1. Sandstone buff
Everybody loves a buff sandstone. It’s not as white and shimmering as porcelain tiles or limestone, it has beautiful veins and works well with most landscape materials in most climates. The silhouettes created by foliage onto the stone gives good contrast of light and shade and large slabs of buff sandstone can truly increase the feeling of spaciousness in small gardens. There are many sources of varying stone character from Yorkshire, China and India. Being a sedimentary rock some sandstone is fairy soft so the specification should consider the type of application.
Photograph by Helen Fickling
Clerkenwell roof garden Buff with Brown
2. Sandstone grey
Some grey sandstones can appear gloomy at times. I therefore always prefer to use a light grey stone which has natural variations and combine it with another coloured stone or another textural finish. It is remarkable how the same stone reacts and appears to different finishes such as flaming, hammering and sandblasting – these all give tactile stone that is extremely useful used not only visually but also in steps, landings and traffic areas.
Photograph by Clive Nichols Sandbanks courtyard garden Grey step with Brown
3. Sandstone blue
I love blue sandstone. Here in London it blends seamlessly with the light quality and in most Northern Hemisphere gardens it spears handsome and elegant. James van Sweden and Wolfgang Oehme, the American landscape architect, have used Blue stone in many of their North American gardens organically complimenting their romantic vision of contemporary prairie gardens.
Cromwell Tower roof terrace Buff with Blue
4. Sandstone purple
I have come across a few unique purple sandstones mainly from Derbyshire and China. Used effectively in building cladding they have a place in garden paving, giving a striking essence. One of the ways to show of the stone and quieten it down is to contrast it with other stones such as buff sandstone, slate or granite.
Shoreditch small garden
5. Sandstone red
Red veining in sandstone is quite prevalent and whilst it is not for everyone’s taste or for every project, It can be quite uplifting used wisely and with other complimenting materials such as hardwood, granite or concrete. In California and central Australia most sandstone is red making it highly unusual. Although there are some red sandstones available from China I find it less conducive to the light and plants character here in the UK. The red veining is interesting because it represents the process of the earth, the evolution of the stone and its age.
Chiswick large family garden
The grainy, igneous, construction stone that is in everybody’s kitchen countertops is never as beautiful as sandstone but always tough. What’s more, it is associated here in the West with corporate plazas, airports and driveways. In Japan, white, grey, pink and black granites are used religiously to create the most spiritual compositions in temple, memorial, public and private gardens. Utilising the toughness of the material with its infinite amount of finishes, colours and textures one can truly create meaningful works of art in contemporary gardens.
Highbury courtyard garden
Some limestones are not always frost proof enough to last well in Northern Europe. The volatility of the material, its brightness and required maintenance of sealing put me off at times. Yet some hardy limestones offer a buff quality found in sandstone with veining familiar through granite – it is those s tones that attract me and that I feel I can use as a dynamic material. Many limestones are quarried at slender thicknesses making them handy when the sub-base is high or there is limited height to pave. As with sandstone these pale stones tend to get tarnishes in high water tables or under tress and careful consideration must be employed in terms of sealing and cleaning maintenance.
Highbury courtyard garden
Although most of the roofing slate in Europe is exported from Spain, many beautiful dark slates have come my way originating in Brazil, South Africa and Portugal. I have been using them for countertops, water features, coping but mainly for paving. Being tough, slate allows me to specify narrow bands and often this is useful in areas where I require high detail such as a path and different width bands of slate can be used. Although slate tends to be quarried in thin profiles, as it is solid large slabs can be specified even with only 30mm thickness. This cuts down on transportation costs, storage space on site and labour.
The world of porcelain tiles is vast and the types available, particularly from Italy and Spain, are increasing every day. When I use tiles it is usually to do with a physical necessity or limitation on site where an 8mm tile is the solution to a height problem. Yet the tiles that I use, usually, are mimicking natural stone but with quite a few advantages. The grouting can be matched to the tile; maintenance is low; reversion of colour is minimal and the cost is lower. On roof terraces, where weight might be an issue, tiles are particularly useful.
Photograph by Clive Nichols Parsons Green courtyard tiles with slate coping
There is a stone, manufactured in Peterborough near Cambridge that I have used a while back quite a few times both in gardens and roof terraces. Blanc de Bierges was recently acquired by Evans Concrete Products after 40 years of concrete pioneering. The modular system also supports one-off sizes and slabs can be made in a variety of finishes. It is a cost effective solution that not only appears natural but is tough and enduring.
St george Wharf roof gardens
“As natural stone prevails in so many architectural fields, crossing over techniques, practices and traditions proves useful to contemporary landscape and garden designers. Building a library of stones, experimenting with sizes, finishes and colours and studying the results over time, does take a lifetime…”
Written, photographed (unless indicated) and posted by Amir Schlezinger.
Photograph by Clive Nichols Sandbanks courtyard garden
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