Stone in the Garden

When you visit Linden Hill Gardens for the first time, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of cool plants and beautiful gardens. But when you take the time to really appreciate the design aspects — particularly the hardscaping — you’ll understand why owner Jerry Fritz is widely known as a landscape craftsman as well as a plant addict. One of the signature features of Jerry’s design work is his use of stone: a material he incorporates into his own gardens as well as those he creates for clients.

From a practical standpoint, stone is much more durable and much less maintenance than wood. Wood, after all, eventually rots and needs to be replaced. Painting or staining may delay the process a few years, but that also increases the investment of time and money over the years. A properly constructed stone wall, path, or terrace, on the other hand, can last a lifetime.

Another reason why Jerry likes to use stone so much — and why he encourages others to use it as well — is its aesthetic appeal. This natural material complements all kinds of plantings, and its presence helps to link the garden to its setting in the larger landscape.

Walls, of course, are one of the most common uses for stone in the garden. In a sloping site, stone retaining walls set against the grade can terrace the area into flatter, more useful spaces. If a site is already flat, you can build stone walls and fill behind them with soil to create raised areas, or line excavated spaces with stone walls to develop a sunken garden. In any site, free-standing stone walls are a classic choice for creating boundaries and defining spaces within a garden.

Why is it that builders and homeowners continue to create walkways by pouring boring concrete slabs and then sticking brick or flagstone on top as a veneer? In our cold-winter climate, the freezing temperatures cause the bricks or stones to break loose, and regular repointing is necessary to put them back in place. There’s a much simpler approach: excavate approximately 2 feet down, backfill with gravel, pack it firmly, and set in one or more large slabs of fieldstone or granite. The finished effect is more elegant, essentially maintenance-free, and often more cost-effective over the long run.

For secondary paths, pea gravel or crushed stone is often a good choice. It makes a nice scrunching sound underfoot, and it looks good, too. Plus, it’s more environmentally friendly than a solid path, because it allows rainwater to drain through and soak into the soil instead of run off the site. Installing gravel paths can be a good way to spread out landscaping costs over time, as well: Walk on them as they are for a few years, then use them as the base for stone slabs to create the permanent walkway as money allows.

“Living patio” is a name Jerry came up with for natural fieldstone slabs in a dry-pack (unmortared) setting, with spaces left between the stones for plants to grow in. You can find out more about how Jerry designs and plants a feature like this in Bring Your Patio to Life.

A stone seat is very easy to construct, visually dramatic, and more cost-effective than a teak garden bench. Find a fairly flat stone and lay it across two chunky logs for a rustic seat, or set it on two blocky base stones to create a permanent feature. Or, find one large stone that serves as a bench all by itself. Jerry likes to create a special sitting area by placing a stone bench in a space cut into a slope. It’s especially nice when a site like this faces south, because the stone warms up quickly, making a cozy spot to sit from fall through spring. He has also designed stone chaise lounges with fragrant thyme plants around the edges to sit or lie on.

If you’re planning a water feature for your garden, don’t forget to incorporate stone. Use it to make the edging, to add height for a waterfall, or to form the base for a bubbling fountain element. Add a unique look to a pond by setting in large boulders with the tops as level as possible just above the water surface.

Long, narrow, large stones look amazing when set on end and partially buried for support. A single standing stone makes a dramatic garden accent; a pair emphatically marks an entrance or transition point. Where space allows, repeating the stones in lines, circles, or spirals creates a very powerful landscape feature.

Even short stone posts can be useful as well as beautiful, serving to mark edges, protect borders from errant garden hoses, or elevate special bits of small statuary.

Look for these and other stone features the next time you stroll through the gardens at Linden Hill. Interested in adding stone to your own landscape? Please see Our New Client Process information for details on how we work.

Bring Your Patio to Life

The Living Patio at Linden Hill Gardens in Ottsville, PA

The Living Patio at Linden Hill Gardens

Many of you who have visited Linden Hill this year have noticed that Jerry recently expanded one of our most popular garden features: the living patio. The rest of you may be wondering “What’s a living patio?”. A combination of large stone slabs and gorgeous ground-hugging plants, the living patio is a concept that Jerry came up with over 25 years ago, and he has designed and installed many of them for clients since then.

