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Hardscaping 101: Granite

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Hardscaping 101: Granite

October 5, 2017

When I think of the granite, my mind travels back in time. This durable rock has an amazing history in city construction and is also rooted in religion and reverence.

Equally at home in a modern landscape, granite is a versatile hardscape material available in a range of sizes—from dust to boulder—and can be used as pavement, a polished wall, or sculpture.

Is granite the right material for your landscape? Please keep reading to learn everything you need to know about this ancient, yet modern, stone.

What is the history of granite?

For more of this garden, see After the Hurricane: The Resurrection of a Wild Garden in Maine. Photograph courtesy of Matthew Cunningham Landscape Design.
Above: For more of this garden, see After the Hurricane: The Resurrection of a Wild Garden in Maine. Photograph courtesy of Matthew Cunningham Landscape Design.

Ancient Egyptians made columns, walls, and floor veneers out of granite. In most historic cities in Europe, South America, and Mexico, granite blocks also have been used for centuries. For example, in the 17th century cobblestones were laid to create roadways. But because of the excessive noise of horses’ hooves and the rough carriage rides on these irregular stones, builders switched to quarried blocks of granite, called setts. (In fact, sett paving is thought to date to ancient Rome.)

I think some of the most beautiful granite used in gardens today are those which were quarried and used by stone cutters and masons hundreds of years ago, granite block and pavers from bridges, foundations, and New England mills. Not only is a piece of history attached to these reclaimed vintage pieces, the exposure to the elements and years of wear and tear also creates a unique patina.

What are the different kinds of granite?

A wide selection of Granite Landscape Pavers is available at Recycled Granite St. Louis.
Above: A wide selection of Granite Landscape Pavers is available at Recycled Granite St. Louis.

There are different types of granite depending on the rock’s composition: it is a mix of quartz, mica, and feldspar. There are also different granite shapes, textures, and colors. All granite types, however, lend a solid presence and an aesthetic appeal that no other material can provide in a landscape. Crushed and decomposed granite are good materials for paths. Granite pavers and cobblestones are handsome, durable choices for driveways and patios. Granite slabs make sturdy stairs and stoops. Granite boulders add visual interest to a landscape.

What is the difference between crushed granite and decomposed granite?

Studio Terremoto designed a Bel Air Dream Pop landscape featuring century agave rooted in a bed of decomposed granite. See more of this project in our \20\17 Considered Design Awards contest.
Above: Studio Terremoto designed a Bel Air Dream Pop landscape featuring century agave rooted in a bed of decomposed granite. See more of this project in our 2017 Considered Design Awards contest.

Decomposed granite: Its fine, powdery texture, quick-draining nature. and ability to suppress weeds makes decomposed granite a natural choice for paths and patios. But decomposed granite decomposes quicker than crushed granite and is not as sturdy. Please read Hardscaping 101: Decomposed Granite for a more in depth look at this material.

Crushed granite: As the name implies, crushed granite is solid granite that has been crushed and screened down to a specific size. Known for its simple and subtle elegance, this material instantly adds a refined look. The color of granite may vary depending on the quarry where it was manufactured but in general comes in neutral tones. Note that this material has sharper edges and shapes than decomposed granite.

What is the best way to use granite boulders in a landscape?

Rock on Top of Another Rock, by Peter Fischli and David Weiss, was on exhibit at the Serpentine Galleries in London from \20\13 to \20\14. For more information about exhibits, ticket prices, and visiting hours, see Serpentine Galleries.
Above: Rock on Top of Another Rock, by Peter Fischli and David Weiss, was on exhibit at the Serpentine Galleries in London from 2013 to 2014. For more information about exhibits, ticket prices, and visiting hours, see Serpentine Galleries.

Granite boulders: Consider placing these substantial pieces across a planting area to add visual interest, provide a sense of solidity, and break up a large expanse. Clustering three together of varying sizes always seems to look more natural. Tip: Bury the bottom, (at least one-third of the boulder) for a settled look.

What are some tips for using granite pavers for paths and patios?

Above: For more of this garden, see Landscape Architect Visit: Clamshell Alley on the Coast of Maine. Photograph by Matthew Cunningham.

Walkways and patios: Some architecture demands complementary formal, clean lines in patio pavers while other styles call for a more organic shape. Stepping stones and pavers usually come in a variety of colors and textures.

How do you use granite for a planter?

One-of-a-kind Reclaimed Granite Planters are available from Olde New England. For more information and prices, see Olde New England.
Above: One-of-a-kind Reclaimed Granite Planters are available from Olde New England. For more information and prices, see Olde New England.

Granite planters: Stack granite slabs or boulders to create an informal planter and then interplant with succulents.

What is the benefit of a dry-stacked granite wall?

Sources for the dry-laid granite used through the site include salvaged Acadia granite from Sullivan Quarry andWoodbury Gray Granite from Swenson Quarry.For more of this garden, see Lessons from the Land: Finding a Lost Landscape on the Coast of Maine. Photograph by Jonathan Levitt courtesy of ASLA
Above: Sources for the dry-laid granite used through the site include salvaged Acadia granite from Sullivan Quarry and
Woodbury Gray Granite from Swenson Quarry.For more of this garden, see Lessons from the Land: Finding a Lost Landscape on the Coast of Maine. Photograph by Jonathan Levitt courtesy of ASLA

Dry-stacked walls: Granite blocks or slabs make a solid and striking wall. Without mortar or cement, the heavy weight of granite can be enough to stabilize low retaining walls.

When should I use granite landscape edging?

Antique granite cobblestones edge a lawn. For prices and information, see Historic European Cobblestone.
Above: Antique granite cobblestones edge a lawn. For prices and information, see Historic European Cobblestone.

Garden and driveway edging: If you are looking for a crisp, durable edge and a more manicured look, consider cut granite or rustic cobblestones to edge planting beds or a driveway.

What is the bet use of granite steps and treads?

Pre-cut granite steps and treads: Whether granite steps outperform brick, concrete or wood, especially under harsh weather conditions, is up for debate, but the fact that these treads won’t chip, degrade or be affected by freeze-thaw cycles makes them a popular choice for both traditional and contemporary designs.

Is granite a good material for fire pits?

Fire pits: Of course nothing warms up a garden space like a fire pit, and when constructed with granite the look is exceptionally long lasting and complementary. Granite can withstand high temperatures without cracking, making this a popular choice for fire pits.

What are the drawbacks of using granite in a landscape?

Now the downside of this versatile stone. New research shows that modern day slavery, unsafe and unhealthy working conditions and low wages is widespread in South India’s granite quarries. In fact, India is the largest global producer of granite. In some quarries child labor is even found.  Concerns over supply chains being tainted with slavery and child labor is a real concern.  Consider doing some research to learn where your granite is sourced from.

N.B.: For more ways to use granite in a landscape, see:

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