Q & A with Jan Johnsen, author of ‘Spirit of Stone’

By Shelley Pierce | July 16, 2017
Image by St. Lynn's Press
by Shelley Pierce
July 16, 2017

Jan Johnsen is a well-regarded landscape designer, author and teacher with a passion for plants, rocks and beautiful gardens. She is an award-winning instructor at the New York Botanical Garden and writes the garden blog, “Serenity in the Garden.” Trained in landscape architecture, planning and professional horticulture, Jan is a co-principal of the design firm, Johnsen Landscapes & Pools, in Westchester County, New York.  Her firm received a merit award in 2014 from the Association of Professional Landscape Designers (APLD).

Her landscapes have appeared in many magazine and books. Jan’s book, Heaven is a Garden, (published by St Lynn’s Press, 2014)  is now in its third printing. In her new book, “The Spirit of Stone: 101 Practical & Creative Stonescaping Ideas for Your Garden‘, (St Lynn’s Press, 2017) she celebrates this natural material and highlights its many uses in the landscape.  Read on to learn more about ‘The Spirit of Stone’ and enter to win a copy!

1.      Why do you have a soft spot for hard rock?
Rocks are plentiful where I live in the Northeast. Growing up here, we kids would paint rocks, stack them, climb them, and dig them up.  So it is a natural progression to use rocks as an adult in the garden! We have a lot of  them so we might as well learn to cherish them. J

2.      Why is stone often an overlooked player in a landscape?

So many of us just see the plants in a landscape. But the walks, walls, and steps are often fashioned from stone. Many times, the details of the stonework is just as lovely as the plants. I am calling attention to the rocks so that they take center stage along with the plants.

3.      How does your book help us add personality to our landscape with stone?

In The Spirit of Stone I offer many ideas for adding rocks into the landscape. For example, a single standing stone in a plant bed can add some drama and contrast to luxuriant foliage and flowers. Or you might add a stepping stone path through a wide  plant bed to lead the eye and also help with getting in there to maintain.  These additions can indeed add personality to an outdoor space.

4.      How many styles of rock gardens are there and which style is your personal favorite – any why?

There are so many styles of rock gardens these days: Modern sculptural rock gardens, ‘hill and crest’ rock gardens that are set into a slope, Japanese-inspired rock gardens that have a ‘zen’ feeling, and cottage rock gardens that feature a blooming field of color.  It seems there are as many styles as there are gardeners! My fave is the Japanese-inspired rock garden. I love the peace and minimalist approach.

5.      What is one of the best examples of stonescaping you have ever seen?

Great question! I think Innisfree in Millbrook, NY -a public garden- has many  fascinating natural rock features. Some incorporate water too. I always tell people to visit Innisfree and to bring a picnic!

6.      What advice do you have for wannabe stonescapers?
Try it! Start small and work from there. And wear gloves and use a tree cart or similar to move rocks around. Do not lift rocks by yourself – that is the best advice.

WIN A COPY OF ‘The Spirit of Stone‘!

To enter, simply leave a comment on this blog post by midnight on Sunday, July 23, 201 7 (be sure to provide a valid e-mail address) in answer to the following question:

Which spot in your yard or garden could benefit from stonescaping?

Be sure to include a valid e-mail address. The winner will be drawn at random from all qualified entrants, and notified via e-mail. (See rules for more information.)

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  • HomesInDesert
    Comment added July 19, 2017Reply

    Here in the Coachella Valley, it is all about natural rocks and creating beautiful landscape with rock texture. Some of best looking front curbs are all created using various textures of stones. Love that you shared how wonderful stonescapes are. Water conservation and beauty really do coexist.

  • natasha ott
    Comment added July 18, 2017Reply

    I would love to create a space that feels cozy and safe and my small yard. A border or circle of sorts. Thank you for the generous giveaway!!

  • Catherine McCarthy
    Comment added July 17, 2017Reply

    My backyard!! :)

  • Valerie Phillips
    Comment added July 17, 2017Reply

    I would love to do some stone scaping around my pond, as well as have stone/ gravel pathqays throughout my garden

  • Debra
    Comment added July 17, 2017Reply

    It has been a dream of mine to make a walking reflexology path for healing. Healing gardens have been what I would love to learn how to plan and grow. Many small stones to walk on through a garden or laberenth sounds lovely. Your posts inspire me.

  • Vickie Ann McCoy
    Comment added July 17, 2017Reply

    I think our front bed under the windows could greatly benefit from stonescaping. A neat appearance is key to curb appeal, and we have weed problems there because the bed is much larger than the small plants. Thank you.

