Choosing your Materials
Select a Family of Hard Materials from the Beginning.
- It is best to choose the family of things you will be using together in the landscape for your hard materials ‘palette’ before you try to think about your built projects in detail since, in the end, these early choices will affect the overall appearance of your landscape scheme.
Early on would be the time to consider removing, at least mentally, any unsatisfactory masonry or wood structures whose materials or esthetics are amongst those you will prefer not to duplicate.
- Your initial selections will typically establish the kinds of materials that you will be using in subsequent work, so from the beginning you will want to make good choices from the range available.
- The particular materials you choose may also dictate the fundamental ground preparation needed for your projects, and so sometimes can affect the sequence of your landscape development as well as the cost.
Design in Sets
- A whole property will need various types of hard materials to shape the landscape and create the structures to serve the many purposes of a place. The component kinds will be seen together in pairs and groups, probably in more than one location on the property. You are after a set of kinds of materials which will look well together in current and future projects, a family of materials, with colors and textures that enhance one another.
Consider the character of the various stone and materials types already in the view or wanted in the view.….
- If you are choosing between alternative materials, consider how their color and character will work in relation to whatever else will also be there. You will want what you bring in to be harmonious with what is already on your property, or what will necessarily be in the view.
- If the family of materials you build with originally came out of the same area as you reside in, or from similar geological earth areas, compositions you create using those particular kinds in consistent ways will help the elements of your landscape belong with one another. As soon as you build them in, they can seem as if they had always been there. Unless you are trying to make a separatist statement, the chosen set of materials may be pleasing if it seems an appropriate part of the local landscape in general...
- The enduring materials such as wood, stone, concrete, metal, asphalt and even plastics you choose to build with are invariably fundamental in establishing the esthetic connectedness of your place.
- .To find out what materials may suit your local esthetic and be available to you, take a look around at nearby built work. A particular vernacular visual character is established by the kinds and colors of materials that have been commonly used in your area, a standard most likely set because they have been available close by over a long span of time. Their character is part of your biogeographical destiny, an intrinsic part of the ecoesthetic nature of your place.
What is beautiful in your eyes and locally available can help to shape the range of good choices for your projects.
Go see nearby stone and hard materials suppliers, quarries and maybe even excavation and blasting projects that might be sources for you.
- Once you have established some continuity in your landscape, you will be able to insert surprises, kind of like decorating your house after it is built. First you need to build the framing well, to support the life you will breathe into it later.
“ Do experiments with the materials at hand to find out
what you can do with what is locally available…
so that people can do gardens beautifully in that area.”
- You will need to select different kinds of stone and other hard materials to best accomplish the different sorts of building goals. Sometimes the character of the material will need to be flat, sometimes three dimensional. In certain places you will want a free draining surface, in others an impermeable one. Each kind of building material has inherent characteristics which make it suit certain building applications better than others.
Stones or other materials used in horizontal contexts can be consistently a different kind from those used in vertical applications.
- Those which tend to have durable flat surfaces and are not too thick to handle will be good choices for the horizontal planes you will build as terraces, paths, and treads of steps. An even sturdier flat material may also be needed where cars will drive over it.
- When the goal is some elevation, another kind of hardmaterial will be needed, one whose character is suitable for your 3 dimensional and verticals work, such as for the of step risers, stone walls, rock gardens, raised beds, fire pits or whatever. You may need some smaller and some larger versions of the 3 dimensional kind of stone you choose.
- You may well also need a very small kind for gravel or crushed stone needs when making walkways, drives, visible drainage areas, or particular garden mulches.
If this small material is screened out of the same geological location as the larger stone, the color set will probably be complementary.
Gravel, often called peastone in the common 3/8ths and 1/2″ size classes, is naturally weathered in the ground, having come from the parent rock of the same location. The local earth is screened to separate out the various sizes of gravel needed for building uses. Around here, the product typically has rounded contours. This makes it good in garden and path applications, much friendlier than crushed stone to touch.*
Crushed stone is a sharper edged product, having been mechanically created by crushing the parent rock down to a particular size class. It may not be the same colors as your naturally weathered stone and gravel. It is useful in alot of applications, and great for drainage, but you won’t want to have to walk on it or come across it in your garden beds.**……
“Devi Guardare Tutto”
= You need to look at (absolutely) everything.
