormous ecological footprint and contrast with natural landscaping strategies. 

Stone, rock, and gravel, on the other hand, are completely natural materials that can offer the same tangible benefits as concrete and asphalt while offering numerous advantages for a healthier and more sustainable landscape around your home. 

  • Durability and Versatility: One of the most obvious benefits of incorporating stone into a yard is that it is an extremely durable material that will last hundreds of years before eventually decomposing back into the soil. There are several different types of rocks and stones that can be used as part of a sustainable landscaping strategy. While incorporating stone design into your yard can be done in any number of ways, part of the appeal is that natural stone is a steadying and grounding force in any landscape design. 
  • Natural and Abundant: Almost 65 percent of the Earth's crust is made of rock, meaning that we have a virtually inexhaustible source of rock and stones for human use. High-quality landscape stone, such as granite, river rocks, sandstone, and slate can be found in abundance in almost every region around the country. Whereas the cement industry requires extensive manufacturing, leading to upwards of 8 percent of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions, the stone is a completely natural material that can be used without any sort of manufacture. 
  • Visual Appeal: Natural stone is beautiful and visually appealing. From decomposed granite offering a soft, rustic look around your home to exquisite flagstone hardscaping leading from your mailbox to your front door, there are numerous ways to allow the solid colors of stone to improve the aesthetics of your property.
  • Allows Rain Water to Infiltrate Soil: Concrete and asphalt driveways and walkways are almost always impermeable surfaces that lead to an abundance of and sometimes toxic stormwater runoff. Impermeable pavements around a home also stop natural rainwater infiltration and can deplete local groundwater sources. Stone, on the other hand, can be arranged to allow for rainwater infiltration, thus helping to improve the ecological resiliency of your landscape. 
  • Great Option for Xeriscaping Landscapes: Natural stone landscapes are also a great choice for homeowners who live in drought-prone areas. Pea gravel, crushed granite gravel, or lava rock all make for stunning mulches that can be placed around drought-resistant native plants. Not only will this rock landscape significantly reduce your irrigation needs, but it will also protect the soil while offering a unique look to your yard. 

Some Stone Landscape Design Ideas

As mentioned above, there are dozens of ways to incorporate natural stone into your landscape. While the best design strategy will largely depend on where you live and the specific conditions of your yard, below we offer three unique stone landscaping ideas to help you get your creativity flowing.

flagstone walkway
Photo Credit: Newport Ave Landscaping & Irrigation

1. Flagstone Walkway Bordered with Low Growing Ground Covers

Flagstone is a large, flat, usually sedimentary rock that is widely used for paving and landscaping. All sedimentary rock is formed over time by strong pressure and heat, thus making flagstone extremely strong and durable. Because of its thickness, most flagstone used for paving or walkways does not need to be cemented into the landscape. 

To create a permeable pathway through your yard or garden, set thick flagstones at random patterns. Instead of trying to fit the pieces perfectly together like a puzzle piece, leave space (about one to three inches) between each rock. Low growing ground cover such as Irish moss, Breckland thyme, or speedwells can be planted in these gaps to allow for a beautiful, colorful walkway that will allow you to enjoy a natural landscape without getting your feet dirty. 

gravel walkway garden beds
Photo Credit: Native Soil Gardens

2. Gravel Walkways amongst Raised Garden Beds 

For homeowners who enjoy having a garden to play in during the summer months, raised beds to allow you to avoid encroaching weeds while also building soil. The raised beds make it easy to incorporate compost from a household worm composting bin and can be easily tilled for spring plantings. Incorporating colored gravel around a small backyard garden of raised beds planted with flowers and vegetables makes a beautiful, practical garden.

stone and gravel walkway
Photo Credit: lethereatdirt.com

3. Drought Tolerant Grass and Herb Yard

In areas where droughts are common and rain is always scarce, spreading brown-colored gravel will certainly look much nicer than a lawn full of burnt, dry grass. Planting ornamental grasses such as deer grass with drought-tolerant herbs such as rosemary and basil will offer a stunning landscape that will require virtually no irrigation, while also giving you plenty of Mediterranean herbs for your kitchen. 

Where to Find Natural Stone on Your Own

If you have or can borrow, an old pickup truck, you might be able to find beautiful natural stone in areas relatively close to your home. Along highways where roads have been cut into the landscape, it is often possible to find large pieces of slate rock that can be loaded and hauled away to be used as stepping stones across your lawn or garden. A trip to a river will also allow you to find plenty of smooth river rocks that can be utilized as a garden mulch to protect the soil around your flowers and plants while reducing competition from weeds. Large granite boulders can withstand very high temperatures, making it a great option for building a backyard fire pit. 

The Freecycle Network is another great resource to find free rocks and stone for your landscape design. This grassroots and entirely nonprofit movement is composed of people who are giving (and getting) stuff for free in their own towns and neighborhoods. It's all about reuse and keeping good stuff out of landfills. Some people renovating their landscapes might very well have a few rocks that they’d be willing to donate. 

While natural stone offers numerous benefits, the one major drawback is that it is extremely dense and heavy, making it difficult to transport. So, when purchasing natural stone commercially, make sure to choose stone, rock, or gravel that is sourced from local quarries, to cut back on the embodied energy footprint. 

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2021-07-10T05:54:06+0000
Tobias Roberts

Article by:

Tobias Roberts

Tobias runs an agroecology farm and a natural building collective in the mountains of El Salvador. He specializes in earthen construction methods and uses permaculture design methods to integrate structures into the sustainability of the landscape.