    Comment added July 17, 2017Reply

    I have a big front yard and I would love a small flower garden surrounded by rock

  • Joanna
    Comment added July 17, 2017Reply

    Rock collection has been a hobby of our family for years. It started with my Dad. He would collect some from every where he traveled. We inherited quite a collection. We are blessed and sometimes cursed with many rocks on our place. I plan to make some paths in the garden using some sort of rock. I hope this book will give me some ideas. Thank for the offering!

  • Joanna
    Comment added July 17, 2017Reply

    My whole family loves rocks. My Dad would collect some from where ever he traveled. We have plentiful rocks around our place too. I am planning to make some paths using some kind of rocks. This would be a great book to give me some ideas to use in my gardens. Thanks for the offering!

  • Anne DiSabatino
    Comment added July 17, 2017Reply

    I love the look of all natural materials and enjoy mixing stone and wood in my garden and entertaining areas. I grew up in a 1896 stone home, and having stone paths and sitting spots in sight around my present home somehow evokes a sense of a quieter more peaceful time in my youth and beckons me to stop and take a moment...

  • Margaret Roots
    Comment added July 17, 2017Reply

    I love rocks..i give this credit to my 3rd grade teacher.
    He brought a collection of many types of rocks and my favimatiom bloomed..i still will look for stones on a walk and bring home those that intrigue me.
    I have 5 rock gardens and I would love to learn how to make these stand out more.

  • Liz
    Comment added July 17, 2017Reply

    We have been collecting stone in one place for almost 20 years. So far we have utilized stone to create walls and a patio. Next up is bocce court, paths, second patio, etc. While digging out to make space for the substrate of our first homemade, or should I say stonemade patio, we uncovered a hunk of granite two feet wide x eighteen inches tall and fourteen inches deep - had to use a winch to remove it to where it now sits in a perennial bed. We may never get enough of natural stone!

  • Terri Boykin
    Comment added July 16, 2017Reply

    My garden is fairly new, but I have a circular path that is covered with wood chips now. I think that would be beautiful in stone instead!

  • Shell
    Comment added July 16, 2017Reply

    The immediate project I can use is the stone pathway in our so called secret garden. It is under the shade and covered by weed. I would like to clean it up add pathway.

  • rmcs
    Comment added July 16, 2017Reply

    We have tons of rock on our land. My husband used it to build the foundation for our house and has also built several stone landscaping walls. I need ideas for incorporating rocks into my flower gardens, besides just the outer perimeters.

  • Sandy
    Comment added July 16, 2017Reply

    Actually we have an odd backyard and we have decided to turn the whole backyard into a stone walkway this would help us on where to start because we know it could be beautiful we just don't want to screw it up and we want to do it right. It's not a huge backyard and it wraps around the whole house but it's an unusual shape. I love Stones I love the beauty of stones I love the texture the color everything about Stones I always have and my son and my kids love looking at stones and rocks for texture designs patterns shapes

  • Scott McCranie
    Comment added July 16, 2017Reply

    Awesome and inspiring ideas.

  • Ann Marie Mones
    Comment added July 16, 2017Reply

    There are so many spots in my yard tha could benefi from stonescaping! But the first project would be making a boring gravel walkway between raised perennial gardens more interesting!

  • Gail Arnn
    Comment added July 16, 2017Reply

    The spots in my backyard that would benefit most from stonescaping would be the areas that are close to the house and the dirt path from my backyard gate to my garden area. Need new ideas to improve my landscaping in these areas.

    Comment added July 16, 2017Reply

    i like some of the ideas to make your home look nicer!

    Comment added July 16, 2017Reply

    I would love to incorporate stone edging in my garden beds, would love to win, thank you!

  • Karen Martin
    Comment added July 16, 2017Reply

    Stone pathways in both front and back yard, a stone backyard patio, stone retaining wall and stone terracing.

  • Helen Olasin
    Comment added July 16, 2017Reply

    Moving from the northeast to the southeast, I soon realized that I miss rocks! I don't have the funds to buy rocks but I "acquire" some from anywhere I visit.I would love to build a rock wall,steps and water feature in my small sloping garden!

  • Vipul
    Comment added July 16, 2017Reply

    Stones placed for walkway

  • kim Bakos
    Comment added July 16, 2017Reply

    We would love to have stone pathways in our yard and garden.

    • Jan Johnsen
      Comment added July 21, 2017Reply

      I hope my book helps you add a stone path...

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