From the advice of Italian Master Mason, Carmelo Messina.
- In stone there are many kinds of beauty, and many levels of size and quality within each kind. Just be sure that you will enjoy that material’s particular kind of beauty in the context you will provide.
- If the quality affects the durability, as it often does in horizontal applications especially, materials that seem a bit more expensive may actually be a better buy because their landscape lifetime is alot longer. Get the best materials you can afford. Time goes by quickly in a garden setting, and you won’t want to replace things just when the landscape is maturing nicely. Or ever, preferably, which can work out if you do things right the first time, and stone is your medium.
- The difference in the quality of appearance between your options may be priceless, so you will want to look around to have your opportunity to choose. Sometimes the handsomest kinds of materials may even cost less than alternatives, especially if the source is nearby.
“Oh thou sculptor, painter, poet!
Take this lesson to thy heart:
That is best which lieth nearest;
Shape from that thy works of art.” 
- Once you realise that everything matters, you will want to pay attention to visual / color details you might need to duplicate in future, just as you would keep track of particular paint colors you chose for your home.
- Asphalt, for instance, can have different textures and colors depending on what proportion, size and color range of small stone is embedded in the matrix. The color of the asphalt is swayed by the color of the bedrock that the small stone came from. Nearby here, we see driveways with a decidedly purple caste due to the color of the bedrock in Saugus Ma. and elsewhere we see embedded the range of tans and greys typical of the Cape Ann gravels.
- For stone constructs with visible cement or mortar, the components and chemistry of the mix matter for the outcome color. You will want to use the same ‘recipes’ as are established on your property, so ask your sources how to specify them in future, and make some notes for your landscape files.
“Constancy (is) generated by the repetition of underlying patterns.”
- You can try for truly local materials, but if there is no more local stone or other hard material available of a kind that you need, as is sometimes the case, you may need to find the best match for the typical local material. This will be especially important if there is already some of it in your landscape.
- If what will be used must be brought in from other areas, your important work may be to locate materials to match and blend with your givens.
- Carry a few photos and physical samples of stone and materials in your car if you wish to try to find suitable matching material. These will speak volumes to knowledgeable masons, or materials and stone suppliers. Color and character are hard to describe in words.
Keep track of your sources.
- If you are engaged in making a landscape, you will be needing some matching materials later, more likely than not. Try to get kinds of stone and other hard materials that you will be able to obtain again, as this will be important for your future projects. Find out where each of your chosen kinds came from, and how to ask for that type again for up and coming work.
If you have found a source for any wonderful material, this can mean treasure for your place down the line of time. Many of the most beautiful landscapes are made over long time lines.
- The hand of the particular mason or builder is important to the character of each built project. It will be best if the style established by an artisan is continued throughout the work in your place. This goal is best accomplished this if you begin with an artisan whose work you love, and can who can probably come back over time for subsequent similar projects. If this isn’t possible, each builder you choose should try to build in good relationship to the style established there, preferably using the same or closely related materials.
a connected composition
with some repeating portions
wherein a person is led on a journey by repeating or related parts.
 Mien Ruys / Dedemsvaart, Netherlands, ref Beth Chatto
 F.A.Waugh, “Propriety is a universal test.”, Landscape Gardening
 Longfellow, Gaspar Becerra
 F. L.Wright, quoted in Christopher Alexander, The Timeless Way of Building
* A gravel or peastone path is not all gravel. The peastone needs to be underlain with the right base materials to be solid enough for walking comfortably.
** Be careful of what you buy as peastone. You will want to check the source pile since some distributors of ‘peastone’ blend in crushed stone of the same size with the gravel, making the product not as nice for garden uses.