Working With Stone

by: Lindsay Pykosz

photography by: Nicole Harnishfeger

Landscaping with Stone

Whether it’s a space for relaxation, entertainment or play, your yard and the surrounding landscape make a statement. While many  people think of lawns and gardens when it comes to the outdoors around a home, there’s a whole other world of “hardscaping” that involves pathways, patios, stone or brick that gives an area more personality and dimension than just plain grass.

On Nantucket, some amount of stonework is found on nearly every property. Whether it’s a brick walkway leading to the front door, a slate patio ideal for barbecues or a stone wall at the property line, stone is slowly filling our yards and gardens.

The story of stone on Nantucket begins with the last Ice Age, when the island and much of coastal New England was deposited here as a glacier melted, the sea level rose, and everything the glacier had caught up in its progress was left behind.

After decades of land-clearing for homes and fields, people had to find something to do with all the rocks, thus creating the stone walls that are so prevalent around New England, but not so common on Nantucket. When islanders dig in their yards, chances are they’ll find mostly sand. But there is that rare occasion when the shovel makes that unfamiliar clang of hitting pure rock, a solid mass compared to the gravel and few rounded, smoothed and tumbled rocks the glacier left behind.

The term “stonework” is nothing new, and nationwide, there has been a growing trend toward the decorative use of stone in the land- scape. Here on Nantucket, entire businesses are built around this particular aesthetic and landscapers are using a variety of imported materials in their work.

Neil Paterson, of Neil Paterson, Inc. is no stranger to stonework and creating large-scale landscaping projects, from stone patios to stone walls. In the last three years, before he begins a project, the first thing he said goes through his mind is “cost, cost, cost,” and the most popular stone he’s been working with is bluestone, probably because it’s the most cost-effective.

“It’s readily available and consistent,” he said. “I can get it pretty well year-round.”

The layout of the property and his client’s wishes depend on whether Paterson will create a more formal look or something more natural. Not all stone is the same. While some Nantucketers have used cobblestones in walls, the natural tendency of these smooth, round rocks is to roll to the lowest point, and some type of mortar is needed to hold them in place. Dry-laid stone walls are like fitting together pieces of a puzzle.

“Sometimes I’ll go for the more formal look, which is random and rectangular, almost like a jigsaw puzzle, or an informal look which would take us down the path of regular bluestone,” he said. “Then I’ll lay on sand, stone dust or concrete. But, if you put concrete down, it adds a dimension of cost. (In walkways) a lot of people will plant thyme in between the stones because it adds a level of smell when you walk on the stones.”

Paterson said the amount of work he gets done is closely related to weather, and the tools he uses can make a difference.

“When it gets cold, you can’t cut stone because if you don’t use water, the dust is not friendly on your lungs when you’re sawing. But you can work with hammers, chisels and things like that,” he said. “It’s based on the season, and it’s all weather-related.” 

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