Whether you’re planning a stunning flagstone patio or an intimate winding path, many people feel that the best materials to build from should be natural, not man made. Natural stone never fades, doesn’t need to be sealed to keep the color and will stand the test of time. Here are a few of our favorite natural stones that we use in landscape design:
Fieldstone is a rough and irregular stone found in fields of New England. Because of their varied shapes and sizes, they are best used for paths and stepping stones. When they are used for patios, they are usually set in cement, with small stones, pushed between the larger ones to make a natural-looking, continuous surface. Some people love the natural look of fieldstone for paths but overall they are probably better as visual accents or edging material.
Flat, easy to walk on, and durable, flagstones have a natural and pleasing appearance. However, they can be a bit slippery when wet and because they are often irregular in shape and color, they lend a “busy” look to a large area. Depending upon the kind of stone used, the slabs range from ½ to 2 inches in thickness. Most are somewhat expensive, and all must be hand cut by a professional and installed with great care. Flagstones can be laid on soil and anchored in place with mortar or laid on a prepared cement bed using the “wet-mortar” method. Some suppliers will help the do-it-yourselfer by selecting and arranging the stones to your specifications, then numbering them for resetting on the site. There is usually a surcharge for this service but it is well worth it.
Bluestone is a commonly used flagstone, and if formality in the patio is your goal, slate would be an excellent choice. Large pieces of these stones can be cut into uniform rectangular shapes and are available in many shades although they may change hue over time. Large slate or bluestone flagstones are quite heavy and their installation should be left to a professional.
If durability is what you are looking for then granite is the best choice. Blocks of granite, whether rectangles or 4-inch cubes, are known as setts. They are the cobblestones of yore – those rounded squares that once covered the streets of New York and many other cities often arriving in this country as ballast on old sailing ships. Setts are installed in the same manner as brick, but they cannot be cut without proper equipment, and they can be more expensive than other materials. However, they’re extremely durable. An area paved in granite setts will never needs repaving, making their installation a one-time expense and practically guaranteeing very low maintenance.
If quick and easy is your preference then small, loose stones are the way to go. Pebbles or gravel raked over an area is known as loose aggregate paving. It is easy to keep weed free by hand-picking invading plants and it provides excellent drainage, with very little run-off or flooding and little splashing. It is also the easiest surface to install – you simply pour loose aggregate into an excavated area. If it is to be a permanent surface, excavate to a depth of 12 to 18 inches, or lay a sheet of black polyethylene over the bottom of a 6-inch excavation, making certain to cut several X’s in the plastic for drainage. As a temporary paving, a 6-inch layer of loose aggregate is excellent; later it will double as the subbase for a more permanent paver.
As for the gravel itself, choose something that blends well with your landscape. Because of the glare, and it’s aesthetically disagreeable look, avoid the shock of white rock for large areas. The nicest loose aggregate, in our opinion is washed gravel: pebbles that are smooth and round.