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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