From a design perspective, a living patio provides a natural-looking transition between the house and the gardens around it. From a plant geek’s point of view, it provides yet another place to experiment with interesting ground covers and rock-garden plants. And for everyone, it creates a beautiful setting for outdoor entertaining, dining, or simply relaxing.

Living Patio at Linden Hill Gardens in Ottsville, PA

Large stones interplanted with tiny plants make a striking contrast.

The stones are the heart of any living patio. This isn’t the place to use up small pieces, because they won’t stay level, and that can cause people to trip; plus, the whole effect looks “busy.” Jerry prefers to use large, flat slabs of Pennsylvania fieldstone, ranging in size from 3 to 10 feet wide and 4 to 8 inches thick. He also likes to include a few stones with pockets or shallow indentations in each patio, because they collect water that birds can drink from or bathe in. That makes living patios wildlife-friendly as well as people- and plant-friendly. They’re environmentally friendly too: instead of rainfall sheeting off the solid surface of a formally paved patio, it can soak into the ground through the spaces.

Living Patio at Linden Hill Gardens in Ottsville, PA

In the main part of the patio, very low plants are the best choice. As you get closer to the edge, adding slightly taller ones–like this combination of thymes and sedums–creates a transition between the patio and surrounding garden spaces.

For the “living” part of the patio, Jerry sticks with plants that reach a maximum of 2 to 3 inches tall in leaf and no more than 8 inches in bloom (ideally shorter). Some, such as golden creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’) and purple-leaved Labrador violet (Viola labradorica) are mostly for foliage color; others, including the veronicas ‘Georgia Blue’ and ‘Waterperry Blue’, are primarily there for pretty flowers. He also tucks in a wide variety of low-growing thymes (Thymus) and other herbs with scented foliage, because they release a nice fragrance when they get stepped on.

Isotoma fluviatilis in flower at Linden Hill Gardens in Ottsville, PA

Blue star creeper (Isotoma fluviatilis) is sprinkled with dainty blue blooms through most of the summer. It looks delicate, but this little charmer is so sturdy that it doesn’t mind being walked on.

While these plants do a great job filling the gaps between stones, the living patio at Linden Hill occasionally has a few bare spots because of the heavy foot traffic right outside our office. Sometimes, we simply transplant pieces of the good spreaders into those spaces; other times, we use those gaps to try out new creepers.

Wondering how to fit a 6- or 8-inch potted ground cover into a space that’s just 1 to 2 inches wide? Tip the plant out of the pot, cut off all but the top 2 inches of the root ball with a sharp knife, and then cut the remaining plant into pieces that are the perfect size to fit between the stones. They'll quickly root into the screenings under the slabs and can grow happily for years with minimal care.

Wondering how to fit a 6- or 8-inch potted ground cover into a space that’s just 1 to 2 inches wide? Tip the plant out of the pot, cut off all but the top 2 inches of the root ball with a sharp knife, and then cut the remaining plant into pieces that are the perfect size to fit between the stones. They’ll quickly root into the screenings under the slabs and can grow happily for years with minimal care.

If you have an existing patio with planting space between the stones and want to dress it up, we have lots of flowering and foliage ground-huggers that are perfect for the purpose, including creeping mazus (Mazus reptans), creeping thyme (Thymus serpyllum), Scotch moss (Sagina subulata ‘Aurea’), and many intriguing sedums.

Plants for Living Patios at Linden Hill Gardens in Ottsville, PA

Look for our extensive collection of living-patio plants between the office and the greenhouse.

Would you like to add a living patio to your own landscape? You can find out more details about how Jerry constructs them in his book Lessons from Linden Hill: Design Tips and Planning Pointers. We have it available for sale in the Greeting Barn at Linden Hill, or you can buy it online from Amazon. Or, contact our office at 610-847-1300 to discuss the possibility of having Jerry design, install, and plant one for you! More information on our design process here.

Living Patio at Linden Hill Gardens in Ottsville, PA

Wouldn’t you love to have a space like this in your own landscape?