Landscaping with stone and rock

Stone retaining wall

When you start to plan your new backyard landscape, trees, shrubs, flowers and grass are probably the first things that come to mind. But equally important as the flora you choose is how you incorporate hardscapes into your yard’s design. From pathways and water features to built-in seating areas and multipurpose retaining walls, hardscapes highlight your home and landscape. “We find that our clients are wanting to make their homes have a better street presentation, since that’s the first thing anyone sees when approaching the property, and first impressions are key,” says Dave F. Radlmann, CGC, LEED AP BD+C and CEO of Heirloom Design Build (

Inside out

Because so many homeowners are viewing the yard as an extension of the home, hardscapes have come to include a little bit of everything. Some of the most popular hardscape features right now are outdoor fireplaces, fire pits and outdoor kitchens. Many people are taking these outdoor areas to new levels, featuring everything from outdoor televisions to built-in sound systems.

Water features are also a popular hardscaping element. “In my opinion, no landscape is complete without some type of water feature,” says Laura Guilmette, vice president of Unique Environmental Landscapes ( “There are many forms, from a natural mountain stream to a formal-style urn. No matter which style you choose, all water features provide the sound of water.”

If you want to include multipurpose features in your landscape, rainwater harvest systems are also a great choice. You can collect water to use on your plants while also creating a unique, beautiful water feature. And if you want to attract butterflies, birds and other wildlife to your yard, water features are the way to go.




Built-in beauty

Of course, there are other ways for your hardscape to multitask. “Bench seats with cushions that are on hinged seats make great exterior storage spaces for outdoor cushions and other garden supplies,” says John Kenna, owner of Water, Color & Stone Inc. ( “This is a great way to extend deck use without having to use closets or storage buildings or hauling to and from a basement storage area.”

Many people are also creating stone retaining walls that double as seats. “These are typically decorative walls that are capped at an 18-inch height to accommodate seating,” says Hugh Dixon of StoneAge Stonescapes LLC ( “They are often used as retaining walls to raise or lower an area by a couple of feet.”
Another multipurpose feature is a fire pit that can double as a table. “Many furniture manufacturers sell round tabletops separate from the bases, so we can build the fire pit to fit a tabletop that can be added or removed as necessary,” says Rick Kaldrovics, president of Outside Landscape Group (

Set in stone

Materials can cost anywhere from $6 to more than $20 per square foot. Natural stone is the most expensive, as it has to be blasted from mountains and shipped. While most landscapers prefer natural stone for its beauty and durability, many people are choosing to use cast concrete products, like pavers.

“One advantage to concrete products is that they provide multiple choices in patterns and colors,” says Guilmette. They are also cheaper than natural stone and can be a great value if you’re looking for a low-maintenance product that will last for a long time. Pavers, like those made by Belgard Hardscapes (, come in a variety of sizes, shapes, colors and textures. “There are endless options, so homeowners can customize their outdoor living space to fit their personality and lifestyle,” says Ken O’Neill, vice president of marketing at Belgard. You can combine colors and styles of pavers to create pretty much any pattern you want.

When it comes to style, though, many people choose natural stone for its look, which includes natural variations in style and color. “Natural stone is going to give you a more unique and long-lasting finish than most man-made materials,” Kaldrovics says. Of course, natural products can be found locally, which is a plus. “We tend to use a lot of granite, which we get from local quarries right here in Georgia,” Radlmann says. Flagstone is also a popular option for Atlanta area homeowners. “We are doing a lot of sand-set flagstone for patios using a special polymeric sand called Gator Dust,” says Mark Schisler of Legacy Landscapes Inc. ( “It saves a lot of money over a concrete base or mortared flagstone patio, and it looks just as good. The polymers harden so the sand won’t wash out, and maintenance is reduced since mortared joints often crack with time.”



Combining elements

Wooden hardscape features, such as wooden decks and trellises, are also widely used. They should be treated with preservatives to resist sun exposure, and while they still won’t last as long as stone or concrete elements, they create a nice contrast.

Combining all these elements will create a warm, inviting outdoor area for entertaining or just relaxing on the weekends. “A tumbled paver patio adjacent to a stack-stone seat wall that serves as the edge of a natural water feature with a stately fireplace surrounded by a post-and-beam cedar-covered structure creates a space for all-season entertaining that you can truly escape within,” says Brendan Smith, landscape architect at 
C & M Residential Services Inc. 

Retaining walls

Because level lots are difficult to come by in Atlanta, many landscapes include retaining walls, which can help create usable space. They are used as both functional and aesthetic design elements. Here are a few things to know about retaining walls:
•    Retaining walls carve out additional level space by pushing back a slope and holding the soil in place. They also relieve erosion and drainage issues that might not have been addressed when the home was built.
•    Retaining walls are easy to incorporate seamlessly into your landscape design, and you can get creative with retaining walls by building them to be used as seating, a fireplace or even a water feature.
•    If not properly designed, a retaining wall could collapse and cause damage to your yard or home, so make sure you have a trusted professional to do the job.
Sources: Mark Schisler, Legacy Landscapes Inc.; Hugh Dixon, StoneAge Stonescapes LLC; Laura Guilmette, Unique Environmental Landscapes

Playing games

Aside from providing a relaxing outdoor living space, your landscape can also incorporate special areas for games. Today’s landscapes include everything from built-in playgrounds for the kids to designated horseshoe pits and custom-designed putting greens for the older crowd.

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